Intervention

I believe in a God who answers prayers, and who interacts with me on a personal level. I also believe that God is the creator of all that exists. We don’t know how God created our universe, or even what that universe is composed of (one universe, or many independent ones). We don’t know if life arose from natural processes on Earth, arrived here on a meteor from some extraterrestrial source, or was a creation by God. We don’t know where our souls come from, a natural product of evolution (like our bodies) or breathed into the first human by God. There are so many things we don’t know.

But there are also many things we do know. We do know that life began as single cells, and that evolution by natural selection led to all the species that have ever existed. We know a lot about how life works, and we can worship the creator of such majesty, even if all the intricate, amazing details of biological function are natural results of adaptive evolution. From science we have learned the mechanisms of how the world works. From faith we learn about the agency that created those mechanisms.

The big question we are faced with is where is God? Did God create the universe and withdraw? Does God play a role in the history of life and our planet, in order to further His purposes? Did God intervene in the world?

We cannot find the answers using the human tools of knowledge – scientific investigation and analysis. We might get some clues this way, we might see some pointers, but not enough to be sure. No, the path to truth does not lead through our human knowledge but only through God.

So let us see what God has said and done. We know that God came to walk among us in the form of a man. Christ spent over 30 years amongst us, and the last two or three in active ministry. What did Christ, God incarnate, do during that time? Did He create any new species of animal or plant? No, He did not. He spoke of plants, flowers, birds and animals, but He created no new ones. Did Christ reshape any geological features of our landscape? Did He water the desert, lower any mountains, widen the Jordan River? No, He did not. Did he overturn any of the laws of man or nature? No, he left man and nature to continue as they had been.

Did he change the course of history? Not during his lifetime; that took some time, but eventually everything in the world of humanity changed beyond comprehension.  

So what sort of miracles did the Lord do, in his time on Earth? He healed the sick, turned water into wine, calmed the seas, raised the dead, cast out demons, made the blind see. But when challenged by Satan to turn stones into bread for His own sustenance, he refused. Christ performed his miracles, showed his Godhead, only for the benefit of individuals or collections of people, not for glory, not to demonstrate his powers, not to win converts. And what did God tell us, when he preached His sermon, and spoke to us in parables, and stories? He told us to believe, to help each other, to love each other and to love Him. To have mercy, to be forgiving, to find the Kingdom of Heaven in ourselves and each other and in Him.

All that He did and said, all of these miracles, and all of His teaching, all of His ministry to the poor, the outcasts, all of His parables and mercy were directed to one object – His love for His people, us. Jesus Christ, the living God came to us for our sake, to heal us, to redeem us, to sacrifice himself for us. He came to Earth to speak directly to us; he bent His laws of nature for us, for our sakes, to cure us, to help us, to show His love for us, and not for any other purpose. 

So I can believe that Christ hears my prayers, answers me in dreams, and in visions and in miraculous events, even if He does not intervene in His own Creation for any other purpose. Our God is not an absent God, nor does he deny us the freedom to make our own choices. And yet, when we need Him to, God intervenes for us. For me and for you and for all.

I did not always believe this to be true. As an agnostic, and even when I began believing that God might be real, I wondered why so many of my prayers and wishes were not being answered. Looking back now, after the passage of many decades, I can see a pattern that was not clear at all when I first prayed to God for professional success, a happy marriage, good health, and occasionally even survival, for myself or others I loved. And that pattern is that all of those things were indeed granted to me. Some took a lot of time, some required considerable effort and sometimes courage on my part. But here I am today, healthy, happy, alive and about as successful as I would want to be, and I know all of it is due to the grace of God, who always answers prayers, in His own time, and in His own way.

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Genes and Behavior

Towards the end of my academic career, I was appointed to be an academic member of an NIH Special Review Committee tasked with evaluating about a half dozen grant applications submitted in response to a “Request For Applications (RFA)” from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). An official at this agency was interested in the burgeoning field of behavioral genetics, and by issuing the RFA, the NIMH was hoping to stimulate some interesting and useful research in the subject.

I remember being quite unimpressed with any of the proposals, and as it turned out, my views were shared by the rest of the committee. We recommended none of them for funding. I don’t remember the details, but I do recall that all of the proposals seemed very speculative and contained some major unproven assumptions, not much supporting preliminary data, and very weak hypotheses. In all my years as a reviewer, and my subsequent six years as Division Director for Physiological and Pathological Sciences  at the NIH Center for Scientific Review, where thousands of grant applications passed through each year, I have never experienced such a dismal result in the peer-review process.

At the end of the meeting, the official in charge of the (now defunct) program asked us what the problem was. I was the first to respond, and I said that none of the applications were meritorious enough to be considered for funding, because the field was just too immature and the data already gathered were not at all convincing that there was in fact any real connection between any gene or gene variant and human behavior. Another issue brought up by several members of the committee was the implicit racial bias related to the search for genes that “make people violent.”

Of course, that was many years ago, and in the interim, more research has been done. I am sure if the meeting were to be held now, there would be some worthwhile projects proposed. In fact, while I am not at all in the loop anymore, I fully expect that many grants in behavioral genetics have been funded. The field is certainly not dead, and papers are being continually published. But I remain skeptical in general, and especially with respect to the issue of genetics and moral values. Here’s why.

I still think that the connection between genetics and moral behavior is less than straightforward to say the least. There is of course, no question that genes play a role in behavior throughout evolutionary history. Evolution is all about population survival, and the beneficial effects of certain behaviors like individual sacrifice for the sake of a community cannot be denied. But for most animals where individual sacrifice is known, such as with bees, this has nothing to do with a high moral value. A bee’s self-sacrifice for the good of the hive might appear to be result of a laudatory impulse on the part of individual bees, but it is nothing of the sort. No bee decides, in a moment of supreme valor to give her life for the good of the hive. There is no moral imperative acting here—only the evolutionary pressure that produces an appearance of high altruism.

The same is obviously true for the evolution of viruses, bacteria, and various animal and plant predators and parasites. No viruses (such as COVID) decided to be “good” and target the upper respiratory tract rather than the lungs. Increased transmissibility and decreased host mortality is a well-known and very frequent evolutionary strategy for infectious, lethal viruses, and the resulting good news for humans is simply an accident.

While these are extreme examples, the same sort of thing applies to a large extent (though admittedly not entirely) to behavioral traits coded for by human (as well as other animal) genes. For example, increased empathy might be expected to result in behaviors that are more “morally good” according to many human cultures. But a careful examination of the literature shows this is not always the case. Genetically determined reactions to a scene of violence, such as various autonomic reactions, as well as changes in empathy, may lead to various behavioral outcomes.

It is very well known that both emotions and behaviors are multigenic and often involve highly complex gene-environment interactions. All of this makes prediction of anything to do with moral actions based on genotypes of one or a few genes extremely difficult. One particular genetic variant in the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) is an example of this complexity. One paper describes a behavioral phenotype (tendency to post-partum depression) in which the A allele appears to be dominant, whereas another paper, which discusses a different behavioral phenotype (increased empathy) for the same gene, finds the G allele to be dominant. The two alleles at this locus have also been associated with a variety of other individually tested behaviors. All the studies concur that this polymorphism is in Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium, meaning that selection pressure for either allele is currently absent, and the gene probably was never a target for natural selection.

Returning to the issue of moral choices, the very fact that there is no single objective morality for all human cultures is strong evidence against an evolutionary genetic connection. There are only very small differences in allele frequencies of some of these genes in different ethnic groups, and these differences are generally not meaningful. During the grant review meeting I mentioned above, we examined one application that hypothesized that different frequencies of a particular polymorphism in a neurotransmitter gene could make African Americans more violent than European Americans. Preliminary evidence was nonexistent and the proposal was considered by the whole committee to verge on outright racism..

This does not mean that there are no genetic correlates with human acts of moral good or evil. All humans (except for rare variants like psychopaths) recognize the inherent good in caring for children, in love, and in doing kindness to kin and relatives. And all recognize that doing harm to these people is bad. There is no question that these moral understandings and resulting behaviors are of evolutionary origin, since the same behaviors are seen in many mammalian and other animal species.

But we only need to think of moral values in modern cultures that extol the killing of “enemies,” the mistreatment of people with sexual or other non-conforming phenotypes, the subjugation of women, and so on, to see that once we go deeper than fundamental common values, we find purely cultural determinants of morality, with no genetic influence at all.

Cultural evolution (which includes good explanations for different human moral codes) is fundamentally different from biological evolution, which depends on genetic variation. For morality, it is memes, not genes, that count. The uniquely human brand of cultural evolution has given us fire, shelter, the internet, and everything else that makes us more than just another ape, including the moral choices we make.

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Tomorrow is Halloween.

Seventy five years ago, on a dark and stormy Halloween night at about 3 AM, a baby was born. To the surprise of all, the baby was a boy. This was surprising because the mother and all her cousins and all her aunts and her grandparents had had only girls. Everyone in the extended family figured this newborn would be a girl also. The parents had even chosen a name – Sarah, commemorating one of the mother’s aunts who had recently passed on.

Imagine the confusion when little Sarah turned out to be, um someone else. The parents actually had two immediate worries. First was what to name this kid. But the second worry was more serious, and distracted them (at least that’s my theory) from the first concern. The baby was not well. A diagnosis of infant diarrhea was pronounced, which at the time was considered a serious illness with no known cause or cure. There was a high rate of infant mortality associated with this illness, and so the parents (especially the mother) were very upset. When they were pressed for a name, they quickly conferred. In order to continue to honor the noble departed Aunt Sarah, the name should start with an S. Well there are certainly plenty of S names for boys. Steven, Scott, Simon, Sam, Sherman, Sidney, Sal, Sean, Silas, Sebastian, Seth, Stanley, and so on.

“We’ll call him Seymour”, they decided.

So, baby Seymour survived his first week of life starting on that Halloween, and is still alive and kicking and writing silly blog posts 75 years later. And never, ever speaks that name out loud, and forbids anyone else to do so.

People (including my wives) have asked me why I hate my name. Some have told me that Sy is not much better. I disagree. I just checked the internet for boys’ names starting with S. In addition to those listed above, the list of 100 names includes such gems as Sultan, Shai, Savion, Stryker, Slade, Salem and Syncere.

You know what name is NOT listed? Yup, SEYMOUR. Why not? Because it’s a terrible name. Sometime after I was born, the name fell into disuse, and the last recorded boy named Seymour was born in 1956. (I read this somewhere, but don’t expect a reference). 

The only popular reference to the name can be found in the lead character of the show and film  A Little Shop of Horrors, and in the song “Suddenly Seymour” from that show. In other words, a joke inside a joke.

So, not only was I born on Halloween, (meaning everybody was out tricking or treating and couldn’t come to my birthday party) I had this joke of a name, and was born unhealthy. Does this post sound a tad grumpy? Well, see how you feel turning 75. Anyway, Happy Halloween.

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The Fundamental Mystery of Life

The fundamental scientific problem with a comprehensive solution to the origin of life is not how the basic building blocks of biochemicals (amino acids, nucleotides, fatty acids) were formed, although there are still many unresolved questions about how conditions on the young earth could allow for the spontaneous, undirected synthesis of most of these compounds. It also isn’t about how such building blocks could come together to form peptides, oligonucleotides, and lipids, or even how these molecules could eventually produce the long polymers (proteins, nucleic acids, glycans, etc.) necessary for life as we know it. There are many problems yet to be worked out, but I do not consider any of these chemical synthesis problems to be a fundamental mystery because each of them may very well have an answer that is just beyond our current chemical understanding.

That is not the case for the actual fundamental mystery of abiogenesis. Even if all the difficulties with a chemical evolution approach to a natural synthesis of any of these chemical components of life are eventually solved, that mystery will remain.

That mystery (and I use the term mystery rather than problem or obstacle on purpose) is this: how is it possible for any of these biomolecules to gradually form complex systems by the standard evolutionary method of natural selection (the way all of biology works), when all such systems (which include highly accurate self-replication, highly efficient energy conversion, an inherited informational system, and complex functional membranes) are required to allow for the existence of this gradual evolutionary process of refinement or optimization.

In other words, since evolution by natural selection requires these systems to be at least close to their present levels of complexity and sophistication, such sophistication cannot be explained by an evolutionary process and could only be explained by purely chemical forces or random chance, neither of which is remotely feasible.

Mixing together strands of DNA, as many protein- or RNA-based catalytic polymers as you like, all the lipid and protein components of membranes, and all the molecules required to convert solar energy into the kind of chemical energy that can be used by cells does nothing but makes these molecules sit there in the test tube. The answer to this dilemma is that life as we know it could not have suddenly appeared in this way, but must have started out as a much simpler, more basic system of primitive systems that slowly and gradually improved and were selected for by…. Oh, wait. I just said that such selection cannot happen until those systems are already quite advanced. So, no. That doesn’t work. You begin to see why I call this the fundamental mystery?

Now you might say to me, “how do you know this is true? How do you that your premise about requiring a high level of sophistication and complexity is really a requirement for any kind of selection in the evolutionary sense? Do you have any evidence for this?

So glad you asked. As a matter of fact, I do. And it has been published in two peer-reviewed papers in the mainstream literature—to no fanfare and almost no notice. That doesn’t concern me, since the purpose of publishing scientific work (as opposed to a mass market book, for example) is not get lots of attention, but to establish a scientific finding that can be referred to when needed. And it is now needed.

I talked about the first paper in a blog post from November 2020, shortly after the paper was published:

Since then I have published a second paper in a new journal called BioCosmos, which used the results of the first paper to produce phase-transition diagrams illustrating the impossibility of a smooth, continuous transition from low-accuracy cell self-replication to high-accuracy replication. In this paper I also theoretically derived the same equations relating survival probability and replication accuracy (measures of fitness) to growth constants that came out of the empirical simulation experiments described in the first paper.

So, yes, there is evidence for my claim. And I am confident that if anyone looked, they would find the same empirical and theoretical evidence for the impossibility of gradually evolving energy conversion, membrane composition, and informational systems as well.

Where does all this leave us? Whenever science encounters a seemingly insoluble mystery (like the constant speed of light or the quantum nature of atomic orbital energies), the only way forward is to find an entirely new way of approaching the issue. I think its time to start doing exactly that.

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The Choice is Yours

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was born to a virgin. He healed the sick, performed many miracles, preached a gospel of love and redemption from sin, was crucified, and was resurrected on the third day. He rose up to Heaven, where he is seated at the right hand of God the Father. He is the light of the world and the savior of all who seek him. His followers wrote books about his works and teachings and formed a new religion through which all of mankind can find salvation and life everlasting.

Jesus of Nazareth was a minor preacher, whose message, similar to those of other self-styled messiahs at the time, was recorded by one or two followers. He was killed for being rebellious, and his body may or may not have been stolen, or he never actually died and simply escaped after being taken down from the cross, injured but still alive. Paul started a religion based on this figure (who might not even have been real), and the New Testament was composed much later by unknown adherents of the Christ cult started by Paul.

Which version is true? We cannot know. One can find evidence for both scenarios. One can find even more evidence that is consistent with either scenario. The events happened a long time ago, but that isn’t why we can’t be certain about what happened. Even if we were living 100 years after the events, we would have about as little proof, either way, as we have now. Even if we were alive in Palestine during Christ’s mission, we might be uncertain. We know that not everyone was convinced by the words and deeds of Christ—as recorded in the Gospels.

Christ refused to perform miracles to prove that he was the Messiah. When people asked for “a sign,” he grew angry and refused, calling them a wicked and unfaithful generation. Why? I mean if I present a finding that I claim to be true, and a colleague says, “prove it,” I will show the data of the experiments which provide strong evidence that what I claimed is true. Wouldn’t you do that? So why didn’t Christ win over the Pharisees during his interrogation with a nice miracle? Why is it so difficult to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt that Christ, was a real figure, that He walked among us, was the Son of God, and that He rose from death? In fact, why doesn’t God simply appear on TV and tell all the atheists that they are wrong, and everyone better get with the program and start worshipping?

Why can’t we prove or disprove any of this religious stuff?

The answer is, because if we could, if proof in either direction were possible, if an argument on one side could not always be countered by an equally valid argument on the other side, than the title of this article would be false. You would not have a choice.

You are allowed to choose to accept God or not. You cannot choose to believe in gravity, or the motor vehicle bureau, or perpetual motion machines, or phlogiston, or the internet. But when it comes to God, the choice is yours. And it always will be. This means that discussions of proof and evidence go nowhere, and it’s why I do not consider myself to be an “apologist.” The power to choose is a gift. Accept it and use it well.  


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The Biggest Loser

I remember a conversation I had in high school with a girl who asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told her I wanted to be a scientist. She said she would rather do something that involved working with people. I had many opportunities to remember that conversation during my scientific career, and thought of it every time it was once again proven to me that a life in science involves working (and dealing and talking and cooperating, and struggling)  with people far more than most careers.

This tends to be especially true during that mid-career phase when a rising scientist has had some degree of success, is spending a lot less time in the lab, and a lot more time supervising grad students, post docs and technicians, going to meetings and conferences, arranging collaborations, and trying to raise one’s standing in the community. Specific goals, such as gaining tenure and promotions, getting grant support, having papers published and receiving invitations to speak at symposia, all involve a huge degree of engagement with peers, supervisors, supporters, and a whole host of other scientists. At this stage, the phrase “It’s who you know, more than what you know” begins to take center stage in the aspiring scientist’s mind.

I was smack in the middle of that scientific version of social climbing when I was invited to be a member of the program committee for the annual conference of a very large scientific research organization. I was thrilled to accept. Scanning through the list of names of other members of the committee, I recognized more than half of them. A few I already knew, more I had heard of, and would love to get to know. The rest were in other fields, but all were at least at my level of accomplishment, and most were much higher.

This conference was a chance for me to meet and try to impress some bigwigs who might act as a reference for my upcoming tenure application. The first event of the conference that I had high hopes for was a dinner for the entire program committee on the evening before the conference was to start. I entered the large hall a bit early (a mistake I have made many times) and sat at a table. Soon, crowds of people began filing in, and I could see many of the people I was hoping to meet, as well as the few I already knew. None of them came to my table.

Before long everyone was seated at other tables. Several people had eventually come to my table, starting with an older, dowdy looking woman, who I assumed was somebody’s wife. She asked me if she might sit down, and mentioned that some others might join her. I almost said no, in my vain hope that some of the people I was interested in might still join me. But instead a group of grad students who didn’t even belong at this exclusive dinner for committee members sat down, and before I could protest at their presence, one of them said they had been invited to this high level gathering by their advisor.  Some other nondescript men and women of various ages and appearances came over, including a man dressed with a clerical collar, who I thought had wandered into the wrong ballroom.

Soon the waiters began distributing the appetizer course, and everyone got silent. The man in the collar said “If I may…” and began to recite what I could only imagine was grace. I was at that time still a fervent atheist, and had never actually experienced anyone saying grace in real life, but I had seen it done in films. I was shocked and horrified. This was a scientific conference for God’s sake (no pun intended). Who were these people?

Some of them bowed their heads during the brief prayer, and then resumed talking and eating. Recovering from my shock, I looked around the room to see if there were any free spaces at nearby tables. There were none I could see, and I slipped into a funk, cursing my luck for having ended up at a table of losers. As I was brooding, the Asian fellow on my left introduced himself and held out his hand.

“Hi, I’m Ray Hong” he said. I shook his hand and said the first thing that came to my mind “Oh, you have the same name as the guy from Yale who just published that paper in Nature on…” and at that moment my eye caught sight of his nametag that read “Raymond Hong. Yale”. I looked up at his face. He smiled. “Yup, that’s me”.  I gulped. This guy had just published a breathtaking piece of work that would revolutionize several fields of research related to my own. I was stunned. I introduced myself and he smiled and asked me how I knew Margaret. I was about to ask him who Margaret was, when we were distracted by the chair of our committee, several tables over who asked for attention and proceeded to make an announcement that I could not concentrate on. When he finished, Ray was talking to the woman on his other side, and I heard one of the grad students say “Here comes Art”. I looked over and saw a distinguished looking gray-haired man approaching our table. I had seen his photo on the cover of a major publication recently. I asked one of the students “Is that Sir Arthur Bonneville?”

“Yes” she said, “He’s our advisor”. He was also  a world famous researcher who had come to Harvard from Oxford and was rumored to be in line for a Nobel. I felt myself starting to sweat. He came over to the table and walked straight over to the older woman who was beaming at him. “Maybe he’s the husband” I thought. But no. When close enough he held out his hand and said in a perfect British accent, “Margaret, how lovely to see you”. I could only think “Who the hell is Margaret” and put my question into words to the same grad student.

She looked at me with an air of amusement. “Margaret Hutchinson” was her answer. I felt the room starting to spin, and took a deep breath. Margaret Hutchinson was the previous year winner of the Nobel for Medicine and Physiology. 

As the evening continued, and I learned more about my dinner companions,  it dawned on me that the only loser at that table was me.

Scientists like to say that no matter how much we know, we are still always students trying to learn the secrets of nature. I learned a lot that day, and I learned even more about that day when a decade or more later I read the Gospels for the first time. And just yesterday, I read aloud as the Liturgist at our church the Gospel of Luke 14:7-14. Where Jesus says “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place.”  At that table, there several people far more distinguished than I, and the lesson of that passage was one I have already learned from direct experience.

Jesus Christ, who I had finally came to believe was the incarnation of the Lord God, creator of everything, sat down to eat with illiterate fishermen, tax collectors and sinners, losers all, who ended up changing the world and the lives of all who know Him. Even me, the biggest loser of them all.

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News and an Explanation

The news is good!! I have signed a contract with the publisher of my first book, the award winning The Works of His Hands: A Scientist’s Journey from Atheism to Faith (Kregel, 2019) for a second book. Also, the first book, which had been sold out for over two months is back in stock in all formats, which now also includes an audiobook version. The long delay in availability was partially caused by supply chain and shipping problems due to… yup, the pandemic, which continues to wreak various kinds of havoc in our lives.

The deadline for getting the final manuscript to the publisher is in September, so while I am excited about this whole enterprise, both my wife (editor extraordinaire) and I are working hard on finishing the final draft. And thus the explanation for why I will be neglecting this blog probably until October. I wanted to post this to reassure readers that I have no intention of abandoning the blog, not after the amazing, affirmative response you all sent me in July about keeping it going. Thank you for that.

So, pray for us as we try to make magic out of words, and reach the deadline with a manuscript worthy of my readership, and the trust of my publisher. Meanwhile God bless you all, and see you in October.

PS. To subscribe to my monthly newsletter containing more information about both books as well as gift offers, please see my website at sygarte.com.

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An Interesting Quote from a Physical Chemistry Textbook (1971)

The following quote is from a physical chemistry textbook called “Introduction to Thermodynamics: Classical and Statistical” by, Richard E. Sonntag, and Gordon J. Van Wylen.  published by Wiley Press in 1971.

“The final point to be made is that the second law of thermodynamics and the principle of the increase in entropy have philosophical implications. Does the second law of thermodynamics apply to the universe as a whole? Are there processes unknown to us that occur somewhere in the universe, such as “continual creation” that have a decrease in entropy associated with them, and thus offset the continual increase in entropy that is associated with the natural processes that are known to us? If the second law is valid for the universe (we of course do not know if the universe can be considered as an isolated system) how did it get in the state of low entropy? On the other end of the scale, if all processes known to us have an increase in entropy associated with them, what is the future of the natural world as we know it?

Quite obviously it is impossible to give conclusive answers to these questions on the basis of the second law of thermodynamics alone. However, the authors see the second law of thermodynamics as man’s description of the prior and continuing work of a creator who also holds the answer to the future destiny of man and the universe”.

So back in 1971, there were some physical chemists who were able to insert some words about their faith into a standard textbook. That might certainly attract some controversy today, even though the authors make it clear where the science ends and the philosophical questions begin, what the unanswered questions are, and what are their personal beliefs in response to those questions.

In today’s world I am pretty sure that such language and the mention of a creator would be edited out of a science textbook, even with a disclaimer of  a philosophical side note. The anti-religion fervor among many academics would likely produce a resounding roar of condemnation, as was seen a few years ago when a paper published in the journal PLOS Biology mentioned the “creation of the hand”. The journal almost closed and apologies and retractions followed.

I think we can justifiably wonder if academic and scientific anti-theism derives solely from the fear of a religious intrusion into the magisterium of science, as is commonly put forward, or perhaps just as much from the suspicion among these very intelligent people, that theists might indeed have a sound philosophical and even scientific leg to stand on after all.

We have witnessed several instances of scientific revisionism when an acknowledged fact seems to point a bit too directly toward a theistic explanation. The denial of the genetic code as a true informational code, and the denial of the start of the universe with the Big Bang are two currently popular examples. Perhaps its time to fully and finally expose the false legend that all of science is kin to atheism, and allow academic scientists to return to the freedom to express their personal beliefs, as had apparently been the case in 1971.

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A Play and a Hymn

Two and a half years ago, on the last (in this case, the 29th) day of February, 2020, my wife and I went to the local repertory theater (The Fitzgerald Theater of Rockville MD) to see a wonderful production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance. After the performance, cast and audience joined together for a “birthday party” for the character of Frederic. The fact that Frederic was born on a leap day is of course a critical part of the light opera. Everyone was feeling jolly after the performance, and it was a very pleasant evening for all community members in attendance.

We knew there was something coming on the horizon, but we were not prepared for it. The next day I read the liturgy at church and used hand sanitizer for the first time. The following week, having read more about what was already happening in China and Europe, we stayed home from church. We felt bad about it, but that turned out to be the last in-person service at our church that anyone attended for over a year. As our state reported three cases of what was then still called the novel coronavirus, our governor declared a state of emergency, our church and the theater closed, and soon everything began shutting down. Case numbers in our area began doubling every three days. I posted a video to my channel about why social distancing works, and it got over 4000 views. We went to two supermarkets late in the evening and bought lots of canned goods. We were worried, isolated, sometimes in despair. And we had it easy—retired, no loss of income—but still, it was a scary time.

On the 22nd of March, our pastor began holding online services. This raised out spirits. (Our college student, sent home for virtual classes the week before, showed us how Zoom worked.) And then a few days later, I found a true blessing online. The technology to record and broadcast musical ensembles came together with amazing speed, and I was overwhelmed to find this video of one of my favorite hymns, sung by a group of professional studio musicians from Nashville.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDIJz6zzHNU&t=14s

Of course, by now, such things are commonplace. Our own church choir (with Aniko singing soprano) has made a number of such beautiful recordings to be used in our virtual services. But every time I watch and listen to this piece, I am struck by the magnificence of human creativity and ingenuity and I feel overcome with gratitude. The hymn itself was composed at a moment of extreme grief and pain. And yet this beautiful light in the midst of our dark hour shines in my soul and inspires me to praise our Lord

Watching these ordinary-looking people, each singing alone in their homes, no staging, no costumes, just them and the music, and then seeing it put together in a composite of visual and musical beauty is a testament to the incomprehensible majesty of humanity. This act of worship is, to me, the final and total proof of the majesty of our Creator, and as I listen I can only breathe out my thanks for the mercy of our Lord in our times of tribulation.  

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A Very Important Question for Readers

I need to make a decision about my future endeavors and I need your help. If you are interested in my continuing to post and maintain this blog, if you read any of the posts when they appear, or if you have any interest at all in this blog, please leave a comment. You don’t need to say anything, you can use one word, such as “yes”. Thank you for your cooperation.

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