Archive for February, 2007

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“Our core problem, say St. Augustine, is that the human heart, ignoring God, turns in on itself, tries to lift itself, wants to please itself, and ends up debasing itself.

The person who reaches toward God and wants to please God gets, so to speak, stretched by this move, and ennobled by the transcendence of its object. But the person who curves in on himself, who wants God’s gifts without God, who wants to satisfy the desires of a divided heart, ends up sagging and contracting like a little wad. He desires are provincial. ‘There is something in humility which, strangely enough, exalts the heart, and something in pride, which debases it.’ ”

(Hat Tip :Poikilos)

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The media and the message.

Posted: February 18, 2007 in Intelligent Design

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The internet equates to nothing, if there is no data flowing. Pulses of light or electricity often travelling huge distances often at the speed of light before queuing up, at switch buffers, to then be sent on to its destination.

At each switch or router there are checks made using algorithms, which confirm that incoming data is not corrupted,what is received is the same as what was sent,these checks are known as cyclic redundancy checks (CRC’s).

Data corruption commonly is caused by the medium that carries it,whether that medium is glass fibre, copper wire or DNA the medium through which data transfer is achieved will interfere in the fidelity of the message. The message and the medium are always separate but the later always effects the former.

Networking has a take home message for data transfer; whether its binary data or nucleotide base sequences, data going great distances or transferred through time from generation to generation or horizontally from organism to organism. for instance conjugation.

Information is distorted in the act of transfer such that it needs constant fidelity checks. We know there are many DNA checking processes in relatively ‘simple’ organisms such as prokaryotes. attesting to the fact that information needs protecting ,check out William Bradford’s blog.

The necessity of these checks and correction processes demonstrate how vulnerable DNA is to such things as Ultraviolet light, free radicals etc, which are mutagens.

I know very little about mutation rates and evolution, but there must be an optimal rate of mutation above which the message is lost below which no adaptations can be made?

It is possible that genetic adaptations within a species are part of the homoeostatic response to environmental changes,genetic adaptations include the ability to instigate mutations at certain gene sites ;(Hat tip:Mike Gene).

Where there’s a question for me, is in regard to the origin of life problem (assuming an exclusive mechanistic scenario) and the proto-organisms ability to respond appropriately to the mutation rate it is subject to.

The investment in terms of energy, material and information that is needed in order to protect DNA at the initial stages of evolution must also be able to maintain an optimal mutation rate,if there is such as thing.

An optimal mutation rate would place a cap on the rate of mutations an organism suffers, otherwise the stepwise increase in complexity and function that evolution describes,that build up of information, would be lost at the first hint of oxidation or ultraviolet light. Must there be an initial mechanism of protection?

An organisms Mutation rate must keep pace with environmental challenges apparently, but genetic information must not mutate at a rate which does not allow for changes through mutations to be applied,selection needs to be able to select. (Remember that not all genes are switched on, only in certain circumstances are genes switched on and so can be open to selection pressure,does that apply to the first organisms ?). Optimal mutation rate must be defined using generational time ,so the optimal generation time would allow for mutation to propagate and have effect.

I’m making some assumptions ,for instance not all mutations have the same effect ,some are neutral some have a harmful negative effect while some have a positive effect.

I know nothing of the ratio of lethal to non lethal mutations,what would this ratio of been back at life’s beginning?

What about Selection pressure-how efficient is selection pressure at selecting against harmful mutations and selecting for positive traits?

How common are positive beneficial mutations ?

J.C.Sanford in his book ‘Genetic Entropy & The mystery of the Genome‘ says estimates of beneficial mutations to be so low as to actually thwart measurement (Bataitton,2000,Elena et al,1998).

Some positive mutations actually represent a loss of information here’s J.C.Sanford:

‘Vast numbers of mutants were produced and screened,collectively representing many billions of mutation events. A huge number of small,sterile, sick, deformed aberrant plants were produced. However, from all this effort, almost no meaningful crop improvement resulted.

The effort was for the most part an enormous failure, and was almost entirely abandoned. Why did this huge mutation/selection experiment fail- even a host of Ph.D. Scientists trying to help it along? It was because even with all those billions of mutations, there were no significant new beneficial mutations arising. The notable exceptions prove the point. For example, low phytate corn is the most notable example of successful mutation breeding. Such low phytate corn has certain advantages in terms of animal feed. The low phytate corn was created by mutatagenizing corn, and then selecting for strains wherein the genetic machinery which directs phytic acid production has been damaged. Although the resulting mutant may be desired for a specific agricultural purpose,it was accomplished through net loss of information and the loss of a biological function.’

 

True Spirituality

Posted: February 11, 2007 in Theo/Philo

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One of the most challenging books I have read is Francis Schaeffer’s ‘True Spirituality’, undeservedly a book not found on many peoples list of favourites.

Schaeffer has a knack of getting to the point in a way that for me at least illuminates the whole sorry,sordid condition of man and then points to the ‘way out ‘ sign.

The majority of my life as a Christian has been lived within a charismatic context,that is within a church characterised by an informal worship style and an emphasis on experience. Conventional shorthand for this type of church is ‘Happy clappy’ as opposed to ‘smells and bells’ worship style.

As with all churches,as with all organisations, there are unspoken rules,rules of behaviour and of thought forms. When to raise your hands in worship,when to speak in tongues, when to be quiet etc, In this way even the most apparently informal worship style has structure.

Schaeffer’s book ‘True Spirituality’ allowed me understand the context I was living my corporate Christian life in.

Schaeffer begins his book with this simple to the point quote:

‘The question before us is what the Christian life, true spirituality, really is, and how it may be lived in a twentieth century setting….And the only way to become a Christian is neither by trying to live some sort of religious experience, but rather by accepting Christ as Saviour….Jesus said a totally exclusive word: “No man comes to the Father but by me.”

Schaeffer rightly points away from the outward signs to the inward life. Whatever style of church a Christian attends, it is not the outward but the inner life that the Bible points to.’

Schaeffer again :

However, eventually the Christian life and true spirituality are not to be seen as outward at all , but inward. The climax of the ten commandments is the tenth commandment in Exodus 20:17 : “ Thou shall not covet thy neighbours house, thou shall not covet thy neighbours wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant ,nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbours.” The commandment not to covet is an entirely inward thing…’

When we disobey one of the ten commandments we not only break the particular commandment such as stealing ,killing,committing adultery etc but we also break what Schaeffer calls ‘the hub of the wheel’, the central inner commandment not to covet.

As stealing or killing are an outward act of an inner desire for something or someone to whom we have no rights,So we always break two commandments.

True religion as someone once said, is what we do in the privacy of our own homes.

It is not an outward thing,it comes from the thought life ,the battle ground is within.

Which is partly why I find this book so challenging.

There is a tension sometimes between our inner and outer life, that leads to the painful prospect of the spiritual splits -not recommended!

C.S.Lewis writes about this in his book ‘The Screwtape Letters’, the senior devil Screwtape is writing to his junior minion Wormwood regarding methods of keeping people away from Christianity in the book he says:

‘He can be made to take positive pleasure in the perception that two sides of his life are inconsistent. This is done by exploiting his vanity. He can be taught to enjoy kneeling beside the grocer on Sunday just because he remembers that the grocer could not possibly understand the urbane and mocking world which he inhabited on Saturday evening and contrawise, to enjoy the bawdy and blasphemy over the coffee with these admirable friends all the more because he is aware of a ‘deeper’, ‘spiritual’ world within him which they cannot understand. You see the idea – the worldly friends touch him on side and the grocer on the other side, and he is the complete balanced, complex man who see round them all.’

Returning to the ten commandments, one reason for God to institute these laws was to show that although we can keep an outward appearance of right living -something which invites comparison with the person next to us -”I’m doing OK after all look at these other people”.The ten commandments were instituted to show that inwardly we are all doing the spiritual splits and need Gods provision of grace through the sacrifice of Christ in order to approach God.

Schaeffer says :’ We must see that to love God with all the heart, mind, and soul is not to covet against God; and to love man, to love our neighbour as ourselves is not to covet against man.’

 

 

 

The Campaign for Dark Skies

Posted: February 4, 2007 in Uncategorized

Reclaim your sky

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Andrew Abbot, in the Campaign for Dark Skies is petitioning the Prime
Minister to ban flood-lighting of public buildings in order to cut down
energy wastage, and light pollution.

Every bit helps! It only takes a few moments.
I hope some of you might consider supporting this 10 Downing Street
petition-UK citizens only.

http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/Floodlighting/

(Hat tip to http://stargazerslounge.co.uk/index.php)

(Hat tip to Telic thoughts)

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I recently watched the matrix films,not for the first time. I love the ideas behind the films,especially the way agent smith, initially part of the matrix, becomes obsolete and like a virus, multiplies and threaten the operating system running the matrix.

I am beginning to feel a little like agent smith,in that I,being a Christian, have been likened to a virus! I threaten -apparently. You have been warned!

According to Richard Dawkins my Christianity is a sign that I have been infected with a virus of the mind, known as a ‘meme’ a term coined by Dawkins -oh it sounds like the word gene,is that deliberate?

Why is Christianity being considered a virus of the mind,what empirical evidence is there for this approach ?Well apparently Dawkins decided it was so,I can’t argue with someone who holds the Charles Simonyi Chair for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. Anyone with furniture that impressive must be right!

Are all ideas to be considered a virus of the mind or just ideas Dawkins doesn’t like? Sounds a little like subjective criterion with no evidential foundation, but what would I know, I’m infected and infecting?

A virus has generally a negative impact on the host organism,being called a virus therefore does not engender feelings of warmth -except if I think of bacteriophage, which have a positive impact on humanity by destroying pathogenic bacteria. If I am to be likened to a virus, then I have decided I’m a bacteriophage.

Can you choose which virus you can be ? I know Richard (if I may call him that ,after all he knows so much about me) would possibly not agree. This quote from the great man demonstrates his stance towards those of a superstitious nature,that is those who prefer subjective criterion over evidential foundations :

“It’s time to question the abuse of childhood innocence with superstitious ideas of hell-fire and damnation. Isn’t it weird the way we automatically label a tiny child with its parents’ religion?”

I wonder if Richards Children are atheists?

On a more serious note this rhetoric reminds me of Nazi Germany and there portrayal of Jews in films and in literature such as Hermann Essers, Die jüdische Weltpest ( The Jewish World Plague, 1939) as a contagion ,a source of disease ,as a virus. This type of suggestion paved the way for the worst atrocities one group has brought to bear on another.

Aaron Lynch comments on the idea of meme as a thought contagion,he says:

‘The term “thought contagion” is neutral with respect to truth or falsity, as well as good or bad. False beliefs can spread as thought contagions, but so too can true beliefs. Similarly, harmful ideas can spread as thought contagions, but so too can beneficial ideas…Thought contagion analysis concerns itself primarily with mechanism by which ideas spread through a population. Whether an idea is true,false, helpful, or harmful are considered mainly for the effects they have on transmission rates.’