Mark Swint

Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

Is Science the Enemy of Religion?

In Bible, creation, current events, Genesis, Geology, God, Moses, news media, Plate Techtonics, science, Science and Religion, technology, Uncategorized on February 14, 2010 at 11:19 pm

By: Mark Swint

author of

Oculus book cover

 

I know I have declared this blog to be dedicated to exploring biblical claims with a scientific eye but I think a brief diversion from that goal is warranted this week.
I was watching a discussion on climate change and global warming issues on FOX News (which I actually DO think is fairly fair and balanced). To my great surprise however, the issue somehow got turned around to a discussion of how religion and climate skeptics went hand in hand and scientists (read, anti religionists) and AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming) were similarly connected.
I did not know that the increasingly controversial AGW claims were merely another face of the Science/Religion disconnect. In fact, I do not think they are and I have still to find out how the participants in the aforementioned discussion got to that point.
What really got me though was a statement, issued matter-of-factly, by the moderator who said, without the slightest degree of hesitation, “Of course, science is the enemy of religion”. Those of you who have read my posts can well imagine how I feel about this proposition. To say that I categorically disagree with this position goes without saying but I feel that I must respond a few thoughts and I beg your indulgence and patience. I promise to be short and will try to be interesting.
A calm and dispassionate look at scriptural claims, edicts and prophecies, free from individual dogmas and biases – or from impassioned preachings of sincere and fervent ministers and priests, can be quite revealing.
Specifically, let’s look at Moses, since he alone is responsible for the first five books (or Pentateuch) of the Bible including Genesis, which gives us the most complete biblical account of the creation and early days of the Earth and it’s early inhabitants. Moses, while certainly well educated in Egypt, was nevertheless basically a desert dwelling Bedouin! Oh don’t be confused by the term; Bedouin is a perfectly good description of the desert roaming lifestyle of those who chose to remove themselves from the cities and wander throughout the land herding sheep and goats, living in tents and using camels – regardless of their ethnic or genetic heritage.
Anyway, back to the point. Moses, while certainly well educated, was not well educated in things about which there was no knowledge in those days. No one,(at least from the records we have, had any full accounting of the creation, or at least how or why it was created (We do now have various versions of the ‘book of Enoch’ and a few other ancient manuscripts that have come to light in the last century that do wander into similar territory previously occupied only by Moses). But, we must be careful not to place too much burden of proof on Moses for the things he wrote. You see, Moses NEVER claimed to know or say HOW or WHY the elements of the creation he wrote about came to pass nor did he ever say that the seven creative periods he called days were the only periods of the creation, (in fact in the Haggadah we find that early Jews used over twenty creative periods to recount the creation story). You see, Moses was only an observer; He was a reporter, simply stating facts that were revealed to him or shown to him. The method or means is really immaterial. According to his writings he was shown the creation in a vision and the record he left in Genesis is an account of what he saw. Nowhere in that record does he say how or why the events he recorded came to pass – only that they did occur. He gave us the WHAT (the exoteric) of the creation without giving us the WHY (the esoteric – see my previous post “Exoteric and Esoteric knowledge).
When Moses said that the waters were gathered together and the dry land appeared he apparently had no idea HOW that happened, only that it did. He did not know that 4,000 years later scientists would figure out the theory of Plate Tectonics which would, in fact, tell us how the event that Moses observed came to pass.
This is how science has worked for as long as there have been scientists, and before them, natural philosophers. The world was full of people who made observations of things that incontrovertibly were, but about which nobody could explain. This is how it always has been. The very first inhabitants on this planet saw and realized that birds could fly. This was a truth and nobody denied it. Neither could anybody explain how birds flew, they only knew that they did. It was millennia before people figured out the science of aerodynamics and at last could explain how birds flew. Their discoveries did not change anything about the truth that birds fly but did at last provide the explanation about how they fly so that we could no more wonder about something we knew to be true.
This is and always has been the purpose and place of science in our life. Everything about this earth was, at first, a mystery. Early people watched in awe and horror as normally solid and still mountains suddenly erupted and spewed fire and death with the lava that flowed out of their great gaping maws. Lightning flashed from the sky and started fires and killed people and animals – nobody knew how or why but it surely did! The sun came up each day and set each night. So too the moon, except that it changed through the month being sometimes full, crescent, waxing and waning. It even disappeared for a day or two each month. The stars also traveled across the sky each night and then there were a few that wandered against the otherwise fixed and steady star field. All these things and more caused wonder and fell to the scientists to explain. The function of science is to give us the esoteric knowledge and understanding of the things that we can observe on our own.
Why was I so incensed over the statement that science is the enemy of religion? Because in my world the scriptures exists to tell me, and all of us, what is what. The bible is a collection of statements of things as they are and as they were. It tells me who I am and who created me (or my spirit if you like). But, nowhere in the Bible can I find the declaration that it’s purpose or intent is to tell me how and why these things are. It, in essence, says to me, “look I will tell you what happened and what is what and leave it to you to decide, first, do you need to know how it is so and, second, if you do then leave you free to explore, experiment, seek and search unto you find out how it is so.
Now, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that among us believers there are those who adopt a very strict and very narrow interpretation of the things that Moses and others said. This is certainly the privilege of any and all who choose to exercise a degree of faith. But, any reasonable person must admit that two or more very sincere and equally studious scriptorians can disagree and argue interpretations on the same scriptural passages – so why can’t we acknowledge that there can be incorrect theology, just as in disciplined science there are equally rancorous disagreements and debates and scientists can be wrong? Indeed, the very foundation of the scientific method is that one researcher or theoretician issues an hypothesis and then stands back while every other scientist tries to disprove it. Only when the best minds in the scientific discipline have exhausted their best efforts to disprove a theory without success is a theory then deemed valid and true.
Certainly there exists bad theology just as there has always existed incorrect science. I submit that science is only an enemy to bad religion just as correctly interpreted revealed truth is an enemy to bad science. I believe absolutely that good science is the partner of good theology and will, in time, prove to be a good and close friend of the believer.
Of course faith, in both science and religion is the first and most important element in our continuing journey on our quest for understanding and truth but let us not make science or theology mutually exclusive of each other, for if we do we stand to miss out
on the richest parts of both.

Advertisements

Foolish Traditions

In Abraham, Adam and Eve, Albert Einstein, Bible, Genesis, Geology, God, miracles, Moses, Philosophy, Plate Techtonics, Relativity, science, Science and Religion, technology on December 23, 2008 at 10:37 am

By

Mark Swint

author of

OCULUS: The Zebulon Initiative

I find it interesting that the conflict between scientists and theologians often tends to focus on just the mechanics of the various claims of the Bible and not the greater context of the account. The main emphasis is on the specific claim that ‘God’ made it happen, the implication being that the mere belief in a higher entity is silly and foolish. While the various arguments may rage on about whether the specifics of the claims have merit, a bigger issue goes unexamined. Why do these stories exist in the Bible at all?

Seriously, have you ever stopped to consider how odd, for example, the creation story in the first few chapters of Genesis is? Take for example the story of the actual physical creation of the planet. Remember as you read that Moses, while undoubtedly getting some formal training in Egypt, was basically just a goat herder. His life was consumed with the desert; with sand and scorpions and goats and thistle bushes and rocks. Isn’t it interesting then that he starts his description of the creation of the earth by saying that “in the beginning…the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” Now, you can argue all day long about the merits of saying that God created the heavens and the earth but step back for a moment and ask yourself why, if Moses were making this up, or if he were just a deluded old Bedouin, would he start by saying the earth began by being covered with water completely? The old adage, ‘write what you know’ comes to mind. Moses’ life was inextricable tied to sand and desert. The lifeblood of Egypt was the Nile River. Sand, rocks and a river were the sum of his experience, so why not tell a tale about a vast expanse of desert, lifeless and barren, empty and motionless. You could then bring in a great river that sprang forth out of the ground to water and give life to everything. A creation story that began like that would have found much more traction among the people who would hear this story than a story about a featureless ocean with no land whatsoever. It is doubtful that most of the people he led out of Egypt had ever seen an ocean, and the account in Exodus is clear in stating that the children of Israel wandered in the desert for forty years. I suspect that had Moses led them to some nice seaside paradise they would have stayed right there – thank you very much – and not ventured one more step onto the burning sands that had been their home for so long. There is no plausible reason for Moses to begin a fable (as many would call it) with an initiatory experience so far out of the common experience of his listeners.

Many Norwegian legends begin and end with the sea because Norwegians lived and died by the sea. A land so inhospitable to vast agriculture relied heavily upon the bounties drawn from the ocean. Fish and fishing were common to all the experiences of those hearty people. So legends of sea monsters, or invaders who came by boat from across the sea were perfectly reasonable myths to propagate.

Similarly, tribal customs from people that lived and died at the foot of volcanoes all incorporated those volcanoes in their lore. To this day it is taboo to take from Hawaii a piece of lava off the island, as the goddess Pelè will put a curse upon the unfortunate thief.

So we get back to Moses. Why did he start his ‘myth’ with an experience completely foreign to the common experience of his people? His story goes on; the land didn’t just appear. Rather, Moses puts in the curious detail that “the waters under heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.” How would Moses know, how would he deduce, that in order for land to appear the water would need to recede? I would be willing to bet that if you asked a thousand people to create a creation story of their own, every one of them, if given a water covered world to start with, would have the land spring up out of the water. Not one, in my opinion, would ever think to have the water recede. That is counter-intuitive and foreign to the common experience of most people.

That idea was so counter-intuitive, in fact, that geologists didn’t come up with it for the next 4,000 years! And these were people dedicated to studying the subject! Theories of the creation of the earth abounded for thousands of years but not until 1965 did the theory of Plate Tectonics come forth; a theory, by the way, which completely supports Moses’ brief observation in Genesis 1.

Other elements of the creation story begin to come forth as we look from this different vantage point. Why, for instance, did Moses make the effort to peg the creation of the Earth to six different creative periods? Why not just say something like “God brought forth the river unto the barren land and life sprang forth in all its myriad and abundant glory. Wouldn’t it be logical for everything to spring forth at once? Let’s see; Barren, lifeless desert – water – life filled desert! Water would give life to all and suddenly we would have plants and trees and birds of every kind and animals. This newly formed garden would be the perfect birthplace for mankind to appear.

Speaking of mankind, Adam and Eve didn’t begin in the Garden of Eden! Did you know that? It’s a good bar bet if you’re into that stuff. No, read what it says! “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” Then in the next chapter, 12 verses later, we read, “And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden: and there he put the man whom he had formed.” What an odd story! Again, it makes no logical sense to go through this elaborate creation myth and then create man in some nondescript place and then put him in the garden. Wouldn’t it have made much more sense to create a beautiful setting for the coming forth of mankind? Isn’t that the stuff myths are made of? The Greek myths all have their gods springing forth from their respective birthplaces in accordance with their natures, i.e. in the kingdoms of the clouds, or the sun, or the sea, or the underworld. How odd then that Moses would decide, if he were the fabricator of the creation myth, that man’s coming forth should be so bland and non-magnificent and only later put him in a garden. Why not create him in the garden? That would have made for a much better story. After all, the very essence of a garden is that it is more abundant of life and more beautiful than the surrounding terrain. Remember, the Bedouin and all desert dwellers lived and died by the Oasis. The Oasis was their only source of water – or life – in an otherwise inhospitable desert.  

In Genesis, the Garden of Eden is representative of the oasis in the desert. The story of Adam and Eve tells of the beauty and the abundance of food in the garden. As Adam and Eve were innocent from the beginning, it is unreasonable to surmise that their occupancy in the garden was a reward for some accomplishment. On the contrary, all indications were that the garden would be their home forever as they tended the animals and got about the task of multiplying and replenishing the earth. It was only after they had transgressed the laws that they were punished and thrust out of the garden and into the ‘dark and dreary world’. They were, in essence, forced to leave the oasis and wander into the desert, not unlike Moses’ own people who left the relative security and abundance of Egypt to wander in the desert for forty years.

Another point or two about biblical stories supports my thesis. In the account of the parting of the Red/Reed Sea, why, if you were chronicling the story of God saving a people, would you not just say “God parted the waters”? Why would you feel compelled to include the detail that the wind blew and imply that that was what parted the waters?

The story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah can be explained easily enough by supposing that a meteor of some sort might have entered the atmosphere and broken up, raining down fiery pieces that set the whole place ablaze. Isn’t it interesting that that story, which we attach to just the two towns, actually recounts the destruction of four cities, all proximate to one another, and tells us that one city escaped the fire. Zoar was within the area of destruction of the other four cities but somehow escaped destruction. Isn’t it interesting that all four cities destroyed were right next to each other? Aren’t we to suppose that these were the only cities in northern Africa that were wicked? How convenient that they were all next to each other! And why not Zoar? Wouldn’t it have been tainted by the same local traditions and customs. Wouldn’t debauchery and sin have invaded its doors as well? Probably. But just as we see a tornado demolish one house and leave the next one unscathed, so too, a meteor or other object falling from the sky can be just as random. But why did Moses say that Sodom and Gomorrah would have fire rained down upon them? Why not just afflict them with a plague or some other commonly recognized peril of the time? Even for Sodom and Gomorrah fire raining down from heaven was a pretty unique experience.

My point in all this is simply this. We argue about the merits of a tale, whether it is true or fantasy. In so doing we argue about the details without standing back and asking the bigger question – Where did this tale come from? Atheists and intellectuals can bloviate all daylong about how silly the Bible stories are and how foolish people of faith are but they risk ultimately looking foolish themselves one day. Moses and the other Biblical chroniclers were only reporters relating what they had seen in visions and dreams and prophecies. As we argue about the details of what they saw we miss the fact that these tales came about in the first place. We miss the fact that many of these tales have details that were not available to the common experience of man in that era. We should not overlook the fact that these men provided us stories with facts and ascertains that were un-provable or unsupportable for the next three or four thousand years. We fail to ask ourselves “Why would Moses say something like this?” What in his experience would possibly lead to a detail as explicit as some we read when nothing in his life experience would have even given him the notions that would later form some of the accounts we have from his records?

When an ancient Mayan record tells us that time is a variable quantity that marches differently on different spheres we should ask ourselves “how did they know about special relativity – a theory not put forth in our time until 1905? How would they know that the marking of time would vary according to the size and speed of rotation of that planet or celestial body?

Rather than dismiss all of these ancient tales as folly and foolish traditions we should ask ourselves how these details and these stories even came to be. Without some divine input, some infusion of knowledge from a higher source, we are left only to marvel at the creative wisdom of the people we deride.

I, for one, tip my hat to Moses and the other prophets of the Bible. They were either men of God or at very least, men much smarter than I. In either event I would be wise to follow their council.

 

 

Yin & Yang

In Bible, Isaac Newton, Philosophy, science, Science and Religion, technology, Uncategorized on November 25, 2008 at 11:49 am

  

by Mark Swint

author of

OCULUS: The Zebulon Initiative

Opposites attract. It’s an adage as old as time itself. Sir Isaac Newton made it one of the foundational statements of the universe when he published his laws of Motion; he said, in essence, “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” This is not to be confused with the statement by the author Bob Wells who said “for every action there is an equal and opposite government program.” It is this opposite force that give impetus for all motion on earth. Rockets soar and airplanes fly expressly because of Newton’s law. In fact the energy exerted by a rocket motor is expressed in units called ‘Newtons’. When we stand up, or walk, it is because our feet have exerted a force against the earth which ‘pushes back’. Since we are smaller than the earth it is we who move against a fixed surface (the scientific literalist will tell you, not incorrectly, that the earth also moves ever so slightly in the opposite direction when we walk). By the way, you do realize that the Earth is bi-polar?

Since the beginning of civilization the idea that everything has its opposite has existed in everything we do. yin-yang-jpegThe Chinese Yin Yang was born of this notion and reflects the nature and necessity of opposition in everything in life. The actual Yin Yang concept is exemplified by a mountain whose east side is illuminated in the morning by the Sun while its west side lies in shadow, occluded by the mountain itself. In the afternoon, as the Sun makes its way westward, the opposite becomes true and that which was dark is now light and that which was light is now in shadows.

 In the Book of Mormon a father speaks to his son of this issue and states that not only is opposition a fact of life but a requisite fact of life. He says “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.” He goes on to explain that without sadness we could not experience joy, that we must know the bad to appreciate the good, the bitter to know the sweet, and that without sin there is no righteousness, without law there is no wickedness.

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, “That which does not kill me makes me stronger!” He was simply stating, in a most poetic form, the universal law of opposition recognized by all others before him. In his most literal context he explains how we build muscle through exercise. The lifting of heavy weights is designed to tax our muscles beyond their normal strength. This actually causes muscle tissue to be torn down and damaged. It rebuilds stronger and more able to exert the forces demanded of it and we grow stronger. We all know, and have experienced the growth that comes through trials. It is the challenges we face that either defeat us or make us stronger. No one ever grew stronger by simply laying on a beach all day drinking Mai Tais. Similarly, our expression for someone who does nothing all day, every day,  “Couch Potato”,  implies the inherent weakness that befalls one who does not rise to take on and meet a challenge or at least become actively engaged. Boredom, sloth and indolence are all conditions that befall the inactive and unmotivated mind while energy, sharpness and acuity are all traits enjoyed by those who stay active and enthusiastically and aggressively engage with the world, taking on whatever challenges it may throw at them.

Nature, at its most elemental state recognizes the need, nay, the necessity of opposition. The atom is itself is a composite of positive and negative forces. Each proton in the nucleus is balanced by an electron whirling in a cloud above it. It is the combination of Protons and Electrons, positive and negative, that make up every element in the universe and that give us substance (Yes, Virginia, there are also Neutrons but their contribution is to the stability of the nucleus and they do not establish the nature of the element nor its chemical properties). Strip away all the negative electrons from the positive protons and you are left with a mass of nothingness Stephen Hawking first called a “Black Hole”. A Black Hole is a mass of gravity that sucks everything into it and lets nothing escape. It is lifeless and the epitome of death and oblivion.

So, why do I go on and on about this? It is because of the conundrum of life. Life appears to ignore the most basic laws of the universe and has no tangible place or justification within the laws of physics. Life exists in defiance of the universe and it fends off every attempt by the universe to defeat it.  Eventually everything dies, but not before it has replicated itself and left another to carry on the battle. Nature throws hurricanes, and tornados, and blizzards, and droughts at us constantly but we survive. The Sun, which ironically injects the energy into the world that we ultimately use to exist, bombards us with radiations of various sorts trying to kill us. The universe gets in on this conspiracy by constantly bombarding us with cosmic radiation equally willing to kill us and burn us up.

As if that weren’t enough we are faced with the very laws of the universe which declare that we should not be. The Second Law of Thermodynamics, first postulated by French physicist Sadi Carnot, is also referred to as the Law of Entropy. While it is somewhat complex, it basically states that all things return to their most basic and fundamental state. Cold warms up to neutral. Hot cools down to neutral. Mountains eventually erode and fall while valleys slowly fill up and disappear. It is the law of Entropy at work that makes your car rust and the paint on your house fade. It is Entropy that takes a brand new, nicely paved road and eventually turns it into a cracked and weedy path. If left untended, all roads ever built would eventually break up and return to the basic earth upon which they sit. The great pyramids of Egypt and the temples of the Mayans are stark reminders that the glory that man erects to his pride and ego will all, one day, crumble and disappear. At its most basic interpretation Entropy makes organized things return to a disorganized state to chaos. As the Bible says, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

 So consider the miracle of life. In seeming defiance of Entropy, life takes unorganized matter and organizes it! A seed sits in soil and with a little water and a little sunshine it slowly extracts minerals and elements from that soil and organizes them into stems leaves and flowers of every color, emitting fragrances that please the nose and attract other living creatures that unwittingly help the plant reproduce itself. Similarly, a mother carrying a fertilized egg eats a piece of fruit or a vegetable and a little protein and a baby forms within her belly. There is bone where there was no bone and there is blood and skin and organs where there was none before. The process of gestation and birth is miraculous on so many levels, but among them is the fact that unorganized matter becomes organized onto life, in defiance of Entropy! What a great victory for life.

But just what is life? I mean, we take dirt and rock and water and turn it into cement with which we erect soaring skyscrapers. We refine aluminum and titanium and magnesium and turn them into airplanes that soar above the earth at 600 miles per hour! Is this not also organized matter? Does this not also defy Entropy? Indeed! And can the skyscraper build itself? Can the airplane build itself? No, these things are the products of living beings who created them first in their minds and then with their hands. So, what is life? From where does it originate? How does it happen to be?

The author Bill Bryson, in his wonderful book “A Short History of Nearly Everything” makes a wonderful observation. He says; “It is a slightly arresting notion that if you were top pick yourself apart with tweezers, one atom at a time, you would end up with a mound of atomic dust, none of which had ever been alive but all of which had once been you.” So, where is life. Where did it come from? What makes it alive? Who or what struck that spark? Lightning? Maybe, but not likely. You see, it’s not a matter of electricity! Electricity is just the flow of unbound electrons. We have plenty of electrons. Everything in the universe is comprised, at least in part, of electrons. It is not electricity that makes life. It would be more accurate to ascribe life to proteins and amino acids that make up the substance of cells and living organisms. We could narrow it down to a couple of long chain polymers comprised of nucleotides made up of segments called chromosomes constructed of four basic components identified by their first letters G A T and C. Guanine, Adenine, Thymine and Cytosine combine to define the DNA formula that makes and defines us; what we are, what color our hair is, how tall we are etc. etc. proclaiming that a lightning strike is responsible for this is akin to claiming that the dictionary is the product of an explosion in a print shop ( a well worn analogy I admit but it fits).

And yet, in the grand scheme of things isn’t life just the Yin to the Yang of the cold, stark, bleak emptiness of Space? Is it not the light to balance the dark? We are looking and nothing less than Extropy to balance Entropy. While it is true that individual life blinks out as quickly as it starts, life in general goes on and life forms – biomass if you will – continue to exist and procreate. Is this not the pattern for inanimate matter as well? On the quantum level we allow for matter to blink into and out of existence continually. Matter is constantly changing to energy and back again. Yet to the larger, visible world it appears static. So too life remains constant in the face of death. We fly over a large city and everyday it looks the same, even though some have died and some have been born.

So, here’s the deal! Why not God? Why can’t there be a deity? We tend to refer to God as a supreme being. Is this wrong? No! Of course there is a supreme being. That is a fact that happens the instant you have more than one species of life. Is not an Orchid of a higher order than a fungus? Is not a bug of a higher order than a microbe? In intelligence, is not a dog smarter than a slug? Is not a human more creative than a cow? You see, everything exists in a hierarchy, the one above the other in some manner or measurement. Philosophy aside, living creatures exist on differing planes, each within their own realm and each with their own biological imperatives. So who gets to say that that hierarchy stops with Homo Sapiens, with Mankind? Who made us the Supreme Being? Is that not arrogance of the first degree? Can the system not support even one more level of supremacy? Or two, or three, or a hundred more? Is it so totally out of the realm of possibility that a higher life form might exist on a higher plane than we? Is this not tantamount to us living on a plane of existence incomprehensible to a worm?

I would posit that it is the fool who sees nothing beyond his own existence and the bigger fool who loudly proclaims that there can be no existence higher than his own.

I don’t know. I could be wrong.

 

Intelligent Evolution

In Bible, Genesis, God, Moses, Philosophy, science, Science and Religion, technology on November 16, 2008 at 9:33 am

By

Mark Swint

author of

Oculus book cover

                 The conflict between science and religion reached its apex during the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925. That trial pitted the State of Tennessee against a high school teacher named John Scopes. It accused him of violating the Butler Act, which made it illegal “to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.

The case was a sensation and made a household word of the name John Scopes. It pitted two of the greatest legal minds of the time, Williams Jennings Bryan, Congressman and former Secretary of State, for the prosecution, against Clarence Darrow the most prominent defense attorney of the time. The trial inspired a 1955 stage play, “Inherit the Wind” that was quickly followed in 1960 by a movie of the same name starring Spencer Tracy and Fredrick March. Three television movies followed.

The Scopes Monkey Trial put a spark to the conflict that had long been simmering between scientists and theologians. Instantly, evolution erupted into the mainstream dialogue and people everywhere began to openly discuss things which had heretofore been mostly taboo or spoken only in whispers. “Did God make the world or did we come from pond slim?” This became the issue of the day. The Scopes trial broke down the last remaining barrier to the free and open discussion of any scientific evidence which might seem to contradict Biblical teachings. In many ways it was the catalyst that once and for all defined the practical separation of Church and State. Good or bad, things changed after the Scope Monkey Trial.

This issue though, ‘did we come from God or did we come from Monkeys?’ started off on the wrong foot from the beginning. It arose as much from well intentioned but perhaps overzealous theological idealists as it did from a scientific community a bit too anxious to shed the shackles of dogmatic tradition and religious constraint. Scientists had always felt crowded by the oversight exerted by priests and ministers. In many countries still today, one religion is the official religion of the country and as such exercises tremendous control over the curricula taught in the schools. Scientists thought it would be better to explore and investigate in an environment free from external persuasion and influence. “Just let pure science find its way, free from bias and preconception,” was their cry. At least that sounded noble and honest.

In truth science (or religion for that matter) has never operated in a vacuum, free from outside influence or bias. As example, I only have to point right now to the absolute hysteria generated by the pseudo-religious movement of the Global Warming community. It seems that Global Warming is such a cash cow for a community that lives by the credo “Publish or Perish” that ANY voice expressing a cautionary warning to go slow before sticking one’s foot in ones mouth is quickly quashed and banished from the hallowed halls of scientific temples. Many great researchers have lost their positions almost instantly for questioning globaal warming or raising the wrong issues and asking the wrong questions (The list is too long to post here but if you really must challenge this blog I will be happy to provide the research for you). We all know that Al Gore is making a boatload of money from his crusade against Global Warming, not to mention an Academy Award and a Nobel Prize. But how many of us know that 10 of his 11 experts cited in “An inconvenient Truth” have since recanted their opinions? That just doesn’t seem to make the news. By the way, if we called it Global Warming Business then we could say that Al Gore has been fighting G.W.B. Hum? Maybe that’s the real incentive, (Let it go man, you lost).

Anyway, I digress.

Creation! We all know it happened somehow. I mean, the Earth is here and people and other living things are on it. We had to come from somewhere so it is a worthy question –Where did we come from?

The real issue is, does God, if He exists, operate outside of the established rules that govern the Universe, and if so, doesn’t that make him an Anarchist? For some reason (yes, I know what that reason is) scientists think that to believe in God means necessarily abandoning any sense of reason and ignoring the more than obvious evidences that the world puts in front of us. Their assumption is that the very definition of religion is “the abandonment of reality for a more comfortable and accommodating fantasy” (this is nuts on sooo many levels). Many religious people, on the other hand, think that scientists are all Godless infidels who will burn eternally in hell for their blasphemies (again, WRONG).  There are many scientists who have managed to put a personal belief system in place in their lives while still pursuing truth through research and inquiry.

So, what is the problem? Well, it’s this; Zealots say God went ‘Poof” and there they were, Adam and Eve, (or, if you prefer, Adam and Lilith first). Science says, “That just doesn’t make sense nor does it fit the pattern we think we see in everything else!” fair enough.

Let’s take the “God is an anarchist” argument first. In what Bible, or any other book of Scripture, does it say that God ignores rules and laws? Huh?  Anyone?  Anyone? This whole idea sprang from the silly notion that being God means not being bound by anything. The idea that God is all powerful somehow came to be interpreted as meaning that nothing could limit God, ergo; God was not bound by any convention or universal law. The simple fact is that the Bible does not say that anywhere. Oh, it may say that God’s dominion is boundless or His knowledge is boundless or his power is infinite but that is not the same as saying that God does not operate within a system. In fact, just the opposite is true. The scriptures are full of pacts and covenants made between God and Man. The use of pacts and covenants is very telling. You see, a dictator or a King doesn’t need to make a covenant with his people. He simply declares something to be so and it is so. A covenant, on the other hand, is a contract, a two way agreement, legally binding, that obligates both parties concerned. It says that the party of the first part agrees to do something desired by the party of the second part in exchange for a service or action of value provided by the party of the second part on behalf of the party of the first part. It BINDS both parties to an agreed upon goal. If God enters into covenants with people that sure sounds to me like a restriction on Him! Additionally, the scriptures say that God’s house is a house of order. Order and chaos are not mutually compatible. Order denotes structure. Structure denotes bounds and limits. But then, who says structure or limits are ungodly?

 If you are tasked with wiring a house for electricity can you simply go in and staple a bunch of cable to the walls and put in switches? Well, yes you can but we all know that’s not going to work. Why, because the laws of electromagnetism are very precise and very unforgiving. Such simple concepts as the fact that all circuits must have a positive lead and a ground (Negative) are basic but when followed, lead to incredible things like lighting cities or watching cartoon characters on a box that glows and talks in your living room. It is expressly the understanding of, and following of, natural laws that empower us to enjoy the life we enjoy. We travel across oceans in airplanes that fly high over weather, not because they are not bound to the laws of Gravity but because they use the laws of Gravity to create lift and fly (yes, that’s right! Flight requires gravity. A weird concept I know, but it’s true nonetheless).

I posit that it is the existence of, and the knowledge of, laws that give us, and by extension, God, power.  As scientists peel away the obscuring layers of ignorance and uncover the truths of the universe they are constantly moving more and more towards Godlike power. You think I blaspheme? Au contrere! A thousand years ago the only creatures who could fly through the air were birds and Angels (see Revelations). Now we do it for sport and for business. Why? Because we learned the secret of aerodynamics; a set of laws that had always existed but that had always elluded our grasp. A thousand years ago only God could speak and the whole world would hear it  at one time. Recently, Sarah Palin and Joe Biden debated and 70 million people both saw and heard it on little glowing boxes that talk and show pictures right in our homes. I could go on but you get the picture (is that digital or film?).

So, what if theologians accepted the fact that God is God precisely because he works within a structure of natural laws the give him tremendous powers, rather than believing and teaching that he is God because he is not bound (and by implication, doesn’t know any natural laws?).  I know this hurts for the ultra traditionalist but just what is so threatening about it? Really? Isn’t the Bible all about laws and edicts?  Proscriptions against such and such behavior, and the implicit or explicit rewards doled out thereof is the staple of many of the prophetic warnings and urgings recorded therein.        

And you, the scientific community, what is it about order and structure that you don’t like?  If we could get theologians to universally embrace and teach that God is a god of order rather than a god of chaos, and the universe exists within some coherent structure, could we not also get scientists to then go looking for that structure and order?

Interestingly, the issue of intelligent design is at the forefront now. It looks like a clever attempt by religions to do an end run around the anti-creationist sentiment by renaming the cause, but actually, (and here I must admit, in the name of full disclosure, that I received a very well thought out and presented comment to an earlier post disputing me on this) it was a term embraced by astrophysicists (whether they created the term or not is immaterial) looking into the very first instant of the Big Bang. It is a term they were comfortable using because it acknowledged the inescapable conclusions their work was drawing them to, i.e. that there was some initiatory action to the Big Bang, without having to actually say the word ‘God’. That fundamentalists co-opted the word and took up the crusade anew was tragic because the narrow pathway that had opened up between science and religion on this subject was very quickly barricaded once more.

And don’t think for a minute that the scientists don’t have their hands full with problems concerning evolution! Far from being a clean and indisputable fact, there are still many hurdles to cleaning up the theory of evolution. No sane person will dispute what Charles Darwin really found on the Galapagos Islands; that species adapt to their environment. We see that all around us. We see it in skin color, and height, and longevity and visual acuity and so on and so on. Our bodies try to put on layers of insulating fat in cold climates and shed that same protection in warm climates. Adaptation is an amazing and wonderful ability of living creatures. However, there is a huge problem when we make the jump from adaptation to actually crossing Chromosomal boundaries. There is no good evidence – I repeat, there is no good evidence, or explanation for how it could happen – for the ability of an organism to add or subtract Chromosomes in the quest to become another type of creature. The best we can do is say, “it must be so, therefore we shall assume it is so!”  This is O.K. as far as the scientific method goes – it is requisite that we make an assumption and try our best to prove it (actually, the correct method is to try to disprove it) and in fairness I grant to the scientific the time and effort to pursue these efforts. However, I believe there is now a growing sentiment to stick dogmatically to Chromosomal modification come hell or high water. “It must be so” cry the pragmatists, and I don’t totally disagree. After all we do seem to have an awful lot of critters roaming the earth! (Gosh, I hope no one knows about the Cambrian Explosion).

Perhaps there is another theory that would work, if only we weren’t beating the drum so loudly against the Bible, so that we could, instead, seek to find some common ground.  And for those of us who accept that the Bible is authentic, just because we believe that God created the world and the things in it; just what does that mean? HOW did he create it? How did he form the world? When Donald Trump builds a tower does that mean that the man Donald Trump put in every nail and screw? Of course not! Hundreds of people work together to physically erect a concept envisioned and designed by one entity yet that entity gets the credit for ‘building’ the structure.

To say that God created the world does not necessarily mean that he came down with shovel and cement mixer to do it one load at a time. How absurd.

If we could accept a statement such as, “There is a God” or God created the world” and then step back and not jump to the most literal and most restrictive interpretation of that statement, we might find that there is much to be learned, about God, and about us, in the process. If scientists could stop their fight against individual religions who hold, perhaps, simplistic views and accept the premises more generally implied in the scriptures, perhaps they could show us how these things came about. Am I putting reason above faith? Maybe, maybe not.The scriptures exhort us to “seek and ye shall find” “ask and it shall be given.” Are these not invitations to investigate? Moses sought the Lord and asked how the earth came to be. His vision, recorded in Genesis, is merely his simple attempt to express what he saw in words that he understood. Forgive him for not being a Phd. or for not caring HOW it was done. His primary desire was to tell us WHAT was done. It did not matter to him how. Let’s cut him some slack, not parse his words so literally and avoid putting him in the position of someday saying to us, wait a minute, I never said that! You got it all wrong!

Moses, I am anxious to talk to you someday. Until then I think I’ll sit and ponder and trust what you said, and keep an open mind as to how the things you saw and reported actually happened.

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.

 

 

Miracles and Such

In Bible, Genesis, Geology, God, miracles, Moses, Nationjal Geographic, Philosophy, science, Science and Religion, technology, weather on September 24, 2008 at 8:07 am

 

By: Mark Swint

author of

Oculus book cover

             Time was, once, that miracles were commonly accepted and believed in as an integral component of life and living. The rough definition of a miracle was anything that was inexplicable by the existing body of knowledge of the day. In the 80’s the movie “The Gods must be Crazy” capitalized on this idea with a charming story of an African tribesman who finds a glass bottle ejected from a small airplane flying overhead. Having never seen a glass bottle before, the man and his fellow tribesmen quickly determined that the bottle was a sacred icon dropped from heaven by God. A whole story revolves around this event and the movie was very successful.

If any of us were to go back in time just 200 years and take with us the things we commonly use, almost everything we have and do would appear miraculous to the people of the day. For example, an Ipod would be a truly astounding device. Everything about it would cause awe and wonder. The display screen of a video Ipod would seem miraculous just by the glow and the menu. Imagine the awe as a picture from your photo collection appeared. Think of the surprise as that photo peeled away to reveal another photo, and another and another! Then imagine the shock as you played a video selection of “The Office” that you had downloaded from Itunes. We haven’t even plugged in the ear phones yet but everything about that would be even more miraculous. The earphones themselves would seem foreign on so many levels. The plastic from which they are made would cause wonder; the sound emanating from within these tiny devices would be remarkable. If we were to then play a music selection from Metallica or ACDC the listener would hear sounds from instruments they had never heard before. The whole technology of electronic and amplified music and the sounds from the electric guitars would seem otherworldly.

Well, you get the point; almost everything about our modern life would seem miraculous to someone removed from us by only a few generations. Sadly, this means that as we grow smarter miracles become less and less frequent. Today miracles seem so rare that we dispute the very existence of them, or alternatively, we have shifted the meaning of the word to imply something really really great as in “the miraculous power of a home PC” computer. Of course the PC is fully explainable, just not by most of us, but we know that there are smart people that can explain a computer and do know how to make one.

We don’t really believe in miracles anymore. We have replaced that awe with the belief that, with enough money and time, anything can be developed and made. We have somehow decided that real miracles are only those things that can’t be explained by reason, logic or science and, if anything can be explained, it is certainly not miraculous.

The implications of this way of thinking imply that if there were a God, and if he did interact with us, He would certainly not do so in any way that employed or used any natural process or science. Someone has told us, and we have believed, that God is God specifically because He is not bound by the laws of the universe i.e. physics, chemistry, astrophysics etc. and that He can do anything He wants without regard to any physical reality. Where does it say this? Who defined God this way? Is God an anarchist? Does He operate without any regard for order or structure or form? This is not only foolishness; it is contradicted by scripture and by the proclamations of prophets.

I submit that a true miracle is not a miracle because it unravels or ignores the universal laws that govern our existence. Often it is the timing of an event rather than the action that defines the miracle. Let me give an example; Moses’ parting the Red Sea is a miracle emblazoned in all of our memories because of Cecil B. Demille’s great movie “The Ten Commandments.” We all remember how he stood before the waters and, lifting his arms high in the air, commanded the waters to part. Immediately, in some type of Bellagio water show way, the sea parted and the waters mysteriously began shooting upward and outward, leaving a nice water lined passageway for the Israelites. This recounting of the story was certainly dramatic and it adequately conveyed the miraculous nature of the event. Just one problem, that’s not how it happened and the bible does not even claim that is how it happened. The account in Exodus 14 and 15 says essentially that the wind blew and it was this that both drove the water away and allowed it to return when the Egyptian armies were in pursuit.

Exodus 15:8 And with the blast of thy nostrils the waters were gathered together, the floods stood upright as an heap, and the depths were congealed in the heart of the sea.

Exodus 15:10 Thou didst blow with thy wind, the sea covered them: they sank as lead in the mighty waters.

Other ancient writings state that the Lord caused the winds to blow for three days before the waters parted.

Some years ago the National Geographic did a feature on the Red Sea. The story recounted the account in Exodus and explained that this strong wind pattern was a rather common weather phenomenon that frequently occurs in the area. The article stated that the winds had on occasion been so strong as to actually drive the water back so that the Red Sea had literally parted at least 7 times in recorded history. The implication was that the Biblical account wasn’t really a miracle after all – just a fortuitous weather event. This attitude presupposes, once again, that God can’t use natural things to bring about his purposes. I posit that the miracle of the Red Sea wasn’t the parting of the waters but rather the TIMING of the parting.

If we look to the serendipitous timing of many events and acknowledge that perhaps that is the miracle then we can once again say that there are miracles all the time in all the world. After all, aren’t we all comfortable with, and often use, the common phrase “By the grace of God”?

 

Is There Any Common Ground?

In Bible, Genesis, Geology, Isaac Newton, Moses, Plate Techtonics, science, Science and Religion, technology on September 23, 2008 at 2:38 pm

By: Mark Swint

author of

Oculus book cover

Welcome to this, the first post of my new Blog “Science and Religion.” I have imported a previous post from my other blog that dealt with this subject and as I pondered the matter I began to believe that there were and are some very important and legitimate issues to be explored with a dedicated blog to this subject.

I guess you deserve to know the general thrust of my feelings and motivations for writing this so let me share. I am highly trained in technical and scientific disciplines and, though it may seem a bit geeky, I am absolutely passionate about physics. I work in a technical field where my life literally hangs on the infallibility of the laws of physics and I trust them completely.

Having said all that let me also state for the record that I believe in God. I understand and respect those of you who do not and I will try to be fair and open to your replies. My intent is not to preach religion or to berate, criticize or otherwise mock any of you with opposing views who are kind enough to read and hopefully comment on the thoughts expressed here. I truly hope we can enter into a stimulating and refreshing dialogue.

I believe that there is a middle ground that allows for the belief in a Deity as well as a recognition that the efforts of people throughout the centuries to understand this world and the manner of its creation are valid. I think the present day conflict is the result of some pretty egregious errors on the part of theologians and the arrogance and hubris of some academicians.

My reasoning goes something like this; There is an erroneous assumption that the edicts and declarations of one particular religious leader or church, if that church is large enough, are the declarations of religion in general. This is not true. In fact there are many differing thoughts among many different religious people and no one doctrine or dogma speaks for them all. More importantly, truth is truth and it exists independently of the declarations of well meaning but perhaps mis-informed theologians. Similarly, the laws of the universe, i.e. the sciences, are also inviolate though scientists may not understand them completely and may act on partial understandings or upon completely erroneous assumptions. History is rife with examples and perhaps they are best left for discussions which will hopefully follow.

I do not maintain the arrogance to suppose that I have all the answers but as one who loves and respects the sciences but who also devotes as much time to pondering things of a spiritual nature, I believe I am in a unique position to comment. Over the coming weeks and months I will endeavor to address areas of apparent conflict between science and religion and see if there is any common ground. I think you will be entertained. I hope you will be entertained. My promise to you is that I will not preach nor attempt to convert. I will strive to demonstrate the idea that these two great and important fields are not mutually exclusive and have and can peacefully co-exist and actually enhance one another. After all, truth is the ultimate holy grail. However, unlike the golden challis of the Monty Python quest, this holy grail – Truth – is out there.

Science and Religion

In Bible, Genesis, Geology, Isaac Newton, Moses, Plate Techtonics, science, Science and Religion, technology on September 18, 2008 at 2:05 am

           

By

Mark Swint

author of

OCULUS: The Zebulon Initiative

I am intrigued by the element of human nature that makes us prone to the idea that most issues are ” either – or” propositions. We seem all too willing to accept the notion that there are only two sides to everything. Often, two sides are just the extremes of any position and a third “middle ground” may exist. I guess you could say there could be three (or more) sides to everything.

I take for example the argument, nay, the battle, between Science and Religion. The basic assumption is that one either accepts science and the scientific method, OR religion, and the almost mythological accounts it posits, ut not both, for the existence and purpose of everything. In this I think we err.

First, those most arrogantly supportive of the cleverness of men over anything thing else greater than ourselves, make very erroneous assumptions about the claims of ‘religion’ on the subjects of creation and existence. I put the word religion in brackets because to categorize religion as one single entity is wrong. There are myriad viewpoints that support a religious world view, just as there are myriad viewpoints about different aspects of science.

“But wait!” you say. Science is pure, refined and perfectly unified in its theory. Not so my good friends, not so. I point you to the tale of Sir Issac Newton, arguably one of the most brilliant men in history. When he presented his ideas about motion and introduced the concepts of ‘Newtonian Physics’ to the Royal Academy he was nearly run out of England. He incurred such wrath that the august scientist Robert Hook – himself a brilliant researcher ‘ swore in his indignation that he would destroy Isaac Newton. All this because Isaac dared to contradict the 2000 year old assumptions of Aristotle. Newton was so distressed by his rebuff that he retreated to his country home and hid out for several years. Today we have researchers at great odds with one another over the truth or error of String Theory. And in case you have missed it in the mainstream media, the whole “Global warming is human caused” thing is very far from being universally accepted by scientists. If you think I am stretching the truth hear just Google “Solar Flux” and learn how Mars has been warming concurrently with Earth. (I wonder how we did that?)

The point is, “Religion” and Religious theory” cannot be categorized into one single viewpoint. The fact that certain vocal fundamentalists decide to interpret one element of creation in the most literal sense i.e. that God create the world in 6 days , does not mean that every good Christian, Muslim or Jew must believe the same thing or lose the faith.

I point to the creation story as found in Genesis as an example. Scientists (rightly, I think) laugh at the notion that the Earth was created in just 6 Solar periods or just 144 hours. But I ask, is this really what the Bible says? Oh yes, the word ‘day’ is used but does that mean 24 hours. The term ‘day’ is used throughout the Bible in various ways. In fact, in the story of Adam and Eve the Lord says ‘In the day that ye eat thereof you shall surely die!” Yet we read that Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit and, rather than die that very day, as the literalist would insist, they were expelled from the garden and thrust into the dark and dreary world. In this case the word day was used to mean ‘event that’ or ‘once this is done’. Actually, it is consistent that once they ate of the forbidden fruit, their lives changed and they were expelled from the Garden. According to the account, they changed from immortal to mortal and they did eventually die. So it could correctly be said that on the day they ate of the fruit circumstances were changed and it became sure that they would eventually die.

When we say that the earth was made in 6 days we can all think back to the countless times when our parents and grandparents  related to us accounts of their youth and said “in my day” or as Archie and Edith Bunker said in the opening song of the T.V. series ‘All in the Family’ “Those were the days.” Using the word Day to refer to a creative period in the Bible is the same as the use of the term Age to refer to an anthropological period such as the Bronze Age, the Stone Age, the Neolithic Age. We must remember that Moses, the writer of Genesis was not a scientist, He was a goat herder. He claims to have seem a vision of the creation of the world and he was then left with the task of describing what he saw in words he had at his command.

I believe Science and Religion can peacefully co-exist. They may disagree on the fine points but the idea that you must choose between science or religion to live your life is just silly. Let me show you how easy this can really be. PLATE TECTONICS is the accepted theory of land mass formation and the creation of Seas and Continents. It states (simply) that chunks of the Earth’s Crust float on the mantle and move about. As one chunk crashes into another one is driven downward and the other is lifted up and over, this creates high places and low places. Any GEOLOGY 101 class will teach you that at the beginning the surface of the Earth was smooth and featureless. They go on by saying that as the plates began to move, the water, which covered the Earth completely and evenly, began to gather to the deep spots leaving dry earth to appear, slowly at first, and then as islands and continents.

Now let’s look at Genesis and the words of a simple goat herder trying to describe what he saw in a vision.

Genesis 1:2 And the Earth was  without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep (Water?) And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

So far there is no disagreement with Tectonic theory.

Genesis 1:9 And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.

Again, no disagreement! If we allow that Moses did not know the term Plate Tectonics (A Greek term) and simply used words at his disposal to describe a process that he did not understand we can then say that the Bible and Geological Science have common ground. It should be pointed out here that Tectonic theory did not come about until 1965, thus it can be rightly argued that the Bible had it right well before Science figured it out. What the scientists did was give process and explanation to an account that was just a simple observation.

My point is, where there are two diametrically opposed positions at work there can be, and usually is, a third position that might include both.

It is my firm belief that I and many other scientifically minded people can  hold to a religious belief while using science to explain the things  that are observed and recorded in books of scripture.