Mark Swint

Archive for October, 2008|Monthly archive page

In The Beginning

In Bible, God, Isaac Newton, Philosophy, Renaissance, science, Science and Religion, technology, Uncategorized on October 28, 2008 at 10:10 pm

By

Mark Swint

author of

Oculus book cover

           This Blog is sure to generate controversy so let me say right up front that I do not in any way mean to pick on or poke at any particular belief or creed. I want to explore, in a general conversational way, the history of the conflict between Science and Religion. I realize that any look at historical events is always subjective and I admit that try as one might, it is impossible not to view past events through some type of filter, whether it be acquired bias or experiential perception.

This is a very dicey discussion because whether we like it or not certain religious movements have had a greater or lesser effect on the events of world history and human events. It is impossible to discuss some topics without treading on sensitive ground and I do not, in any way, wish to criticize or offend. On the other hand, I do willing admit that I believe individuals throughout history have used the cloak of organized religion to forward their own personal agendas, often to the detriment of the organization. Such, I believe, is the case with the conflict between Science and Religion.

To begin though, let’s talk about happier times, times when theologians and natural philosophers – the name given to people we now call scientists – were not only on the same page but actually complimented each other’s work. You see, the natural philosopher was devoted to trying to explain observed and accepted realities. For example, since the beginning of time (Whenever that was) people have observed that birds – admittedly heavier than air creatures – could fly. Men wondered at the graceful way that an eagle or an albatross could soar without even flapping their wings and stay aloft seemingly endlessly. Human experience taught that all other things that were heavier than air fell to the ground when released. Why then did birds dance aloft in seeming defiance of the universal laws of gravity that influenced everything else?

The ‘Science’ of natural philosophy attempted to explain the ‘truths’ that people observed. Both human experience and the teachings (admittedly often wrong or superstitious) of theologians left the populace with a set of ‘facts’ that existed without explanation or understanding. What were the stars? Why did the sun rise higher in the summer than in the winter? How did the moon cycle through a complete period of new to full every 28 days? Who was God? To whom did the prophets speak when they received revelation? Who were the angels and the demons that both blessed and plagued the people? All matters of the natural and the unseen world were the source material with which the natural philosophers worked.

Aristotle was perhaps the most accomplished at his trade, leaving his mark on a form of science known as Aristotelian Physics which lived on for over 2000 years before a timid little Englishman named Isaac Newton dared challenge him. There were others though, even before Aristotle, who made remarkable observations and posited insightful theories about the things around them. Democritus gave us the term Atom (from the Greek ‘Atomos”) millennia before John Dalton found it through the gasses he studied. Archimedes took a bath and comprehended displacement thus forwarding the science of ship building and further defining the difference between mass and volume.

So too, early philosophers took ideas and statements from the Bible to be fact. Their faith in biblical declarations ultimately led to discoveries in astronomy and cosmology. However, just as with misperceptions about the nature of the observable world around them, early philosophers often strayed far afield due to interpretational errors of scriptural revelation. Other times local traditions and religious practices would be modified to adapt to the conclusions of the philosophers. One example of this was with the earliest scientists, then known as ‘Astrologers’.

Astrologers fulfilled a far more crucial and legitimate purpose in those early years than they do today. It was their observations of the solar and lunar cycles that determined much of the pattern of early agrarian life. They told farmers when to plant and when to harvest. Their observations of weather patterns led to the first weather forecasting. As they built a body of observations about the world we live in their conclusions found their way into scripture and spiritual teaching. The traditional wisdom ” red sky in the morning, sailor take warning, red sky at night sailor’s delight”  comes from the New Testament statement by Jesus to the Pharisees as found in Matthew 16:2,3;

 

When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red.

And in the morning, It will be foul weather today: for the sky is red and lowering.

 

This early observation found its way into religious teaching after natural philosophers and astrologers noticed the pattern of approach and retreating weather patterns and their effect on the morning and evening skies.

Science and religion enjoyed a generally peaceful partnership for many centuries, the one explaining the ‘how and why’ to the other’s ‘what’. It was a partnership that was to continue more or less uninterrupted until the 4th century A.D.

As Christianity took hold around the Mediterranean, and more specifically throughout the Roman Empire, it was at first met with resistance from the governing bodies. Religion had always been perceived as a wonderful way to control large masses of people. It was therefore a threat to have a religion, or more correctly, a religious movement, take hold without government sanction. Any power base that arose without the support of the governing power was automatically deemed a threat to the stability of the society and efforts were expended to put it down before full blown rebellion erupted. Thus it was for the Roman Empire.

Constantine, last emperor of the Roman Empire, at first tried to quell the rising fervor of the emerging Christians. As his efforts failed to have the anticipated affect he made the bold and audacious move to adopt the movement as the new official theology of the previously polytheistic Roman society. Simultaneously, the Roman Empire ceased and the Holy Roman Empire emerged.

The adoption of Christianity by the Roman Emperor was more than a simple name change. All the Roman Emperors had struggled with the challenge of maintaining their tenuous grip on the disparate components of their far flung empire. The adoption of a single religious movement, one that was spreading fairly simultaneously throughout the Mediterranean was a unifying move that brought the individual groups together. Or at least that was the plan.

The first task that Constantine had to undertake was to unify the individual Christian groups doctrinally.  During the three hundred plus years since the crucifixion of Jesus, Christianity had taken hold throughout the land. It grew quickly but differing people had adopted individual and differing interpretations of what Christianity was all about. Constantine convoked a grand council in Nicaea in Bithynia (Now Turkey) in 325 A.D.to address this issue.  At this council he charged the gathered pastors and bishops with the mandate to begin the process of establishing a single, unified or ‘Catholic’ doctrine. This council of Nicaea was the first of a series of convocations called synods that met to ultimately create one unified doctrine for everything under the Sun – literally! They had to address issues such as whether or not space was a vacuum, or the nature of the stars and their motions, or the Sun itself; just what was it? Of course the synods decided ecclesiastical issues as well, such as the nature and place of Mary, mother of Jesus; issues of life and death and birth and baptism and the proper observance of Easter and so on and so on. This was a formidable task – and a noble one. It should have been the crowning achievement of the Roman Empire; except for one –make that two things! At the conclusion of the effort to find their Catholic doctrine they included two doctrines that set in motion a conflict that would be the cause of such horror and death as the world had seldom seen.

The first offending doctrine was essentially that the doctrine was infallible, it could not be wrong, and anyone who disagreed with it, or taught a doctrine contrary to it, was considered heretic and subject to the judgment of death. The second doctrine was that the Pope was infallible and could never do or be wrong. Again, anyone who disagreed with this doctrine was considered heretic and faced death, often by the most gruesome and inhuman manner.

For a while these doctrines were survivable and the church flourished, expanding the reach of the church and the Roman Empire significantly. This reach endured for a thousand years, until the fourteenth century.

The renaissance began, more or less, in Florence Italy in the late fourteenth/early fifteenth century. Cosimo Medici and family began a series of patronages of artisans, thinkers and scientists who eventually changed the world. Men like Da Vinci, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, and Galileo changed how people viewed the world. Collectively they sought order and reason against a backdrop of what had become tyranny and abuse afforded by absolute power. Unrighteous men were wielding the power of the church in unrighteous ways. This caused conflict among a populace too afraid and too cowed to speak up, but not too unaware to notice that the things they saw and suffered through were wrong.

Men of science were beginning to observe things that didn’t fit within the Catholic doctrines but they faced horrific persecutions when they voiced their findings. In what should have and could have become a period of rich enlightenment for the church darkness reigned instead due to the inflexibility of the doctrine held infallible by declaration. To change doctrine to fit the observable truths becoming evident would have been to admit that the doctrine had been wrong. This would have implied that the church was wrong when it declared that the doctrine was true in the beginning. The church could not be wrong or every part of it could be held up to scrutiny and modification. Instead of growing with the growing body of knowledge, the church had to stick stubbornly to its dogma. Because of this good men and women died. Men like Copernicus, who simply wanted to understand the mechanics of the stars and planets revolving around him, were persecuted and censured by the church. Copernicus’ work was soundly condemned by the church and Galileo was rebuked for forwarding Copernicus’ ideas and placed under house arrest for the rest of his life.  Another follower of Copernicus, Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake on Feb. 17, 1600.

Galileo’s crime and condemnation is the perfect example of the growing rift between science and religion. It occurred in several steps but perhaps the seminal event occurred when Galileo turned his newly fashioned telescope on the brightest planet in the night sky. Jupiter is probably the easiest identifiable object in the sky after the Sun and the Moon. What Galileo saw when he focused his invention on it was shocking! He saw four distinct lesser stars next to it. He continued to observe Jupiter every night for a time and he recorded his observations in a book. After a month or so his conclusion was undeniable, the objects next to Jupiter were moons and they were orbiting Jupiter! This was heretical because of the doctrine that said that every object in the sky orbited Earth – the center of the universe – and no object could orbit anything else. Galileo chose to believe his own eyes over the decisions made by unlearned men over a thousand years before. Those four moons, forever known as the Galilean Moons, were orbiting Jupiter and no priest, bishop or Pope could make it otherwise.

The church’s unwillingness to adapt its doctrine to accommodate emerging technology put it at odds with observant men and women who saw conflict in other areas of doctrinal confusion. Soon, people realized that the church could talk about spiritual things but it was no arbiter of observable and verifiable truths that were becoming more and more discoverable. Really for the first time, scientific method and observation had to step outside of the church to continue. This, in spite of the fact that the church had, and still maintains to this day, the Vatican observatory where many good and valid observations were made. In fact, the calendar we use today, the Gregorian Calendar was made to correct errors that had crept into the Julian Calendar ever since 46 B.C. That effort was ordered by Pope Gregory XIII who directed his Vatican Astronomers to correct the calendar according to the solar cycles so that the correct observance of Easter could be held.

Other scientists broke free of the shackles of the church and brought forth new truths about the world. One of Galileo’s admirers, Evangelista Torricelli, determined that, contrary to established dogma, the atmosphere was indeed finite and ended with the vacuum of space.

The rift between science and religion was growing and the church made no attempt to stem it other than to condemn those who practiced the ‘dark arts’. Scientists, on the other hand, grew bolder, often holding in derision the superstitious and foolish beliefs of the church. By the time the church came around and began to embrace undeniable truths it was too late. The idea that religion could hold any truths worthy of scientific study quickly faded.

Sadly, today many in the scientific community- though not all to be sure – view religion as the domain for the foolish and the uneducated. This is grossly unfair but understandable. The tragedy is that common perception places on the Catholic Church in particular, and religion in general, the stigma of ignorance as to things of the world. I would propose that well intended efforts of sincere but uneducated men unfairly placed the stink of error and falsehood upon the scriptures when, in fact, the scriptures could just as easily have been misunderstood and misinterpreted but which, at their core and with the proper interpretation, are true!

Let us not condemn the whole because part of it may or may not have been correctly deciphered. The scriptures – correctly interpreted – may yet hold many wonderful truths and great treasures waiting to be mined.

Angels & Demons

In Albert Einstein, Bible, God, Philosophy, Relativity, science, Science and Religion, technology, Uncategorized on October 22, 2008 at 3:45 pm

By

Mark Swint

author of

 Oculus book cover

With all due respect to Dan Brown, I have borrowed the title of his next movie and last book to continue the discussion started with the last post (Resurrection – You 2.0) as I continue my look at the subject of the Afterlife. Once again I should state for the record – I am a person of faith, I believe I am a person of great faith, and my faith guides my life. I also am a person of considerable scientific background and I have faith in good science. I acknowledge that there is such a thing as bad science and also such a thing as bad theology. My sole purpose in taking your time by asking you to read these blogs is to attempt to demonstrate that the perceived incompatibility between science and religion isn’t necessary and really only exists in the minds of people who adopt stances so immovable and so entrenched that they are unwilling or incapable of considering that they might possibly have taken a position that is even slightly off the mark, thereby leading to conflict with other positions, maybe also only slightly off the mark, that lead to the popular notion that science and religion are completely and irrevocably diametrically opposed to each other. Whew! Talk about run on sentences! Enough of that! The point is I believe there is common ground. In fact I believe religion, like nature and the observable world, gives us exoteric knowledge; it gives us the ‘what’ in life. It, like the observable world, tells us how things are – things like the fact that birds fly, and flew, long before humans understood how something heavier than air could soar gracefully upon the wind currents. Religion, in all its permutations tells us that there is a God and there are angels, and also that there are spirits of people now departed.

We dispute and argue among ourselves as to the nature of God, and to His purposes, but most of us believe that there is someone whose hand is over us. Exoteric knowledge only tells us the ‘what’ of stuff. Esoteric knowledge tells us the why, the how of the what. For the most part the Bible is full of exoteric knowledge. When Moses tells us in Genesis that the waters were gathered together and the dry land appeared, he did not tell us how that happened; oh, he said God commanded it to be so but I mean he didn’t tell us how God did it. Moses was merely an observer, recording what he saw in vision without a vast knowledge of astronomy, geology, physics, chemistry, or even the mind of God. The best Moses could do was say that God commanded it and it was so. I have no problem with this and I adhere to the idea that faith is a requisite commodity to understand and take advantage of the things of God. However, I believe God left clues to his handiwork in everything he made and I think the various disciplines of science, without knowing it, are the efforts dedicated to uncovering those clues, that is, the esoteric understanding of the exoteric truth.

How the exoteric and the esoteric sides of life got so far apart makes for fascinating study but we’ll save that for another day. The bottom line is I believe we can bring them back together, or at least stop the war between them.

Life after death. Perhaps no other aspect of religion raises the hackles of scientists and atheists alike as the idea that we go somewhere when we die – or that we are even continue on in some sentient state after this mortal death. Their principle repulsion of the idea is born of the misguided notion that if we can’t see or sense something, then it can’t really exist. After all, they exclaim, we have measured and weighed the human body as the life goes out of it and we see no measurable difference! Oh, I know, you all remember the movie ‘27Grams’ starring Naomi Watts. The 27 grams referred to the supposed weight loss when a person dies. The 27 grams was supposedly the weight of the spirit. It was a clever plot device but one fabricated solely in Hollywood.

Scientists are loath to acknowledge the existence of anything that can’t be observed, weighed, measured and quantified so how could they possibly believe in the human spirit, or angels, or demons, or ghosts? Or, for that matter, 90% of everything in the universe! That’s right! Scientists cannot find, measure, explain or describe almost 90% of everything – matter and energy – that they know must exist in the universe. All of this stuff, all of this unseen matter and energy is conveniently categorized into two groups with equally non committal names; Dark Matter and Dark Energy.

Scientists know dark matter and dark energy have to exist because of the behavior of the galactic clusters and all of the stuff of the observable universe. They are certain that the motion and the interaction they see between stars and galaxies, and their relative motions to each other, cannot be generated by the relatively measly amount of stuff that they can see. The only explanation that fits is that there must be much more stuff than what we see.

This brings up several intriguing points for discussion but what I would like to focus on here is the idea of unseen stuff. The truth is there is lots and lots of unseen stuff all around us in our everyday world. Let me tell you what is going through your mind right now as you read this. First of all, there are several thousand cell phone signals – actual conversations passing right through you at this moment. That old idea that there are voices in your head is actually more literal than you might think. Next, depending upon where you live, there are several hundred satellite television transmissions all around you (and yes, it even includes porno). Even the cable companies get their signals from down linked satellite transmissions. Don’t forget about air traffic control transmissions between controllers and airplanes flying high over head. We can only guess at the number, quantity and type of transmissions that come from spy satellites and other secure military and government communications. Then there are radio transmissions, both AM and FM, and we haven’t even started on GPS signals that are literally everywhere.

Now, we should also consider all of the various electromagnetic fields that envelope us constantly. Where do they come from? How about your television screen? Or the computer screen you are looking at right now. Did you know your cell phone is constantly sending out pings to locate and lock onto the closest cell tower? Are you sitting by someone right now? How about a pet nearby? Did you know that all living things, or any warm thing for that matter, emit infrared radiation. Then, besides the sunlight that we all see, there is the unseen world of the non-visible light and energy spectrum emitted by the Sun. We are constantly bombarded by ultraviolet light and various types of solar radiation. This goes along with the cosmic radiation that bombards the earth and everything on it constantly and from almost every direction.

Well, you get the point. There is lots and lots of stuff that is invisible to our eyes and to most human senses but which nevertheless exists. Now, here’s the amazing part; all the things that I have listed are detectable not by us but by sensors and receivers specially tuned and calibrated to receive their own special part of the unseen world. The radio in your car can pull AM, FM and maybe even XM or Sirius right out of thin air. You can’t feel it but they can and they can even differentiate between one frequency and another so that you get multiple channels for your listening pleasure. Your cell phone can see the unseen phone calls travelling through the air and through you. It sits and watches until it see one that is addressed to you and then it grabs that one call and alerts you to its presence. And so on and so on for all the various and different devices that clever man has invented to take advantage of the unseen world.

Now, all this stuff is only unseen to us, not to our devices. But none of these devices detect the ‘dark matter’ and the ‘dark energy’ that we opened the discussion with. And remember, that stuff makes up 90% of everything!

So, what about angels and demons? I don’t know and I don’t want to appear that I have all the answers. But this much I do know; cosmic radiation, gamma ray bursts and ultraviolet radiation existed long before mankind had the ability to detect them – or even the suspicion that they existed. Why is it so hard to believe that a departed spirit or an angel or a demon or whatever you visualize couldn’t exist right here right now, standing in front of you this very second. What if all it took was some special kind of glasses that we haven’t invented yet? You know, kind of like the fact that infrared is all about us but we never saw it until we figured out how to make a lens that could sense it?

What if the lens that can detect denizens of the unseen world is actually some sensor within our own bodies? What if that sensor is operated by some process we don’t understand but which we can tap into through the exercise of faith, or belief, or some kind of trance or whatever? I don’t know what the specific mechanism is but the scriptures imply, to me at least, that faith – real faith – has powers that the world doesn’t understand. I am sure that someone reading this blog has had some very sacred experience that they won’t share with anyone – but whoever you are you know what I am talking about! I have experiences I won’t share here. They are sacred to me but I assure you they are real.

One other possibility we haven’t touched on yet addresses the implications of the fact that physicists all accept the fact that besides the three dimensions of perceptible space there is a fourth dimension and that dimension is time. The recognition by Albert Einstein that time was indeed a dimension was described by his theory of Special Relativity (interestingly Special Relativity came before General Relativity). That realization opened up a whole new realm for physicists and philosophers alike to explore. In very simple terms let me give you an example of what the dimensionality of time means to you and me.

We exist right here where we are, in this particular space right now. Some of us live in Cleveland and some live in Calcutta but we all live right here right now – at this very instant. Our existence occupies these particular coordinates of space at this particular instant in time. The moment in time when you started reading this post is now in the past. It is vacated by us and no longer of any use to anyone who lives in our world. It is down the road as they say. Physicists and philosophers alike say that all that means is that a completely different world, inhabited by a completely different set of people could now inhabit these very same coordinates that we inhabit except that they are one minute, or three minutes, or ten minutes behind us. There is no conflict because we have moved out of their way. We are still here but here isn’t here anymore for them. Just like the fact that we may at this moment be occupying a moment that was just vacated but another earth one minute ahead of us with people much happier than we because they aren’t going through elections right now and they don’t have to see political ads every 28 seconds. Now, ponder this! How much time must elapse between worlds? One minute? One second? How about a nanosecond? That is one billionth of a second. A nanosecond is so short that if a nanosecond were one second then one second would be 32 years! Maybe it only takes a nanosecond of time to allow for a completely different universe. Could this allow for the statement that ‘Worlds without number have I created”? Could this allow for life to continue on for eternity without filling up space?

I don’t know the mind of God but, when the scriptures speak of such esoteric things and I have no idea how they work I can at least take comfort in the fact that there is plenty of room for all of the unseen things  – like God, angels, spirits and demons.

Resurrection – You 2.0

In Bible, cloning, God, Philosophy, science, Science and Religion, technology on October 20, 2008 at 11:10 pm

 

By

Mark Swint

author of

OCULUS: The Zebulon Initiative

             

 It seems that there is no greater conflict between science and religion that the issue of life after death. The question of what happens after death has been the subject of philosophers, poets and the huddled masses since time began, whenever that was. Most people, when asked, expressed some belief that something happens after death; that is, consciousness continues in some form and manner. What this afterlife is, and how it manifests itself is a subject of much and passionate debate.  This blog will not side with any particular definition of that afterlife; rather, I would like to take a look at the issue of afterlife and see if there is any science that could allow for some continuation of life after death. There are actually two issues of afterlife.  The first is a spirit world or place for angels and the disembodied spirits of men and women who have departed this life. The second issue is resurrection, or the taking up once again of the body with which we walked this earth. I think I would like to explore the second issue – resurrection – in this post. My next post will discuss angels and the spirit world.

 The scientific community feels pretty confident that they have this one ‘in the bag’. After all, it’s pretty easy to see that when something is dead it’s dead! We can go to a cemetery and exhume old coffins for a look inside. We know that we will find dusty and decayed old bones and such. There doesn’t seem to be any afterlife abounding. Similarly, the discussion can follow the natural objections to the belief in life after death with the simplistic but compelling arguments about people who died in some horribly destructive way where a body did not remain. Explosions, fires, plane crashes etc.etc. all pretty much take care of the mortal vessel after life has exited.  Perhaps one might be willing to believe some miraculous event could, indeed, raise a dead person if they left a nice intact body behind but once that is no longer the case our fantasies turn to Zombies and the ‘Living dead”.  In film these creatures always have lost their humanity and they walk around in decaying – sometimes skeletal – bodies with the sole purpose of killing any living thing in their way.

Notwithstanding the obvious observable realities around us concerning death and dying, the Bible (and most religions) maintains that Jesus resurrected, and many others who resurrected with him came into the city and were seen by many.  Old Testament prophets all testified of the ultimate certainty of the resurrection.  Job said “And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:26). Other scriptures promise that in the resurrection every body shall be restored to its “perfect and proper frame” and “not a hair of the head shall be lost.” How could this be? Surely this is one argument that the theologians should give up, right? Well, maybe we shouldn’t be so hasty.

For centuries now, millennia in fact, people have looked to the promise of resurrection and the hope that one day they might again live in a physical body. Throughout time there was no rational, or even plausible, explanation of how this could possibly happen. This was and is an area where faith is requisite and hope is based on belief. It appeared to all that there was just no explicable way that a bag of bones and a pile of dust could ever be reconstituted into the same vibrant and youthful body that we enjoyed in our early lives. To make the promise that, “not one hair of the head should be lost,” or that everything should be restored to its, “perfect and proper frame,” seemed ludicrous.

Now, however, researchers are on the cusp of accomplishing the very thing that they have for so long scoffed at – the resurrection of life. And how are they going to do this? Through the use and exploitation of something that no one had ever heard of or dreamed of for the vast expanse of human history from the beginning of time to the last century. That something is DNA.

Simply put, DNA is the double helix molecule that contains the formula that defines each and every one of us. It is a strand of coding made up of billions of genes, and combinations of genes, each of which is made from a combination of proteins represented by the letters G A T & C. This formula defines, regulates and repairs who you are. It determines your hair color and texture, as well as if you are prone to baldness. It determines your eyesight and eye color, your bone structure, your height as well as your tendency to gain or lose weight. Your voice timber and quality are determined by your DNA as are many of the natural talents that you possess. In fine, everything about your body, from warts and moles to bone density and good teeth, everything is determined by you particular and unique DNA formula. In all of the billions of people on the earth, no other person has exactly the same combination of G A T C proteins and Gene combinations that you do.

Given this fact, it becomes apparent that your uniqueness does not go away when you die. Theoretically, and soon in reality, scientists will be able to take the smallest particle of you, an eyelash, a hair follicle, a piece of fingernail even a single skin cell, and from that, decode your DNA and reproduce you! The replication of the DNA molecule in each and every one of your cells that make up your body guarantees that a record of you is not lost. Given this fact, is it really so hard to conceive of the idea that you could be remade? This was the theme and overriding plot device of the movie “Jurassic Park”. In that film and in its sequels, scientists recovered the DNA from dinosaur bones which they were subsequently able to cultivate and gestate into newborn living dinosaurs.

Scientists have already taken the first tentative steps in this direction with the emerging technology of ‘Cloning’. This was first manifest with the cloning of a sheep named Dolly in England. Now cloning is going on in labs all around the world. Cattle are being cloned and the technology is branching out into other limbs o the biological tree of life.

The discovery of DNA by Watson, Crick and Wilkins earned them a Nobel Prize and gave the world its first glimmer of understanding as to the feasibility of resurrection. Of course many questions and arguments can be raised here and, again, I choose not to delve into theology other than to consider the particular claim of the Bible that people can be resurrected.

Another fascinating aspect of the DNA molecule is that, in theory at least, is should guarantee immortality and physical perfection! Here in mortality this doesn’t manifest itself as we all age and we all have some form of physical imperfection, whether it be that we are too short and squatty or our legs are abnormally long. All of us have imperfections that seem to manifest themselves at the most inopportune times. Things like acne that seem to erupt just before Junior Prom or high cholesterol that plague most of us throughout our life remind us that we are mortal and imperfect. Researchers ask the question “if we can learn to manipulate DNA why not learn how to fix DNA? Why can’t we one day take a look at someone’s particular DNA formula and ‘fix’ the ‘cancer gene’ or the ‘heart disease gene’ and even more enticing that this, why not look for ways to fix the aging gene?

All this speculation is the stuff of science fiction but the fact is we now know we have an individual formula – a program – for all of us. How hard is it to believe that this program cannot be retrieved and run to create another, better you? You could call it YOU 2.0 only this new you would not age, would not be too short, nor too tall, neither too fat nor too skinny. All the physical imperfections we suffer from would be distant memories and life would take on a whole new paradigm.  

I’m not saying this is the way God does it. I am only saying that the power of humans to figure this out someday soon should serve as support for the Biblical idea that resurrection will come to all mankind. Life 2.0 might not be as far fetched as it appears after all.

 

 

Adam, Eve, and Cavemen

In Adam and Eve, Bible, creation, Genesis, Geology, God, Moses, Philosophy, science, Science and Religion on October 11, 2008 at 1:29 pm

By:Mark Swint

author of

Oculus book cover

             

Nothing brings out the howls of derision among scientists like the subject of Adam and Eve in the garden, and the related subject of the age of mankind. This derision is not without foundation as the evidence that some form of human habitation has walked this earth for far more than the traditional 6,000 years or so that theologians claim is pretty strong. This is one area that seems pretty strongly in the scientists corner. Is the Bible wrong? Is the creation story and the account of Adam and Eve pure fantasy? Must people of faith take a bloody nose on this one? Maybe, maybe not. Even here I’ll bet we can find a plausible compromise that, at least, might be true. It could be true. If in fact we believe that there is a common source for all Homo- sapiens, which, by the way, anthropologists are constantly looking for and many believe they have found, then there Must be a story that satisfies both the evidence and the revealed truth.

Several obstacles stand in our way as we explore this story. Chief among them are the arguments that;

1.  Adam and Eve were the first people on the earth.

2. Adam and Eve were immortal before the fall.

3. The Earth is only about 6,000 years ago.

These seem to be daunting obstacles that cannot find common ground with well established scientific theory. Fair enough, I love a good challenge. Let’s start by discussing the firstness of Adam and Eve.

Scientists love to classify things. They classify anything and everything from rocks to butterflies to bacteria to hominids – the general class of primates that includes Monkeys, Apes and Humans. Humans fall into a sub-classification of Homo which includes several extinct species including Kenyanthropus, Paranthropus and Australopithecus.  Homo Neanderthalensis, (or Neanderthals) is considered to be the last ancestor of modern man. Homo-Sapiens (Us) are different from these ancestors; not in the way Africans are different from Asians who are different from Caucasians, but different as in the way Chimpanzees are different from Baboons who are different from Gorillas. To say that Australopithecus is human is incorrect on several levels. To say that Australopithecus is similar to human is correct. But similar is not the same as SAME. To disregard the claim that Adam and Eve (Admittedly just Anglicized names for whatever their real common names were) were the first humans because we have found bones from the Olduvai Gorge in Kenya, Africa that are dated at over a million years old is just not right. You see, none of those bones were from Homosapiens. In fact, anthropologists argued over what class they were from. The Leakeys, discoverers of those great finds, classified them one way and other researchers saw them differently. In no case, however, were they classified as Homosapiens. By the way, Dr. Louis Leakey was also a Christian missionary who believed in the theories of Darwin. He said “Nothing I’ve ever found has contradicted the Bible. It’s people with their finite minds who misread the Bible.”

So what is it that makes a human a human? I’m sure philosophers could debate this issue forever. We’ll forgo that and offer our own hypothesis. I believe that the single most defining trait of humans is that they have an innate sense of right and wrong. They have a conscience. While it is true that some people have pretty effectively erased those traits from their own lives, isn’t it also true that we accuse those same people of being ‘inhuman’? It is this innate sense of right and wrong that is variously called “the Light of Christ” or “the Divine Spark” that also makes us accountable for our ‘sins’ or misdeeds. When animals do something bad we say they are just following their instincts but when people do those same things we accuse them of wrong doing and say “you know better than that!” This accountability allows us to work righteousness and commit sin. This accountability is the only thing that allows us to be Judged of God (or however you view it) and allows us to be classified (I guess we all do it) as good or evil.

Could it be that when the Bible says that Adam and Eve were the first people on Earth what it was really saying is that Adam and Eve were the first Hominids to have a conscience and to be accountable for their actions? In this way, the disobedience that Adam and Eve displayed in the Garden of Eden would truly have been the “original sin”. Interestingly, the Bible says that God directed the creation and organization of all life on earth yet it is only mankind that is referred to as “the children of God” and it is only to humans that God calls himself our “Heavenly Father”. In this broader view could we not say that Adam and Eve are appropriate tags for the first of the species that we belong to, even though precursor species might have paved the way for our development?

The scriptures say that there was no death before the fall of Adam and Eve; that in fact death was introduced by the commission of the original disobedience in the garden. Hum? On the face of it, this just doesn’t make sense. After all, what about the food they, and all the animals, ate? Let’s say they ate fruit, a plum or a peach. Didn’t that fruit have to develop from the blossom of the tree from which it came? Didn’t that blossom have to flower to attract the bees that pollinated it? Isn’t it true that once a flower is pollinated the job of the flower is done and the petals wilt and die and fall away, leaving an ever swelling bud that turns into the fruit. Isn’t the death of a flower a death just the same? What about the fruit itself? If Adam and Eve ate anything didn’t that mean that whatever they ate died when it was plucked or at very least when it was eaten? Well, you get the point. This immortality claim is one that seems hard to accept. However, as we have discussed before (See previous blog “The 900 year old man”) age and aging is a very relative thing and it certainly is possible for a living being to have a much longer lifespan than is commonly thought.

But what is Death? The word is used in many different ways.  When a living organism ceases to live we say it is dead. But we also use that word to signify the end of lots of other things. We all, for instance just witnessed the ‘death of Lehman Brothers’ a Wall St. firm that had lived for 150 years. When two lovers break up we say it was the death of a Romance. A fundamental societal shift can mark the death of an age as in “the death of innocence”. Indeed, the word death can denote many things, most of them bad.

There is one other form of death which all spiritual people fear; that is “Spiritual death”. Let’s say that spiritual death means the separation – or permanent separation if you like – of man from the presence of God. If the scriptures say that eternal life is being with God then eternal death would be the eternal separation from God. It must be something like this because the scriptures say that we can overcome spiritual death and that we can be born again; all words that indicate not an actual physical death or birth but a symbolic or spiritual death or birth. The bible states that the wages of sin is death so it is reasonable to say that we separate ourselves from God and Godliness when we sin – that is, when we disobey a principle that we know is true, something that animals don’t and can’t so.

It is plausible that the biblical account of the creation and of our first parents was referring to this death when it said that prior to the establishment of a life form that resembled and had the spark of God within; there was no death on the earth. The account in Genesis says that Adam and Eve’s death would come about if they disobeyed one of the Father’s edicts; that is, if they broke a rule, which was a sin. Sin separates us from righteousness and the spirit of God so it would have been true for Adam and Eve that in the day they ‘broke the rules’ they would surely die (spiritually die that is). We know that they did not die the very day they sinned (there’s that word die again) because as a punishment they were cast out of the garden into the ‘dark and dreary world’ where they had to toil for their food and shelter. In fact, Adam lived for over 900 years after he left the garden and we have no idea how long he and Eve were in the garden before the fall. Obviously God did not lie so obviously he meant something more esoteric when he said that “in the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die!” If God can speak in metaphoric or symbolic terms then why can’t we take a more metaphoric or symbolic interpretation of his words? It is not a far stretch to say that Adam and Eve enjoyed the presence of God while they were in the garden. This was tantamount to eternal life. By sinning and being thrust out of the garden, and more importantly, being thrust out of the presence of God they were separated from Him and thus suffered a spiritual death. Again, I am not trying to preach any type of theology here; rather I am trying to see if it is possible to satisfy both Scientists and theologians; or, if there is any common ground from which to start the process of reconciliation.

The third claim (Well, actually it is an inference) of Genesis is best displayed by Matt Damon’s recent ‘call out’ of Sarah Palin over whether she actually believed that the earth was only 6,000 years old. It is true that the genealogies of the Bible indicate that about 6,000 years have elapsed from the days of Adam to the present. This is actually pretty well documented as the Biblical writers all seemed obsessed with genealogies. The truth is that all cultures up until the last hundred years or so have been obsessed with genealogies. Much of the social order was maintained by rights of survivorship and the traditions of the firstborn and so on. In modern times we don’t seem to care much about this anymore but it was an issue of vital importance throughout human history.

If we accept the ideas presented in the discussion of death just a few paragraphs ago we can cover this argument quickly. The Biblical account of the 6 creative periods indicates that the creation of the earth was a process of steps. The Haggadah says that the creation was actually many more steps but I guess it all boils down to how narrowly you define one individual step. The point is, the creation, even by biblical accounts didn’t occur in one giant ‘poof’ moment. It was an orderly process where one event followed another. Whenever anything follows a process I believe science can explain it. I personally believe God believes in order and all things were and are done in an orderly process. The scriptures imply that God is a god of order so it would follow that He used processes to organize and prepare the world for the eventual human habitation that it is today. The fact that Moses recounts this process in only 3 pages does not in any way imply that it occurred overnight. I have blogged before that the word day has many meanings and could easily, and surly, referred to a creative period much longer than a 24 hour period. How long each creative period was we can only speculate but the tectonic processes that could have caused the ‘Waters be gathered together and let the dry land to appear” could easily have taken many thousands or millions of years. The introduction of plants should have taken many eons as ecosystems were developed and stabilized. Likewise the animal kingdom must have gone through many iterations (as it continues to do even to this day) before becoming what we know today. Researchers say that twice in pre-Cambrian times more than 95% of the animal kingdom went extinct only to be followed by what they call the pre-Cambrian explosion when the majority of animal life appeared all at once (relatively speaking). The point is, the Earth could have been many millions, or thousands of millions of earth years old before we see the introduction of Adam and Eve in the Garden. The Bible, concerning itself with man and his relationship to God, would concern itself, except for a 3 page recap of the creation, only with the dealings between God and Man and that could well have been for only about the last 6,000 years.

I don’t know, I could be wrong.

The 900 Year Old Man

In Abraham, aging, Bible, God, Moses, Noah, Philosophy, science, Science and Religion on October 9, 2008 at 10:24 am

By

Mark Swint

author of

OCULUS: The Zebulon Initiative

Oculus book cover

         Many years ago Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner had a very famous comedy bit about an interview with a 2,000 year old man (Brooks). Of course the notion of a 2,000 year old man is nonsense but the bit was funny and it highlighted the differences of everyday life today as viewed from the perspective of 2,000 years ago.

Very few of us would want to live for 2,000 years (can you imagine filing 2,000 tax returns?) yet we find in the Bible the ascertain that the early patriarchs from Adam down to Methuselah lived between 800 and 970 years. Methuselah was the champion living 969 years. According to the Bible the lifespan changed significantly after the flood and mankind began living the ‘normal ‘ lifespans that we enjoy today. Of course this lifespan is a highly variable thing, predicated upon war, disease, nutrition, lifestyle, climate, but you get the idea. You and I expect to live somewhere around 80 years. Very few of us will ever see 100 and almost none of us will live past 110. Even at that, would we really want to live that long? Those we see who are that old are certainly not capable of the active lifestyles that are commonly associated with a good quality of living that we aspire to.

So, what’s the deal with these claims of nearly millennial lifespans we read about in the Bible? Are they fantastical tales meant to perpetuate some mythological superstition or are they merely accounting errors, or translational misunderstandings? Surely they couldn’t be true – or could they?

My purpose with this blog is not to preach any particular variety of religion, rather, my goal is to explore issues where science and religion seem at opposite ends of the matter and see if there is any common or plausible ground. Having said that let’s explore this issue of age. I will use generalities and try to avoid the hard statistical data, but, if anyone wants to challenge me on this I am more than happy to provide the data upon which I present these things.

Genetic researchers today have a pretty good grasp of the mechanisms of life and the marvel that is the DNA molecule. While there is much to be done still to decode every single segment of the multi-billion component DNA strand, we at least know that the DNA molecule exists and we understand that the various elements of it control and establish every single element of our physical existence. Our blue eyes or brown hair, our long legs, large or small breasts, high or low body mass index, light or dark skin, all these things are determined by the particular and unique combination of genes that is the result of negotiations between our mother’s DNA and our Father’s DNA. In each cash one gene was more dominant than the other gene. In some cases recessive genes took hold. All these ‘negotiations’ resulted in the product that popped out of your mother to form the unique and singular being that is you. Geneticists understand this and spend their day exploring this fascinating and mysterious arbiter of life. In some  cases they have been able to tinker with and modify the gene sequence thus bringing about the associated change that the gene regulates. This is valuable for fighting some diseases and maladies.

One of the areas that most fascinates researchers is the area of aging; specifically, why we age.  In theory our DNA should work continuously to regulate and repair our bodies. The same code that helps us stay slim and keep our muscle structure sound should continue to do that for us. If we are blessed with good eyesight, lucky us – our DNA gives us good eyes. So why don’t we keep good eyes? Why as 20 year olds can we eat anything and not gain weight and later, as 40 year olds we smell a piece of pie and gain 2 pounds. What happens to our DNA to let this happen? Well, researchers have found that certain genes in our DNA turn themselves off (Gene suicide?)! They simply quit telling cells to repair themselves. They allow us to start dying – a little bit at a time but dying nonetheless! Scientists understand this process and are able to adequately describe it. What they don’t know – what has them completely baffled – is WHY this happens. Theoretically our DNA molecule should keep us alive forever! The same DNA formula that defines us should continue to regulate our bodily systems and cellular repair. We should be immortal! But, alas, we are not.

Now to Methuselah! Our exploration of the Biblical claim that he lived 969 years might best be commenced with a look at ante-diluvian atmospheric conditions. While I shall save a discussion of the processes that could have brought about the flood for another day let me just say here that every ancient culture has a flood legend. Names are changed a bit but the gist and the timing of all the accounts are the same. All these cultures claim descendancy from one of the sons of the principle character in the accounts. For the purpose of this blog let us accept, for a moment, that some sort of a worldwide deluvial event did in fact occur far back in world history.

In a previous blog I discussed Plate Tectonics, the mechanism by which continents are made. Most anthropologists and Proto-climatologists agree that early Earth’s atmosphere was much more humid or water laden than it is today. Depictions of pre-historic times almost always show tropical, vine laden and vegetation choked jungles. We see depictions of giant creatures from butterflies to dinosaurs. Almost every creature of very ancient times was like creatures we have today except much bigger and more lethal. How could this be? Well, it is not so difficult to accept as one might think. It turns out that water, or more specifically, water vapor, is the most predominant greenhouse gas! It is far more important than CO2 and other gases are and it picks up about 90% of the greenhouse load. While it does a good job keeping us warm it also does something else even (Perhaps) more important. It helps filter out Ultraviolet light.

Ultraviolet light rays, or UVs as they are commonly called, are an integral component of natural sunlight. UVs are also extremely dangerous. If a fully exposed human body were to get a full dose of sunlight as it exist in space before being filtered by our atmosphere, that body would receive a lethal dose in about :20! Even after being filtered by our atmosphere an untanned body can receive a life threatening dose after a number of hours of bright sunlight exposure. Luckily, our bodies are prepared for this with tannins in our skin that react with UV light by turning the pigment in our skin dark so that they can protect the more vital tissues underneath from the deleterious effects of the UVs. A nice side benefit of this process is that we get a nice tan (From Tannin). Now days people are so scared of sunlight that they spend literally billions of dollars a year on goop that they slather on their skin to block UVs and avoid the skin cancers that can result. Of course a gradually acquired tan is the body’s own way of doing this and our ancestors did not have nearly as much skin cancer as we do today. But I digress – We try to stay pasty white and as a result our skin does not age as quickly (Good) but neither does it protect itself from harmful UVs (Bad). Also, sunlight is far and away the best source of Vitamin D for our bodies. For the first time in a century our doctors are again seeing rickets in children as overprotective parents obsessively keep their kids out of the sun.

Could it be that these UVs are the key to this whole aging deal? Let’s see. In the 1970s a Japanese architect designed a building for downtown Tokyo. Fiber optic cables were a new and fascinating thing then and he decided that they could be employed in his building to bring sunlight into interior offices. This architect thought sunlight was good and its presence in an office would brighten up the day and make people feel better. He designed a huge bundle of fiber optic cables to be affixed to the roof and then make their way into every office in the building. He also had a large bundle that fed light directly into an atrium in the interior of the building. In this atrium were planted all types of plants and even (Being ever practical) vegetables! Well, the plants grew huge! So did the vegetables, particularly the Tomatoes! They were huge! Scientists were called in to study the matter and it was quickly determined that the fiber optic cable was transmitting pure sunlight but filtering out the UV which could not make its way through the glass cable (Glass is a UV filter which is why you don’t get a sunburn driving in your car with the windows up and the AC on but your dad, who drove with no AC and the windows down always had a ‘drivers tan’ left arm). Ultraviolet light has been proven to be very destructive to living organisms.

Now back to the ‘old days’ prior to the flood; Consider the plausibility of the idea that the water laden atmosphere (which, through a number of mechanisms could also have had much higher concentrations of Ozone and other UV blocking constituents) could have blocked virtually all of the UV and prevented any of it from getting to the surface! This brings up interesting ramifications for Carbon 14 dating but we’ll save that for another day.

Is it possible that in our everyday life UV exposure is the aging agent that not only ages our skin but also, through genetic damage, triggers the turning off of our genes that do the repair work? Could an overall increase in UV exposure be the cause of a foreshortened life span? If we look carefully at the scriptural account of the times surrounding the Great Flood we see something very interesting. While Moses (The author of the account) states that God decreed that man should no longer live as long as he had heretofore lived, was this decree a mandate or mearly a statement of fact realizing the realities of the post-deluvian world? Do we not, as parents, make blanket statements to our children about things in the world, not because we create those situations but rather because we recognize that that is just how it is? The account shows that the change in life span was brought about very slowly. Methuselah (Before the flood) lived 969 years.  Noah (Before, during and after) still lived  950 years. Noah’s son Shem however, who was 100 when the flood occurred, lived 600 years. Shem’s grandson Selah lived 433 years and his grandson Peleg lived 239 years.  Peleg’s great grandson Terah, the father of Abraham, lived 230 years. Abraham, of whom the scriptures say he was an “old man” at 100 years old when he had Isaac, lived another 75 years for a total of 175 years. Biblical geneologies indicate that life spans continued to drop after that. Today we expect to live about 80 years.

Whenever I see a gradual trend like this I see a natural process. The Great Flood was obviously a cataclysmic event and it was the demarcation between the anti-diluvial atmosphere and the post-deluvial atmosphere we live with today. As with other great events in world history and in the Bible, are we seeing here God’s use of a natural occurrence to bring about his ways? Is it so hard to believe that this could have been part of the overall plan from the beginning? This idea that God must go around acting like Cecil B. Demille and doing dramatic things in an instantaneous way just doesn’t pan out when you read the scriptures carefully.

It seems very reasonable to me to assume that humans could have lived much longer life spans prior to the flood than we do today. This would have fit well with the need to procreate and quickly populate the world. The fact that natural processes could have played well into the plans of a wise creator should not be surprising at all. After all, eveertything else about our ability to live and thrive on this planet is governed by the things of this world, why not life spans? Scientists and researchers are always beating the drum about our awful atmosphere and pollution and such and how that affects our health; why not apply the same passion to the notion that before all the pollutants, before all the other awful things happened to the atmosphere, perhaps it was a very life friendly place for humans and other animals in which to grow and live. I’ll bet that a serious, concerted study on this subject would yield some very surprising results. In a few days I’ll write about Carbon 14 dating and the implications of this discussion on that.