AI Investigations: Philosophy Is Not Dead

BY JEFF ZWEERINK – OCTOBER 18, 2019

Why can we think about the universe when the universe cannot think about us? This simple, yet profound, question leads to fascinating philosophical, theological, and scientific investigations. Those same considerations converge in the arena of artificial intelligence research and its goal of artificial general intelligence. Artificial intelligence is a burgeoning field, but this research is not strictly a scientific endeavor. It necessarily involves philosophical reasoning that I think is reminiscent of intelligent agency behind the origin of the universe.

The pursuit of artificial general intelligence (AGI) requires that scientists figure out how to build and program a machine with capacity to contemplate things outside of itself, as well as its place within a larger context. Even more modest projects aiming for artificial narrow intelligence (ANI) that can work through open-ended problems mandate that scientists carefully consider how we think and reason.

AI conversations often highlight how fast computers perform calculations compared to humans. Clearly, programs compute faster and work through logical processes faster than we do. However, the salient question is how well can computers make decisions based on arguments derived from incomplete data that do not permit definitive conclusions? It turns out that philosophy, specifically the philosophy of argumentation, plays an integral role in describing and developing the processes for handling such situations.

Real-life Knowledge Is Usually Tentative

These AI scenarios differ from reasoning in the mathematical arena in that real-life knowledge is not monotonic. In formal (monotonic) logic, from a set of basic axioms, the conclusions drawn from those axioms become true, and the set of “known” things always grows. The nature of the formal logic disallows the possibility of contradiction or revision when new information is acquired. But rarely are the conditions required for formal logic met in everyday scenarios. Consequently, one must assess the conditions, evaluate different options for explaining the conditions, evaluate different options for how to proceed, and ultimately make a decision on the best way to proceed.

As the authors of one article state,1

. . . there are . . . a number of fundamental distinctions between the concepts “P is a formal proof that T holds” and “P is a persuasive argument for accepting T.”

Which Ethical System?

However, humans often disagree about whether an argument is persuasive or what the best course of action is. Any form of AI must figure out how to navigate the reality that most circumstances in life don’t have a single best answer and that any solution has benefits and consequences. Evaluating various benefits and consequences almost always involves some system of ethics and morals. This raises the question of what system the AI should use.

In our society, we seem to be moving in the direction that everyone determines what is right or wrong for themselves. Do we really want an AI (that might make decisions faster and respond more quickly that humans) making decisions with a subjective moral code? Suppose an AI makes a decision that results in someone’s injury or death. Who do we hold accountable? Can the AI be held responsible, or would the creator of the AI?

Maybe a Completely Rational, Incredibly Powerful Machine Is Not the Best Option

We assume that creating an AGI would work out something like Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Although Data was physically more capable than the crew of the Enterprise in almost every way (strength, intelligence, speed, etc), he always seemed to know when to submit to the authority of his superiors. The creators of the Star Trek universe can write things however they like, but a powerful intelligence in real life would pose quite a dilemma. If Data has a genuine awareness of self, how does he choose to submit—especially when he knows his superiors’ decisions are incorrect? Human history is littered with examples of people who became powerful enough to impose their will on others (with great destruction resulting). The very thing we hope AI will do (perform human tasks with superhuman skills) also provides the platform to rain destruction upon us. This possibility brings us back to the previous point. How would we instill a set of values and ethics into such a machine, and how would we choose which values and ethics to use?

Here’s where I see a parallel between AI research and cosmology. Some scientists investigating the history and origin of the universe have claimed that philosophy is dead (or at least rather worthless) because only science has the proper tools to provide the answers we seek. But a brief look into the pursuit of AI reveals the naivety of such a statement. Well-established philosophical principles, including ethical considerations, are helping guide the development of basic AI capabilities (short of self-awareness) and the goal of any AGI will require further philosophical and theological input. In this way, it seems to me that a wise pursuit of AGI provides an argument for the existence of God. That is, the very questions researchers (physicists, astronomers) ask assume philosophical reasoning. Did the universe begin to exist? Has it existed forever? These are concepts. Thus, a study of nature does not furnish these questions, but intelligent, nonartificial agents created in the image of a superintelligent Being are equipped to ask them.

Endnotes
  1. T. J. M. Bench-Capon and Paul E. Dunne, “Argumentation in Artificial Intelligence,” Artificial Intelligence 171, nos. 10–15 (2007): 619–41, doi:10.1016/j.artint.2007.05.001.

About Reasons to Believe

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Scientists Reverse the Aging Process: Exploring the Theological Implications

BY FAZALE RANA – OCTOBER 30, 2019

During those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.

Revelation 9:6

I make dad noises now.

When I sit down, when I stand up, when I get out of bed, when I get into bed, when I bend over to pick up something from the ground, and when I straighten up again, I find myself involuntarily making noises—grunting sounds.

I guess it is all part of the aging process. My body isn’t quite what it used to be. If someone offered me an elixir that could turn back time and reverse the aging process, I would take it without hesitation. It’s no fun growing old.

Well, I just might get my wish, thanks to the work of a research team from the US and Canada. These researchers demonstrated that they could disrupt the aging process and, in fact, reverse the biological clock in humans.1

This advance is nothing short of stunning. It opens up exciting—and disquieting—biomedical possibilities rife with ethical and theological ramifications. The work has other interesting implications, as well. It can be marshaled to demonstrate the scientific credibility of the Old Testament by making scientific sense of the long life spans of the patriarchs listed in the Genesis 5 and 11 genealogies.

Some Biological Consequences of Aging

Involuntary grunting is not the worse part of aging, by far. There are other more serious consequences, such as loss of immune function. Senescence (aging) of the immune system can contribute to the onset of cancer and increased susceptibility to pathogens. It can also lead to wide-scale inflammation. None of these are good.

As we age, our thymus decreases in size. And this size reduction hampers immune system function. Situated between the heart and sternum, the thymus plays a role in maturation of white blood cells, key components of the immune system. As the thymus shrinks with age, the immune system loses its capacity to generate sufficient levels of white blood cells, rendering older adults vulnerable to infections and cancers.

A Strategy to Improve Immune Function

Previous studies in laboratory animals have shown that administering growth hormone enlarges the thymus and, consequently, improves immune function. The research team reasoned that the same effect would be seen in human patients. But due to at least one of its negative side effects, the team couldn’t simply administer growth hormone without other considerations. Growth hormone lowers insulin levels and leads to a form of type 2 diabetes. To prevent this adverse effect, the researchers also administered two drugs commonly used to treat type 2 diabetes.

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Figure 1: The Structure of Human Growth Hormone. Image credit: Shutterstock

To test this idea, the researchers performed a small-scale clinical trial. The study began with ten men (finishing with nine) between the ages of 51 and 65. The volunteers self-administered the drug cocktail three to four times a week for a year. During the course of the study, the researchers monitored white blood cell levels and thymus size. They observed a rejuvenation of the immune system (based on the count of white blood cells in the blood). They also noticed changes in the thymus, with fatty deposits disappearing and thymus tissue returning.

Reversing the Aging Process

As an afterthought, the researchers decided to test the patient’s blood using an epigenetic clock that measures biological age. To their surprise, the researchers discovered that the drug cocktail reversed the biological age of the study participants by two years, compared to their chronological age. In other words, even though the patients gained one year in their chronological age during the course of the study, their bodies became younger, based on biological markers, by two years. This age reversal lasted for six months after the trial ended.

Thus, for the first time ever, researchers have been able to extend human life expectancy through an aging-intervention therapy. And while the increase in life expectancy was limited, this accomplishment serves as a harbinger of things to come, making the prospects of dramatically extending human life expectancy significantly closer to a reality.

This groundbreaking work carries significant biomedical, ethical, and theological implications, which I will address below. But the breakthrough is equally fascinating to me because it can be used to garner scientific support for Genesis 5 and 11.

Anti-Aging Technology and Biblical Long Life Spans

The mere assertion that humans could live for hundreds of years as described in the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 is, for many people, nothing short of absurd. Compounding this seeming absurdity is the claim in Genesis 6:3, which describes God intervening to shorten human life spans from about 900 to about 120 years. How can this dramatic change in human life spans be scientifically rational?

As I discuss in Who Was Adam?, advances in the biochemistry of aging provide a response to these challenging questions. Scientists have uncovered several distinct biochemical mechanisms that either cause, or are associated with, senescence. Even subtle changes in cellular chemistry can increase life expectancy by nearly 50 percent. These discoveries point to several possible ways that God could have allowed long life spans and then altered human life expectancy—simply by “tweaking” human biochemistry.

Thanks to these advances, biogerontologists have become confident that in the near future, they will be able to interrupt the aging process by direct intervention through altered diet, drug treatment, and gene manipulation. Some biogerontologists such as Aubrey de Grey don’t think it is out of the realm of possibility to extend human life expectancy to several hundred years—about the length of time the Bible claims that the patriarchs lived. The recent study by the US and Canadian investigators seems to validate de Grey’s view.

So, if biogerontologists can alter life spans—maybe someday on the order of hundreds of years—then the Genesis 5 and 11 genealogies no longer appear to be fantastical. And, if we can intervene in our own biology to alter life spans, how much easier must it be for God to do so?

Ethical Concerns

As mentioned, I would be tempted to take an anti-aging elixir if I knew it would work. And so would many others. What could possibly be wrong with wanting to live a longer, healthier, and more productive life? In fact, disrupting—and even reversing—the aging process would offer benefits to society by potentially reducing medical costs associated with age-related diseases such as dementia, cancer, heart disease, and stroke.

Yet, these biomedical advances in anti-aging therapies do hold the potential to change who we are as human beings. Even a brief moment of reflection makes it plain that wide-scale use of anti-aging treatments could bring about fundamental changes to economies, to society, and to families and put demands on limited planetary resources. In the end, anti-aging technologies may well be unsustainable, undesirable, and unwise. (For a more detailed discussion of the ethical issues surrounding anti-aging technology check out the book I cowrote with Kenneth Samples, Humans 2.0.)

Anti-Aging Therapies and Transhumanism

Many people rightly recognize the ethical concerns surrounding applications of anti-aging therapies, but a growing number see these technologies in a different light. They view them as paving the way to an exciting and hopeful future. The increasingly real prospects of extending human life expectancy by disrupting the aging process or even reversing the effects of aging are the types of advances (along with breakthroughs in CRISPR gene editing and computer-brain interfaces) that fuel an intellectual movement called transhumanism.

This idea has long been on the fringes of respected academic thought, but recently transhumanism has propelled its way into the scientific, philosophical, and cultural mainstreams. Advocates of the transhumanist vision maintain that humanity has an obligation to use advances in biotechnology and bioengineering to correct our biological flaws—to augment our physical, intellectual, and psychological capabilities beyond our natural limits. Perhaps there are no greater biological limitations that human beings experience than those caused by aging bodies and the diseases associated with the aging process.

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Figure 2: Transhumanism. Image credit: Shutterstock

Transhumanists see science and technology as the means to alleviate pain and suffering and to promote human flourishing. They note, in the case of aging, the pain, suffering, and loss associated with senescence in human beings. But the biotechnology we need to fulfill the transhumanist vision is now within grasp.

Anti-Aging as a Source of Hope and Salvation?

Using science and technology to mitigate pain and suffering and to drive human progress is nothing new. But transhumanists desire more. They advocate that we should use advances in biotechnology and bioengineering for the self-directed evolution of our species. They seek to fulfill the grand vision of creating new and improved versions of human beings and ushering in a posthuman future. In effect, transhumanists desire to create a utopia of our own design.

In fact, many transhumanists go one step further, arguing that advances in gene editing, computer-brain interfaces, and anti-aging technologies could extend our life expectancy, perhaps even indefinitely, and allow us to attain a practical immortality. In this way, transhumanism displays its religious element. Here science and technology serve as the means for salvation.

Transhumanism: a False Gospel?

But can transhumanism truly deliver on its promises of a utopian future and practical immortality?

In Humans 2.0, Kenneth Samples and I delineate a number of reasons why transhumanism is a false gospel, destined to disappoint, not fulfill, our desire for immortality and utopia. I won’t elaborate on those reasons here. But simply recognizing the many ethical concerns surrounding anti-aging technologies (and gene editing and computer-brain interfaces) highlights the real risks connected to pursuing a transhumanist future. If we don’t carefully consider these concerns, we might create a dystopian future, not a utopian world.

The mere risk of this type of unintended future should give us pause for thought about turning to science and technology for our salvation. As theologian Ronald Cole-Turner so aptly put it:

“We need to be aware that technology, precisely because of its beneficial power, can lead us to the erroneous notion that the only problems to which it is worth paying attention involve engineering. When we let this happen, we reduce human yearning for salvation to a mere desire for enhancement, a lesser salvation that we can control rather than the true salvation for which we must also wait.”2

Resources

Endnotes
  1. Gregory M. Fahy et al., “Reversal of Epigenetic Aging and Immunosenescent Trends in Humans,” Aging Cell (September 8, 2019): e13028, doi:10.1111/acel.13028.
  2. “Transhumanism and Christianity,” in Transhumanism and Transcendence: Christian Hope in an Age of Technological Enhancement, ed. Ronald Cole-Turner (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2011), 201.

About Reasons to Believe

RTB’s mission is to spread the Christian Gospel by demonstrating that sound reason and scientific research—including the very latest discoveries—consistently support, rather than erode, confidence in the truth of the Bible and faith in the personal, transcendent God revealed in both Scripture and nature. Learn More »

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Is Supernatural Causation Compatible with Science?

BY PAUL LORENZINI – OCTOBER 11, 2019

When defenders of naturalistic evolution state their case, they frequently begin with the claim that their theory is “scientific.” Alternative views, especially those that would invoke supernatural causation, are pejoratively dismissed as “pseudoscience,” pseudo because they falsely claim to have scientific legitimacy. Given science’s respected status, this becomes a powerful rhetorical device to marginalize Christian claims that life on Earth involved the supernatural intervention of God.

This view played a critically important role in the 2005 case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District.1 Attempts to require the teaching of “Intelligent Design” (ID) were opposed by many parents who claimed it was a subterfuge for bringing religious teachings into the classroom. Ruling in favor of the plaintiffs, Judge John E. Jones of the District Court in the Middle District of Pennsylvania concluded that ID should not be taught in the public schools because, among other reasons, “ID is not science.” Why? Because it “violates the age-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation.”

But are there any such “age-old ground rules”? Can science not legitimately consider the possibility of supernatural causation? It turns out this so-called “age-old rule” has been discredited, leaving science no basis for excluding supernatural causation.

Development of Science’s “Ground Rules”

When thinker Francis Bacon conceived of what we now call the scientific method in his Novum Organon (1620), it is correct to say he believed any testable hypothesis must be derived from our physical sense experience. This is what we call the method of induction. One starts with data and generalizes toward a hypothesis from the data, then tests the hypothesis. It is a methodology that would, indeed, seem to exclude supernatural causation.

During the next two centuries the notion grew that science, grounded in this methodology, could purge humanity from the distortions of religion and superstition. In the nineteenth century, this idea took the form of positivism, a view vigorously embraced by a group of like-minded scientists and philosophers in the early twentieth century known as the Vienna Circle. Positivism is based on the claim, following Bacon, that the only source of positive knowledge of the world is information we derive from our physical senses. No scientific hypothesis is valid, on this view, unless it is derived from data that can be directly observed, measured, or reproduced. These ideas, having been stirred through much of the nineteenth century, were influential enough that as they spread during the early twentieth century, “an intellectual hegemony of positivism was beginning to be established” in American universities.2

By the mid-twentieth century, however, it became clear that the positivist model was running into problems. It was neither defensible philosophically, nor did it accurately describe how scientists function in practice. As philosopher Richard Bernstein wrote in 1976: “There is not a single major thesis advanced by either nineteenth-century positivists or the Vienna Circle that has not been devastatingly criticized when measured by the positivist’s own standards for philosophical argument.”3 In commenting on Berstein’s remarks, Donald Schon observes “[a]mong philosophers of science no one wants any longer to be called a positivist.”4

The underlying problem goes back to Bacon’s assumption that science operates exclusively on the principle of induction, the idea that any testable hypothesis must be derived from our sense experience. It doesn’t. Induction is certainly one way to form a hypothesis, but it is not exclusive. In practice there is no prescribed method scientists use for developing hypotheses—they are often products of our imaginative and creative minds.

The alternative to induction is the method of deduction. Here one starts with a generalized hypothesis and works toward specifics. Philosopher Karl Popper, a critic of induction, argued “[t]here is no logical method of having new ideas . . . every discovery contains an ‘irrational element’, or a ‘creative intuition.’” He reinforced his argument with quotes from Einstein: “There is no logical path leading to these . . . laws. They can only be reached by intuition, based upon something like an intellectual love of the objects of experience.”5 Popper’s assertion is that the hypotheses scientists test are not products of some disciplined method of organizing data, but rather products of the creative human mind.

Bertrand Russell expressed the issue more pointedly:

Bacon’s inductive method is faulty through insufficient emphasis on hypothesis. He hoped that mere orderly arrangement of data would make the right hypothesis obvious, but this is seldom the case . . . so far no method has been found which would make it possible to invent hypothesis by rule.6

 

The Essence of Science Is Testing Hypotheses

Science does not really care about the source of the hypothesis. It is concerned about testing ideas once they take the form of a hypothesis. The hypothesis is then tested by the rigid standards of science to determine if it fits what we observe in the surrounding universe. These methods cannot always prove the hypothesis is true—science cannot prove God, for example. But testing can determine if a particular hypothesis is false.

Yet old ideas die hard. In his historical review of positivism, the late German philosopher Oswald Hanfling writes:

… even if the parent plant is dead, many of its seeds are alive and active in one form or another. In an interview in 1979, A.J. Ayer, a leading philosopher of our time, who had been an advocate of logical positivism in the 1930s, was asked what he now saw as its main defects. He replied: ‘I suppose the most important . . . was that nearly all of it was false.’ Yet this did not prevent him from admitting shortly afterwards that he still believed in ‘the same general approach.’7

Thus positivism remains a foil, if a flawed one, used by defenders of naturalistic evolution to discredit Christian views of creation.8

When Reasons to Believe offers its testable creation model, the “test” is a scientific one: is the model consistent with that which we observe in the universe? If it is not, the model can be said to be falsified. If it is, it does not mean the model is proven (verified), but it does mean it cannot be discarded as inconsistent with that which we observe through legitimate science. The more tests the model passes, the more one can say it is grounded in good science.

When advocates of naturalistic evolution offer their model, they too are operating in this realm. They propose a hypothesis then test it by comparing its predictions with that which we observe in the universe. Both approaches employ sound science in the way we want science to operate—as a tool for finding truth and testing truth claims against observations of the natural realm. To be sure, that process itself is fraught with its own complications as philosophers of science debate what ultimate truths can or cannot be asserted once one forms a hypothesis.9 But the starting point is always the hypothesis.

Naturalistic evolution and the RTB creation model are two competing hypotheses that differ in many fundamentals. Science, functioning properly, can and should be willing to test both hypotheses against our observations of the universe in an effort to understand which model better explains the whole of reality. To discard the RTB model because it permits supernatural causation is both irrational and “unscientific” in that it excludes possible answers to big questions with no justification in science for doing so. Perhaps it’s time to discard the “age-old ground rules” of science in favor of a new ground rule for testing all hypotheses.

Endnotes
  1. Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District400 F. Supp. 2d 707 (M.D. Pa. 2005).
  2. Donald A. Schon, The Reflective Practitioner (New York: Basic Books, 1983), 32–34.
  3. Richard J. Bernstein, The Restructuring of Social and Political Theory (San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976), 207, quoted in Schon, The Reflective Practitioner, 48–49.
  4. Schon, The Reflective Practitioner, 49.
  5. Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (New York: Routledge Classics, 2002, originally published in 1935), 8–9.
  6. Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy (London: Routledge Classics, 1996, first published in 1946), 529.
  7. See Oswald Hanfling, chap 5, in Routledge History of Philosophy, Volume IX: Philosophy of Science, Logic, and Mathematics in the Twentieth Century, ed. Stuart G. Shanker (New York: Routledge, 1996), 193–94.
  8. The misuse of positivism is not exclusively a problem for Christians. See Allen S. Lee, “Positivism: A Discredited Model of Science Still in Use in the Study and Practice of Management,” SSRN (September 1987), doi:10.2139/ssrn.2622718.
  9. See Kyle Stanford, “Underdetermination of Scientific Theory,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2017), ed. Edward N. Zalta, https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2017/entries/scientific-underdetermination/.

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About Reasons to Believe

RTB’s mission is to spread the Christian Gospel by demonstrating that sound reason and scientific research—including the very latest discoveries—consistently support, rather than erode, confidence in the truth of the Bible and faith in the personal, transcendent God revealed in both Scripture and nature. Learn More »

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U. S. NEED FOR AN UN-AMERICAN ACTIVITY COMMITTEE

via U. S. NEED FOR AN UN-AMERICAN ACTIVITY COMMITTEE

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U. S. NEED FOR AN UN-AMERICAN ACTIVITY COMMITTEE

By Will Myers

A partial reading from our U.S. Constitution states:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

The special interest groups (SIG) has been pushing Christ Jesus and God out of public schools, workplaces, and the nation. The SIG snake organization monitors each citizen and uses sensitive collected info about the citizen to possibly devastate their life if a targeted person doesn’t serve SIG who is instituting hyper-communism whereas the state virtually owns the minds of the citizens. Our Constitution is being undermined by SIG who is an operative of the American Oligarchy.

McCarthyism has a bad rap as advanced by SIG’s snake organization. But, the truth is not totally on either side. Senator McCarthy and the FBI didn’t wake up one morning and think let us have some fun and falsely accuse persons as being a hardcore communist. On the other hand, I do believe that the Committee on Un-America Activity did make a wide sweep and included a lot of innocent persons. I strongly believe that the truth lies somewhere in the between. In this case, we can identify who is passing sensitive info up the chain (collecting) and what is coming down the chain, targeting private citizens (distributing).

SIG now figure that they are home free with the setting up of hyper-communism (State owning virtually the minds of the citizens using intimidation fueled by sensitive, private info). We need McCarthyism to return and clean out the hyper-communist and save our democracy. Trump is moving our nation toward hyper-communism; he is a born and raised oligarch who is part of the collective who are financing the SIG snake organization.

The U.S. Constitution bars the actions of SIG. The Constitution gives a citizen the right to seek a fulfilling life without anyone or group causing adversities in the person’s life.

The recent mass shootings and killings in America’s history are caused by SIG’s induced pressure on individuals. School shootings reveal how low SIG will go to entice their motives. We definitely need another Committee on Un-American Activity. The Supreme Court shall support the committee’s actions of cutting the head of the SIG snake off; thereby saving our democracy and preventing SIG from getting between the citizen and God and becoming a heavy burden on each citizen. This shall almost stop the mass killings.

SIG should be eradicated like snakes because our nation is moving toward atheism as Russia is moving toward a solid oligarch class. The industrial nations are moving toward the working-class and an oligarch class so that we have the oligarch classes ruling the world. We are moving away from democracy due to the dominance of the oligarch class who is opposed to a free and high-quality democracy. For a citizen to claim his God-given rights as expressed in the U.S. Constitution puts a restraint on the powers of the oligarchy to manipulate the individual to serve the best interest of the oligarchy.

IN THE HARVARD LAW REVIEW WE HAVE Willes, J., in Millar v. Taylor, 4 Burr. 2303, 2312 which is a “Right To Privacy” lawsuit. The Supreme Court extended individual privacy right to the right to be happy. This emphasized the right to be let alone in society. The collectors and distributors (SIG) of info concerning an individual can not use such info to make the individual unhappy. SIG cannot create adversities in the life of the individual. The activities of SIG are un-American and does breach the individual’s rights given by the U.S. Constitution.

We all must restrain SIG who targets private citizens, and not let the devil run free.

The first action incurred by SIG is to take your happiness and dignity. STOP SIG. STOP HYPER-COMMUNISM.

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Can Intelligent Design Be Part of the Construct of Science?

By Fazale Rana – June 27, 2017

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“If this result stands up to scrutiny, it does indeed change everything we thought we knew about the earliest human occupation of the Americas.”1

This was the response of Christopher Stringer—a highly-regarded paleoanthropologist at the Natural History Museum in London—to the recent scientific claim that Neanderthals made their way to the Americas 100,000 years before the first modern humans.2

At this point, many anthropologists have expressed skepticism about this claim, because it requires them to abandon long-held ideas about the way the Americas were populated by modern humans. As Stringer cautions, “Many of us will want to see supporting evidence of this ancient occupation from other sites before we abandon the conventional model.”3

Yet, the archaeologists making the claim have amassed an impressive cache of evidence that points to Neanderthal occupation of North America.

As Stringer points out, this work has radical implications for anthropology. But, in my view, the importance of the work extends beyond questions relating to human migrations around the world. It demonstrates that intelligent design/creation models have a legitimate place in science.

The Case for Neanderthal Occupation of North America

In the early 1990s, road construction crews working near San Diego, CA, uncovered the remains of a single mastodon. Though the site was excavated from 1992 to 1993, scientists were unable to date the remains. Both radiocarbon and luminescence dating techniques failed.

Recently, researchers turned failure into success, age-dating the site to be about 130,000 years old, using uranium-series disequilibrium methods. This result shocked them because analysis at the site indicated that the mastodon remainswere deliberately processed by hominids, most likely Neanderthals.

The researchers discovered that the mastodon bones displayed spiral fracture patterns that looked as if a creature, such as a Neanderthal, struck the bone with a rock—most likely to extract nutrient-rich marrow from the bones. The team also found rocks (called cobble) with the mastodon bones that bear markings consistent with having been used to strike bones and other rocks.

To confirm this scenario, the archaeologists took elephant and cow bones and broke them open with a hammerstone. In doing so, they produced the same type of spiral fracture patterns in the bones and the same type of markings on the hammerstone as those found at the archaeological site. The researchers also ruled out other possible explanations, such as wild animals creating the fracture patterns on the bones while scavenging the mastodon carcass.

Despite this compelling evidence, some anthropologists remain skeptical that Neanderthals—or any other hominid—modified the mastodon remains. Why? Not only does this claim fly in the face of the conventional explanation for the populating of the Americas by humans, but the sophistication of the tool kit does not match that produced by Neanderthals 130,000 years ago based on archaeological sites in Europe and Asia.

So, did Neanderthals make their way to the Americas 100,000 years before modern humans? An interesting debate will most certainly ensue in the years to come.

But, this work does make one thing clear: intelligent design/creation is a legitimate part of the construct of science.

A Common Skeptical Response to the Case for a Creator

Based on my experience, when confronted with scientific evidence for a Creator, skeptics will often summarily dismiss the argument by asserting that intelligent design/creation isn’t science and, therefore, it is not legitimate to draw the conclusion that a Creator exists from scientific advances.

Undergirding this objection is the conviction that science is the best, and perhaps the only, way to discover truth. By dismissing the evidence for God’s existence—insisting that it is nonscientific—they hope to undermine the argument, thereby sidestepping the case for a Creator.

There are several ways to respond to this objection. One way is to highlight the fact that intelligent design is part of the construct of science. This response is not motivated by a desire to “reform” science, but by a desire to move the scientific evidence into a category that forces skeptics to interact with it properly.

The Case for a Creator’s Role in the Origin of Life

It is interesting to me that the line of reasoning the archaeologists use to establish the presence of Neanderthals in North America equates to the line of reasoning I use to make the case that the origin of life reflects the product of a Creator’s handiwork, as presented in my three books: The Cell’s Design, Origins of Life, and Creating Life in the Lab. There are three facets to this line of reasoning.

The Appearance of Design

The archaeologists argued that: (1) the arrangement of the bones and the cobble and (2) the markings on the cobble and the fracture patterns on the bones appear to result from the intentional activity of a hominid. To put it another way, the archaeological site shows the appearance of design.

In The Cell’s Design I argue that the analogies between biochemical systems and human designs evince the work of a Mind, serving to revitalize Paley’s Watchmaker argument for God’s existence. In other words, biochemical systems display the appearance of design.

Failure to Explain the Evidence through Natural Processes

The archaeologists explored and rejected alternative explanations—such as scavenging by wild animals—for the arrangement, fracture patterns, and markings of the bones and stones.

In Origins of Life, Hugh Ross (my coauthor) and I explore and demonstrate the deficiency of natural process, mechanistic explanations (such as replicator-first, metabolism-first, and membrane-first scenarios) for the origin of life and, hence, biological systems.

Reproduction of the Design Patterns

The archaeologists confirmed—by striking elephant and cow bones with a rock—that the markings on the cobble and the fracture patterns on the bone were made by a hominid. That is, through experimental work in the laboratory, they demonstrated that the design features were, indeed, produced by intelligent agency.

In Creating Life in the Lab, I describe how work in synthetic biology and prebiotic chemistry empirically demonstrate the necessary role intelligent agency plays in transforming chemicals into living cells. In other words, when scientists go into the lab and create protocells, they are demonstrating that the design of biochemical systems is intelligent design.

So, is it legitimate for skeptics to reject the scientific case for a Creator, by dismissing it as non-scientific?

Work in archaeology illustrates that intelligent design is an integral part of science, and it highlights the fact that the same scientific reasoning used to interpret the mastodon remains discovered near San Diego, likewise, undergirds the case for a Creator.

Resources

Endnotes

  1. Colin Barras, “First Americans May Have Been Neanderthals 130,000 Years Ago,” New Scientist, April 26, 2017, https://www.newscientist.com/article/2129042-first-americans-may-have-been-neanderthals-130000-years-ago/.
  2. Steven R. Holen et al., “A 130,000-Year-Old Archaeological Site in Southern California, USA,” Nature 544 (April 27, 2017): 479–83, doi:10.1038/nature22065.
  3. Barras, “First Americans.”

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Can Science Detect the Creator’s Fingerprints in Nature?

By Fazale Rana – April 12, 2017

Which of these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?

Job 12:9

 

In early March (2017), I took part in a forum at Samford University (Birmingham, AL), entitled Genesis and Evolution. At this two-day event, the panelists presented and discussed scientific and biblical perspectives on Young-Earth, Old-Earth, and Evolutionary versions of creationism.

The organizers charged me with the responsibility of describing Old-Earth Creationism (OEC) from a scientific vantage point, while also providing the rational for my views.

As part of my presentation, the organizers asked me to discuss the assumptions that undergird my views. One of the foundational tenets of OEC is an important idea taught in Scripture: God has revealed Himself to us through the record of nature. According to passages such as Job 12: 7-9, part of that revelation includes the ‘fingerprints’ He has left on His creation.

If Scripture is true, then scientific investigation should uncover evidence for design throughout the natural realm. Science should find God’s fingerprints. And, indeed, it has. As a biochemist, I am deeply impressed with the elegance, sophistication, and ingenuity of the cell’s molecular systems. In my view, these features reflect the work of a mind—a Divine Mind. But, the evidence for intelligent design in the biochemical realm is much more extensive. For example, the eerie similarity between the structure and function of biochemical systems, and the objects and devices produced by human designers further evinces the Creator’s handiwork. In my book The Cell’s Design, I show how the remarkable similarities serve to revitalize William Paley’s Watchmaker Argument for God’s existence.

To describe the hallmark features of human designs, Paley used the term contrivance. Human designs are contrivances. And so, are biological systems. If human contrivances require the work of human designers, then, it follows that biological systems—which, too, are contrivances—require a Divine designer. In The Cell’s Design, I introduce the concept of an intelligent design pattern. Following Paley, I identify several features that characterize human designs. Collectively, these characteristics form a pattern that can then be matched to the features of biological and biochemical systems. The greater the match between the intelligent design pattern and biological/biochemical systems, the greater the certainty that designs found in living systems are the work of a mind.

In response to my presentation at the Genesis and Evolution event, cell biologist Ken Miller from Brown University—a well-known critic of intelligent design—argued that creationism and intelligent design cannot be part of the construct of science, because science lacks the capability of detecting the supernatural. In his book, The Triumph of Evolution and the Failure of Creationism, paleontologist Niles Eldredge makes this very point:

“We humans can directly experience the material world only through our senses, and there is no way we can directly experience the supernatural. Thus, in the enterprise that is science, it isn’t an ontological claim that a God does not exist, but rather an epistemological recognition that even if such a God did exist, there would be no way to experience that God given the impressive, but still limited, means afforded by science. And that is true by definition.”1

But, as I pointed out during my presentation and elsewhere there are scientific disciplines predicated on science’s capacity to detect the activity of intelligent agency. One is SETI: The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Astronomers involved in this research program seek ways to distinguish between electromagnetic radiation emanating from astronomical objects from those hypothetically generated by intelligent agents that are part of alien civilizations. To put it another way, SETI is an intelligent design research program.

Research by scientists from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics powerfully illustrates this point.2 These investigators propose that fast radio burst (FRBs) emanate from alien technology, specifically planet-sized transmitters powering interstellar probes.

Astronomers discovered FRBs in 2007. Since then, around two dozen exceedingly bright, millisecond bursts of radio emissions have been detected. Astronomers think that FRBs originate in distant galaxies, billions of light years away.

The Harvard-Smithsonian scientists calculate that the transmitters could generate enough energy from sunlight to move probes through space, if the light was directed to onto structures twice the size of Earth. Given the energies involved, the transmitters would have to be cooled. Again, the researchers estimate that a water-cooled device twice Earth’s size could keep the transmitter from melting.

The researchers recognize that construction of the transmitters lays beyond our technology, but is possible given the laws of physics. They speculate aliens built these transmitter to power light sails to move space craft, weighing a million tons and carrying living creatures across interstellar space.

These astronomers maintain that the transmitter would have to continually focus its beam on the light sails. FRBs originate when the transmitter and light sails briefly point in Earth’s direction due to the relative motion of the transmitter and light sail.

So, are FRBs evidence for alien technology? Avi Loeb, one of the Harvard-Smithsonian scientists, admits that their proposal is speculative, but justifies it because, “we haven’t identified a possible natural source with any confidence.”3 But, Loeb argues, “Deciding what’s likely ahead of time limits the possibilities. It’s worth putting ideas out there and letting the data be the judge.”4

So, contrary to the protests of scientists, such as Miller and Eldredge, science does have the tool kit to detect the handiwork of intelligent agents and even discern the capabilities and motives of the intelligent designer(s). So, why not let intelligent design proponents and creationists put their ideas out there and let the data be the judge?

It is interesting that the Harvard-Smithsonian astronomers think they can recognize the work of intelligent designers who possess capabilities beyond what we can understand—and, maybe, even imagine. They also think that they can discern the purpose behind the alien technology—space exploration. So why can’t science recognize the work of a Creator whose capabilities exist beyond what we can imagine?

So, considering the proposal by the Harvard-Smithsonian investigators, it is disingenuous for Miller, Eldredge, and other scientists, to reject, out of hand, the claim the scientific evidence for God’s fingerprints in biochemical systems. I contend that the intelligent design pattern that I describe in The Cell’s Design can be used to rigorously—and, even, quantitatively—characterize the Creator’s activity in biological systems. Moreover, as I have discussed previously, science has the tools to identify the designer.

As the apostle Paul wrote, evidence for the Creator is “clearly seen from what has been made.” (Romans 1:20) If only the scientific community would be willing to look.

Resources:

Fast Radio Bursts: E. T. Is Not Calling Home by Hugh Ross (article)

Fast Radio Bursts Update by Hugh Ross (article)

A Biochemical Watch Found in a Cellular Heath by Fazale Rana (article)

Can Science Identify the Intelligent Designer? by Fazale Rana (article)

The Cell’s Design By Fazale Rana (book)

Endnotes
  1. Niles Eldredge, The Triumph of Evolution and the Failure of Creationism (New York: Holt and Company, 200) p. 13.
  2. Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, “Could Fast Radio Burst Be Powering Alien Probes?” ScienceDaily (March 9, 2017), sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170309120419.htm
  3. Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, “Could Fast Radio Burst Be Powering Alien Probes?” ScienceDaily (March 9, 2017), sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170309120419.htm
  4. Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, “Could Fast Radio Burst Be Powering Alien Probes?” ScienceDaily (March 9, 2017), www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170309120419.htm

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About Reasons to Believe

RTB’s mission is to spread the Christian Gospel by demonstrating that sound reason and scientific research—including the very latest discoveries—consistently support, rather than erode, confidence in the truth of the Bible and faith in the personal, transcendent God revealed in both Scripture and nature. Learn More »

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