Posts belonging to Category Science

Judge Blocks Obama’s Executive Order on Stem Cell Research

This is an interesting development regarding the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research as reported by World Magazine:

A federal judge on Monday temporarily blocked government rules on embryonic stem cell (ESC) research funding, a blow to the Obama administration which by executive order had lifted Bush-era restrictions and a victory for pro-lifers fighting to stop the destruction of human embryos.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth granted the preliminary injunction because he held opponents of Obama’s executive order had demonstrated they are likely to succeed at trial. Lamberth’s injunction is also important in that it rejects the government’s legal rationale for getting around federal law explicitly forbidding the use of taxpayer dollars to destroy a human embryo.

Last year I wrote a series of posts on the ethical implications of embryonic stem cell research. Here are the links if you want some more information on this subject:

    • Scott Klusendorf on Embryonic Stem Cell Research
    • Alternatives to Embyronic Stem Cell Research
    • They’re Going to Die Anyway

I would also direct you to Joe Carter’s excellent A Brief Primer on Stem Cell Research.

Miracles of God in an Orderly Universe

As a believer in God who enjoys science and music, I found the following analogy interesting. This is from Professor Colin Humphreys’ lecture at Trinity College, Cambridge on the topic, “Can Scientists Believe in Miracles?” In this part of the lecture Dr. Humphreys seeks to balance the consistency of God in maintaining an orderly universe with the ability of God to intervene miraculously in the natural order.

Overriding natural laws not only give scientists a problem but also theologians, and the reason for this is that the picture of God given in the Bible is of a consistent God. There are many biblical passages where the consistency of God comes through strongly. So theologically, if God created the Universe and is constantly upholding it, and if God is a consistent God, then would he override the laws he has established?

Let me give you a musical analogy which may be helpful. Imagine you are standing behind a pianist who is playing without music and you are watching the pianist’s fingers. Every time the pianist goes to play the note “F” he plays “F sharp”. You can deduce from this the key signature of the music. The key signature is the rule the composer establishes for playing that piece of music. If you keep watching you may observe that, on occasion, when the pianist should play “F sharp” he plays “F”, or he may play black notes when you expect him to play white ones. These are what musicians call “accidentals” which the composer has deliberately put in the music.

The composer, of course, is free to put accidentals in the music – he is the composer – and although he’s set up a key signature which signifies the way the music should normally be played, he is free to say that it should be played differently on occasions. If he is a great composer, the accidentals will never be used capriciously, they will always make better music. It is the accidentals which contribute to making the piece of music great. The analogy with how God operates is clear. God created and upholds the universe but, like the great composer, he is free to override his own rules. However, if he is a consistent God, it must make more sense than less for him to override his rules.

Aurora Australis

Here is an amazing photo of a rare aurora australis over the Southern Indian Ocean captured from the International Space Station (ISS) on May 29, 2010.

The Aurora Australis, As Seen from the ISS on May 29 | NASA

Many people are familiar with the auroroa borealis which takes place near the North Pole (also known as the northern lights), but the Southern Hemisphere has its own version of the atmospheric light show called the aurora australis.

From PopSci: The auroras — aurora borealis near the North Pole, aurora australis near the South Pole — are one of the atmosphere’s most beautiful phenomena, occurring when energetic ions from the sun collide with oxygen and nitrogen in the upper atmosphere, temporarily exciting those particles such that they emit light as they return to their normal states. This particular ribbon of ion activity appears green, the result of excited oxygen atoms at wavelengths near 0.558 millionths of a meter. Other wavelengths produce red, blue, or purple hues (you can see a little bit of red left of center).

They’re Going to Die Anyway

The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture, by Scott Klusendorf Today we are continuing our series of posts on the ethics of Embryonic Stem Cell Research (ESCR). One of the arguments raised in favor of using leftover embryos in fertility clinics for research is that they are going to die anyway. So why not put them to good use saving lives? Scott Klusendorff in his interview with Crossway Publishers offers the following interesting thought experiment to help us see what is wrong with this argument.

There are moral considerations that call into question “they’re going to die anyway” argument. Suppose you oversee a Cambodian orphanage with 200 toddlers that are abandoned. The facility cannot care for them any longer. Water levels are critically low and food supplies are exhausted. It’s only a matter of time before starvation and disease set in. A scientist has offered to take the toddlers off your hands and use them for grisly medical research designed to cure cancer. He confronts you with the hard facts: Many of these children will die soon and there’s nothing you can do to prevent it, so why let all those organs go to waste? Nonetheless, you refuse. You could never, even for a moment, consider turning the kids over to the scientist on grounds that “these kids are going to die anyway so let’s put them to good use.” True, given your impoverished circumstances, you are powerless to save them, but you would never be complicit in actively killing vulnerable human beings, which is what ESCR does.

Related posts:
    • Scott Klusendorf on Embryonic Stem Cell Research
    • Alternatives to Embyronic Stem Cell Research

Alternatives to Embyronic Stem Cell Research

The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture, by Scott Klusendorf Yesterday I posted part of an interview with Scott Klusendorf, author of The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture. Here is a later part from the same interview where Scott talks about some of the alternatives to Embyronic Stem Cell Research (ESCR). The bottom line is that there are positive ways to continue stem cell research without destroying human embryos in the process.

Not only is embryonic stem cell research immoral, but it may be unnecessary. First, numerous peer-reviewed studies indicate that adult stem cells are more effective at treating disease than previously thought. Unlike embryo stem cell research, we can extract these adult cells without harming the donor. Critics of the pro-life view, like the late actor Christopher Reeve, insist that these adult cells won’t work. However, the evidence suggests just the opposite. So far, adult stem cells are outperforming their embryonic counterparts.

Second, new research suggests we can pursue embryo cell treatments in morally acceptable ways. Altered Nuclear Transfer (or ANT) is one new technology which seeks a morally acceptable means of producing pluripotent stem cells (the functional equivalent of embryonic stem cells) without the creation and destruction of human embryos. Instead, researchers will use biological entities that have some of the properties of embryos, but are not living organisms. In 2007, researchers in Japan and the United States, using slightly different methods, successfully coaxed ordinary adult skin cells to function just like pluripotent embryonic ones. This remarkable breakthrough demonstrated that pluripotent cells can be obtained without destroying human embryos. This should come as thrilling news for everyone in the cloning debate intent on using embryo cells.

Here is an interesting video clip from Oprah where Doctor Oz proclaims the stem cell debate closed and explains the benefits of Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell Research (IPS Cell Technology) to Oprah and fellow guest Michael J. Fox. This new technology takes skin cells and makes them embryo-like, thus avoiding both the moral problems of destroying embryos for research as well as the practical problems involved with using embryonic stem cells, such as the risk of tumors in the recipient. (Video length: 3:13)

Related posts:
    • Scott Klusendorf on Embryonic Stem Cell Research
    • They’re Going to Die Anyway

Scott Klusendorf on Embryonic Stem Cell Research

The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture, by Scott Klusendorf Crossway has a good interview with Scott Klusendorf on the subject of embryonic stem cell research. Scott is the author of the new book: The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture. This is an important topic for Christians to study, especially during these times when government policy is working to change the laws in this area. Here are the first three questions and answers:

  1. What are stem cells and why are scientists eager to use them in treating disease? Stem cells are fast growing, unspecialized cells that can reproduce themselves and grow new organs for the body. All 210 different types of human tissue originate from these primitive cells. Because they have the potential to grow into almost any kind of tissue—including nerves, bones, and muscle, scientists believe that the introduction of healthy stem cells into a patient may restore lost function to damaged organs, especially the brain.
  2. Why is stem cell research focused, at least in part, on embryos? Human embryos have an abundant supply of stem cells which scientists are eager to harvest in hopes of treating Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and other illnesses. The practice of securing these early cells is known as embryonic stem cell research (ESCR). The problem is that you must destroy the embryo to secure its stem cells.
  3. Does that mean Christians should oppose all stem cell research? Absolutely not. Pro-life advocates agree that we should save lives. We also support funding stem-cell research. But, we’re opposed to one kind of stem-cell research that requires destroying defenseless human embryos so that other humans may (allegedly) benefit. That’s immoral.

Be sure to visit Crossway for the rest of the interview.

Related posts:
    • Alternatives to Embyronic Stem Cell Research
    • They’re Going to Die Anyway

The Need for Christians in Science

Here are two great quotes from R. C. Sproul on Christians and science:

Christians Need Not Fear Scientific Inquiry
“There is a sense in which the Christian should be the most passionate scientist of all because he should be rigorously open to truth wherever it is found. He should not be afraid that a new discovery of something that is true will destroy his foundation for truth. If our foundation for truth is true, all other truth can only support it and enhance it. It can’t destroy it. Therefore, Christians ought not to be afraid of scientific inquiry. This does not mean that we should uncritically accept all pronouncements and pontifications of scientists. Scientists are fallible and may occasionally make arrogant statements that go far beyond the realm of their own expertise.”

Our Age Cries for Talented Christian Scientists!
“Our age cries for talented scientists who see the scientific inquiry as a true vocation and as a response to the mandate of God Himself. Rather than flee from the scientific enterprise or embrace intellectual schizophrenia which only destroys, Christians are needed by the thousands to venture into the realm of nature, armed with the knowledge of grace. We can show that a God who exists on the other side of the wall is concerned with life on this side of that wall.”

Related posts:

Underwater Volcano Video

I was watching some of this on the news last night. It is really amazing.

(Video length: 1:38)

An undersea volcano in the South Pacific is spewing stunning columns of smoke, steam and ash thousands of feet into the air. The eruption began Monday after a series of earthquakes near Tonga, a 170-island archipelago between Australia and Tahiti, residents told the Associated Press. There were magnitude-5.0 quakes there Sunday night and Monday afternoon, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Though the Wellington Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC) issued an advisory for the area, the plume isn’t endangering island residents and so far hasn’t hurt fish or other animals, according to the AP.

Yesterday a plume rose to between 15,000 and 25,000 feet (4.6 to 7.6 kilometers), the Smithsonian’s Global Volcanism Program reported. “It’s a very significant eruption, on quite a large scale,” Tonga’s chief geologist, Kelepi Maf, told the Times of London. This is not unusual for this area and we expect this to happen here at any time.” (Scientific American)

Monitoring the End of the World

Will the Large Hadron Collider destroy the world? Get up to the minute information at the following two links. (There are conflicting reports on this so be sure to check both links.)

Hadron Collider Roundup and Rap

First test:  “The world’s largest particle collider successfully completed its first major test by firing a beam of protons all the way around a 17-mile (27-kilometer) tunnel Wednesday in what scientists hope is the next great step to understanding the makeup of the universe.” (AP)  Hey, and what do you know, the world’s still here. Except this was just an initial test of operations. The actual proton smashing doesn’t begin until next month.

What exact is the Large Hadron Collider and how does it work?

Inside the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), massive, powerful magnets chilled to a few degrees above absolute zero — colder than outer space — will zip beams of superenergetic protons and lead nuclei in a loop at speeds within a hairsbreadth of the speed of light, then collide them head-on. The energy released will be so vast that the impacts will recreate conditions in the universe as they existed just a fraction of a second after the big bang. If the LHC performs as expected, it could at last nail down that holy grail of contemporary physics, the Higgs boson — known as the “God particle” because it is thought to lend mass to matter. It may even finally unveil the secret of dark matter, the mysterious entity that makes up 85 percent of the universe — thereby shedding light on as-yet-unexplainable motions of galaxies.

  • Or, if you prefer a video explanation (complete with music), check out the Hadron Collider Rap. (Video length: 4:49)

Is it the end of the world?

LHC Game: Check out the Large Hadron Collider Game here.

Who Makes the Wind Blow?

The Bible says, “[God] makes His wind blow” (Psalm 147:18). How do we interpret this in light of modern science? Vern Pothyress explains:

Many people believe that some kind of God exists. But to them He seems remote. For practical purposes science, they think, has replaced God. The wind blows because of differences in air pressure. The nightly weather report explains it. And what the nightly weather report doesn’t explain, the expert scientists could explain and explain in massive detail until your eyes glazed over.

So was it just a primitive mentality when the Bible said that God made the wind blow? No. The scientists still deal with the same God, the God who rules the wind. What the scientists investigate is the regularity and faithfulness of the way in which God makes His wind blow. He is so faithful and so consistent that you can write mathematical equations to describe it. And of course the mathematical equations come from man’s mind being in tune with God’s mind, and having the privilege of thinking God’s thoughts after Him.

From the article: He Makes the Wind Blow (HT: Between Two Worlds)

News and Notes – 6/20/2008


Oil from bugs. Scientists are experimenting with bugs that eat waste and excrete petrol. The bacteria feed on agricultural waste such as woodchips or wheat straw and then excrete crude oil. Senior director Greg Pal gives it a month before the first vehicle is filled up on what he calls “renewable petroleum”.

Fighting cancer. A cancer patient has made a full recovery after being injected with billions of his own immune cells in the first case of its kind, doctors have disclosed. Doctors took cells from the man’s own defence system that were found to attack the cancer cells best, cloned them and injected back into his body, in a process known as “immunotherapy”. The 52-year-old, who was suffering from advanced skin cancer, was free from tumours within eight weeks of undergoing the procedure. After two years he is still free from the disease which had spread to his lymph nodes and one of his lungs.

Ice on Mars? Dice-size crumbs of bright material have vanished from inside a trench where they were photographed by NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander four days ago, convincing scientists that the material was frozen water that vaporized after digging exposed it. “It must be ice,” said Phoenix Principal Investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson. “These little clumps completely disappearing over the course of a few days, that is perfect evidence that it’s ice. There had been some question whether the bright material was salt. Salt can’t do that.”