Fibonacci’s spirals

Mathematician Arthur Benjamin said, “Mathematics is the science of patterns, and we study it to learn how to think logically, critically, and creatively.”

Not only do patterns exist in nature, they are clearly ubiquitous. Mandelbrot’s fractals (often called the thumbprint of God) are but one example of a mathematical pattern repeated on a scale ranging from the micro world to the cosmos. Another extraordinary pattern is known as the Fibonacci sequence, which graphically translates into Fibonacci’s spirals (often referred to as the fingerprints of God.)

Leonardo Bonacci (a.k.a. Leonardo of Pisa and Fibonacci) was an Italian mathematician most famous for his discovery of what has been called the “golden sequence” of numbers. The famous Fibonacci sequence is simply the following, repeated to infinity. The next number in the sequence is always the sum of the previous two numbers:

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987, 1597, 2584, 4181…

This reasonably short video demonstrates how the pattern can be found everywhere from DNA to clouds in the sky. This slightly longer documentary claims to find the golden sequence everywhere in nature, art, music, and even the Mandelbrot set.

Of course, not everyone agrees with mathematicians who claim the Fibonacci sequence can be found in virtually everything in the universe. For example, physicist Donald Simanek offers harsh criticism of Fibonacci on a page at his website called the “Fibonacci Flim-Flam.”

Professor Simanek described people (like me) who found the pro-Fibonacci video interesting as “the lunatic fringe who look for mysticism in numbers.” However, he is mistaken to assume that I have any sort of unusual fascination with numerology — I don’t even play the lottery except on the rare occasion that my wife asks me to buy her a ticket, and I don’t think that counts.

I’ve always relied on hard work, not luck, to earn income. I seriously doubt I could plot a Fibonacci spiral on graph paper myself — even if my life depended on it. In other words, I’m really not qualified to arbitrate the dispute between a physicist and all of these mathematicians. My choice to accept the consensus of math experts over the dissenting opinion of the physicist may very well be an example of the bandwagon fallacy, no different than belief in global warming.

If you assume that I’m an ordinary person who watches a few YouTube videos (yes, Fibonacci merited several) and accepts everything there on face value, you’d be wrong — I watch a lot of videos. Also, Google the name “Fibonacci” and just about every link on the first page or two talks about how important Leonardo Bonacci was. The guy is allegedly responsible for getting replacing Roman numerals with Arabic symbols, which makes him a hero in my book. Can you imagine trying to work through calculus problems using Roman numerals?

It appears inarguable that some sort of pattern can be found in every created thing. We may see the effect, but don’t seem to understand the cause.

Some people will assert that these patterns are governed by the laws of mathematics, which is a fine argument until you realize these laws of mathematics must have existed prior to the universe and origin of matter, which is irrational. Mathematics is the study of quantity, structure, space, and change — how can we study something before it exists?

Nor can the so-called “laws of physics” begin to explain how (or why) a universe could come from nothing because of complex order when nothing existed?

Patterns can be found in grains of sand and living cells, as well as galaxies in the cosmos — and according to the mathematicians, all of them bear these spectacular “fingerprints of God” known as Fibonacci’s spirals.

God’s plan for nature is complex and delicate, as this beautiful video about the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park illustrates. The restoration of a missing link in the food chain literally changed the landscape.

Which brings this question to mind: can design exist, without a Designer?

 

Mandelbrot’s fractals

Patterns are models, or plans, used to produce nearly perfect copies of a specific design. In fact, the ability to discern a pattern from raw data is usually considered an indicator of advanced intelligence.

Some scientists (who happen to be avowed atheists, and curiously not agnostic) will argue that when words like “models”, “plans”, and “design” are used to describe an organic, natural process, those words don’t mean what they would ordinarily mean.  These experts also claim the appearance of design in a living organism is nothing more than an overwhelmingly convincing optical illusion.

In his book The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, biologist (and renowned atheist) Richard Dawkins wrote,

Perhaps it was religious indoctrination that held us back (from believing in evolution). Or perhaps it was the daunting complexity of a living organ such as an eye, freighted as it is with the beguiling illusion of design by a master engineer.

Why does Mr. Dawkins believe that our eyes have deceived us, and the intuitively obvious appearance of design in our bodies only an illusion? It’s because he perceives design flaws in the human eye, probably due to the fact that the photoreceptor cells in the retina are allegedly placed backward. Dawkins has also been quite adamant about his belief that the vas deferens tube in humans and the laryngeal nerve in a giraffe are also examples of  “poor” design which, as this website suggests, commits the logical fallacy of personal incredulity.

This argument of Dawkins depends upon our making the assumption that a creator God could not, or would not, create an imperfect organism. We must trust that his ideas about “improving” the current design of a human being or a giraffe would actually be an improvement over what ordinarily works pretty well as-is, because he said so. We should trust that any personal bias toward atheism will not affect his “careful conjecture” and conclusions reached after studying the available evidence: the fossil record, comparative anatomy, and DNA analysis.

Dawkins suggests that any previously-held strong beliefs in creationism should be shattered by his “overwhelming” evidence for evolution, conveniently ignoring this one very important and obvious fact: creation (by God or good luck) must precede evolution, even if we assume that all of his claims about evolution are true.

Simply stated, life cannot evolve until it exists.

Do patterns exist that are the product of “unintentional” design? Some would say yes. But isn’t the very idea of an “accidental design” an oxymoron? Does the inference of “bad” design actually prove that no design was involved at all?

Born in Poland, French-American mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot discovered that geometric patterns occurred in nature which could be expressed in mathematical terms, regardless of scale that he called fractals.

While discussing Mandelbrot’s work, Dr. Ian Stewart said:

The same mathematics is generating chaotic behavior and pattern behavior. This changes completely how you think about all of this. The idea that there are regularities in nature and then totally separate from them are irregularities is just not true. These are two ends of one spectrum of behavior which can be generated by the same kind of mathematics. And it’s the closest thing we have at the moment to the kind of true mathematics of nature.

The “Thumbprint of God”

Of course, Mandelbrot’s fractals aren’t the only repetitive patterns seen ubiquitously throughout nature.

There are also Fibonacci’s spirals, sometimes called the “fingerprints of God”, found in things as small as a human fingerprint (and smaller) up to the formation of galaxies.

The Mandelbrot set has also been called “the thumbprint of God” because with Fibonacci’s spirals, the repeated patterns across a broad spectrum of natural objects strongly imply the work of an intelligent designer.

Dr. Andrea Sella said,

I think one of the great take-home messages from Turing’s work and from the discoveries in chemistry and biology and so on, is that ultimately pattern behavior seems to be woven very, very deeply into the fabric of the universe.  And it actually takes some very simple and familiar processes like diffusion, like the rates of chemical reactions, and the interplay between them naturally gives rise to pattern. So pattern is everywhere, just waiting to happen.

Does order emerge from chaos by accident, and not by design? Did the universe have a choice except to exist, and to create life from inanimate matter?

To see what I’ve called “the Big Picture” in my book Counterargument for God, we must look at everything from the Big Bang to natural selection. We must learn what the experts think they know about abiogenesis and speciation, and to contemplate the significance of Fibonacci’s spirals, Mandelbrot’s fractals, and the incredible complexity of DNA.

Cosmology, chemistry, genetics and geometry will all factor in the development of a better understanding of how we came to exist, leaving us to contemplate the question of why we came to be. The evidence for design begins with the precise values of cosmological factors necessary for the success of the Big Bang and the anthropic universe, as well as inflation. The chemical elixir that facilitated the origin of life did not brew itself in a warm, shallow pond, as advocates of Darwin believe — cells cannot be formed without enzymes, so the existence of enzymes had to precede the first cell.

Too many things must “accidentally” happen with perfect timing in proper sequence in order to answer an existential question without invoking a supernatural creator even remotely plausible: the origin of matter via the Big Bang, after an unbelievably precise calibration of cosmological factors, followed by a perfectly timed period of accelerated expansion (called inflation) that together allowed the universe that exists today, to exist today. For this “fine-tuned” universe to exist without divine intervention of any sort, the perfect blend of chemicals had to have coalesced and reacted until enzymes and cell membrane formed in preparation for the self-organization of LUCA, the first living single-celled organism.

Even grains of sand are fractals.

beach sand from Maui, magnified 300x (photograph by Dr. Gary Greenberg)

Have you ever looked at sand under a microscope? Nothing to be ashamed about, I haven’t either — but Dr. Gary Greenberg has, and he took photographs, which can be seen in this amazing TED talk video.

You can see an individual heart cell beat, and watch as an immune cell consumes bacteria. Those two cells look nothing alike, but if both come from the same organism, they have the same DNA. Watching live cells in action is even more impressive than looking at beach sand from Maui under a microscope.

The primary reason for my interest in Mandelbrot’s work on fractals is the idea that complex structures may develop from a simple set of rules. My personal belief is that DNA can be viewed as organic source code which uses a very simple pattern of a four value sequence in rigidly structured and organized patterns. Obviously, patterns exist. They are ubiquitous. Order is in everything. You only have to see it.

Unless (as atheists often claim about intelligent design) patterns and order are nothing but an illusion.

 

Miracle at Cokeville

If someone said “Cokeville” here in north Georgia, the listener might think the speaker was making a joke about living the city of Atlanta, home of the Coca Cola company — even home of the World of Coke.

But Cokeville is a real place, a small town in Wyoming not much bigger than the World of Coke, with a population of a little more than 500 people.

Five times more people visit the World of Coke in Atlanta on an average day than live in Cokeville, Wyoming. But why haven’t we heard of Cokeville before?

Columbine

If our hypothetical speaker were to say “Columbine” instead, most listeners will immediately be reminded of the horrible massacre planned and executed by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold that took place at Columbine High School in Colorado, not the flower.

Twelve innocent high school students and one heroic teacher were murdered by two deranged teenagers, and twenty-four more people wounded.

Then Michael Moore’s movie Bowling for Columbine famously took advantage of the tragedy to advocate for stricter gun control, making sure we never forget the horrific massacre that took place on April 20, 1999.

What we’ve learned from modern terrorists is that if you take away all the guns, the lunatics will learn how to make bombs. Or they’ll steal a truck or bus, and run over people. If someone wants to commit murder and create terror and mayhem, they will find a way.

Back to Cokeville — what makes Cokeville, Wyoming so special? It’s special because of the tragedy that didn’t happen there. On May 16, 1986, David and Doris Young took as hostages more than 150 children and teachers at the Cokeville Elementary School. The Youngs were armed with a massive gasoline bomb, plus a small arsenal of firearms. According to reports, David and Doris intended to demand ransom of $300 million from the small community.

However, once the money had been collected, they planned to blow up the bomb anyway, killing all the hostages and themselves as well as destroying all the money. David’s diary actually revealed that the ransom demand was only a ruse. His real goal was to inflict the maximum possible financial and emotional pain on the entire town of Cokeville. But they failed.

The bomb was detonated, and the Youngs both killed, but none of the hostages died. About half of the hostages were wounded. None of the injuries were life-threatening, though.

David Young hated the people of Cokeville so badly that he wanted every last one of them to suffer heartache. His own suicidal plan and the death of his wife meant nothing to him. As long as he could destroy the hope of the whole town in one fell swoop, he would die a happy man.

David’s plan left nothing to chance. He built a test bomb to make sure the triggering device worked and it would explode, and it did. So did the real bomb. Yet, none of the hostages were killed.

How is this possible?

Observers claimed that David Young became very agitated when some of the schoolteachers led their students in prayer, trying to calm the children down. Their prayers agitated David Young, so he decided to step outside. Before exiting the classroom, David detached the bomb detonator from his wrist and put it on his wife’s. All of the children were huddled together against the far wall, near the windows.

This is where their story gets really interesting.

Quite a few of these children claimed a “beautiful lady” had appeared and told them to go there. For example, first grader Nathan Hartley said that he saw an angel he recognized as his great grandmother. Travis Walker claims that he heard an angel tell him to take his younger sisters to the window and keep them there.   His sisters Rachel and Katie described beings that shone like light bulbs hovering over the heads of each hostage. Then the inexplicable happened.

Doris Young set off the bomb prematurely, apparently by accident.  She staggered out of the classroom, engulfed in flames. David shot his wife to end her agony, and then turned the gun on himself.

Most of the townspeople had gathered outside the school because their children, or someone they knew was inside. They watched in horror as the school burst into flames. Children jumped from the windows as teachers crawled on the floor and helped others evacuate the burning building.

One teacher had been shot and one student struck by a stray bullet.  More than thirty students and teachers were treated for second degree burns. But an entire generation in the small town of Cokeville had been spared, by some kind of miracle. Bomb expert Richard Haskell testified, “I can’t tell you how lucky they were. When you look at the classroom—when you see all that charred furniture and burnt walls—it’s amazing that there weren’t 150 kids lying in there dead. To call it a miracle would be the understatement of the century.”

On the 20th anniversary of the incident, a group called the Cokeville Miracle Foundation (CMF) released a book titled Witness to Miracles, which included 187 firsthand descriptions of the events of that fateful day. Apparently many residents who collaborated with the CMF agree with Mr. Haskell’s professional opinion.

Given the name of the group and their book, it may come as no surprise to learn the words “In God We Trust” fill the entire background of the front cover.

These people would be fools if they didn’t.  They are convinced that they know what really happened — nothing less than divine intervention.

Skeptics and critics may rightfully ask, why didn’t God protect the innocent people at Columbine? My answer provides them no comfort — I don’t know.

But here’s something I do know…I wasn’t there that day, at Columbine High School. Or at Cokeville. So I cannot say what happened, or why.

As Carl Jung suggested, I can say that I’ve never had an experience in which I was saved from certain, imminent death by divine intervention, but I cannot say with any degree of confidence that these children were not.

No one can know what another person has experienced, unless they were present to witness the event in question.

Did God love the children at Cokeville more than the victims at Columbine? Of course not. Were those children spared because they had the opportunity to pray for divine intervention?

Again, to answer is to suggest that I am privy to the thoughts of God. And I’m not.

The question is, do miracles really occur? Absolutely. Did a miracle occur in Cokeville, Wyoming on May 16, 1986?

Clearly, the answer is unequivocally “yes.”

But was it a miracle that merely involved some extraordinary luck, or did some form of divine intervention truly occur?

Don’t ask me. I wouldn’t know. Ask someone who was there.

Ask a witness who actually saw what happened.

 

 

[Sources]

[Elaine Jarvik, Deseret News, May 15, 2006, article “Cokeville recollects miracle of 1986“]

[Dan Millman and Doug Childers, Divine Interventions, St. Martin’s Press]

 

Do miracles really occur?

[SPOILER ALERT: if you haven’t seen the movie Miracles from Heaven and don’t know the story but want to see it, this article will spoil the ending, so you might not want to read it yet.]

Some people don’t believe in miracles, because they don’t believe in a supernatural God.

However, only the first dictionary definition of “miracle” refers to divine intervention; it offers a more secular alternate definition that describes miracles merely as any extremely unusual event or accomplishment. Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. “Mark Twain”) wrote:

Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn’t.

And what is the truth? Quid est veritas?

As the author of three novels and three nonfiction books and articles, let me assure you that writing non-ficton is considerably easier than creating the plot of a novel from scratch.

The fictional story must appear to be plausible enough to the reader that he or she becomes willing to suspend his or her disbelief. The same isn’t the case for stories purported to be true — they simply require verifiable evidence to support any claims being made in the account.

Take the plot of the movie Miracles from Heaven, for example.

The main story simply sounds ludicrous —  a young girl suffering terribly from a rare, incurable stomach disease falls thirty feet inside a rotted tree, landing on her head.

But the fall that should have killed young Anna Beam allegedly cured her. Though her neck should have been broken, and her skull smashed in pieces, not only does she survive with only minor injuries, landing on her head appears to have somehow caused her devastating, potentially fatal disease known as pseudo-obstruction motility disorder to go into remission.

Anna’s doctor suggested that the fall had somehow jump-started her immune system so that her lower intestines began to function normally…a child surviving on pain medication and feeding tubes resumed a normal life of playing soccer and eating pizza.

The medical term for Anna’s miracle cure is spontaneous remission, which simply means a diagnosed and confirmed affliction was cured due to unknown causes, without treatment or surgery.

Anna’s story sounds utterly preposterous, right? The problem is that documentation and other evidence exists. Photographs are shown during the credits of the people in real life who had been portrayed by the actors in the movie.

Anna Beam is an actual person.

Most of the facts asserted in her incredible story can be rather easily verified — for example, there are hospital and other medical records documenting her illness, the filmed news reports of her fall, etc. But not all of Anna’s story is supported by evidence and documentation.

She also claims that when she fell, she died and left her body. Anna says that Jesus told her that she must return to Earth, and that her body would be healed.

The only evidence supporting that specific claim is the fact that her body has been healed of its horrible affliction — she makes no other assertions of any corroborated veridical information learned during her alleged NDE.

So, do miracles really occur? By the second definition, absolutely. But what about the first?

The film plays up the mother’s loss of faith when Anna becomes sick. She stops going to church. Her faith is shaken. And in truth, many people must be asking themselves, why would God let a young child like Anna suffer such horrible pain, to go through such a horrible ordeal?

Is it because God wanted a great movie made about Him in Hollywood, or was the reason much more subtle? Is there even a reason at all?

The movie doesn’t explicitly say, but it seems to give us a hint. While in the hospital, Anna befriended a young girl dying from bone cancer. Her father became upset when Anna gave his daughter her necklace, a small crucifix. He subsequently found out that Anna had shared her faith with his daughter through facing her own mortality, and it upset him.

Though he was portrayed as agitated during the hospital scenes, at the end of the movie when Anna’s mother shares her testimony in church and someone in the crowd questions whether Anna had really been near death from her illness, the now grieving father of the cancer victim announces he has traveled from Massachusetts to Texas at his own expense, to corroborate her story. He claimed that Anna’s faith had given his daughter hope, and the courage to meet her imminent death.

Did Hollywood make up that last bit? How much of Anna’s story is true?

What if all of it is true?

The enigma of Abraham and Isaac

In my opinion, there is only so much one can learn from simply reading the Bible alone. To get real value out of the Bible, you have to participate in a Bible study.

Otherwise, it’s too easy to cheat. For example, for years I simply ignored verses or whole chapters in the Bible that didn’t make sense to me. I didn’t want to think about a God who wanted blood rituals or human sacrifices.

In fact, I tended to avoid the Old Testament, preferring the personification of God as being the loving, kind, and forgiving Jesus, not the apparently cruel and  vacillating Yahweh of the Old Testament. Once upon a time, I was kicked out of one Bible study group after saying that Yahweh and Jesus almost seemed to be two different Gods.

But later, in a different, much smaller group that studied the book of Genesis painstakingly line by line, I was forced to confront a chapter than had always bothered me. Bible study inspired me to turn the story into a chapter in my first published book.

In Divine Evolution there is a chapter called “Misunderstanding God”, which begins by quoting the first verse of Bob Dylan’s masterpiece Highway 61 Revisited, which reinterprets the story from Genesis 22:

Ah, God said to Abraham, Kill me a son
Abe say "Man, you must be puttin' me on."
God say, "No." Abe say, "What?"
God say, "You can do what you want, Abe, but 
The next time you see me comin' you'd better run.
Well Abe say, "Where you want this killin' done?"
God says, "Out on Highway 61."

The song gives Dylan’s colorful interpretation of the story of Abraham and Isaac — but the central fact remains unchanged. It was a great honor that the future Nobel Prize winner in Literature would so graciously grant me permission to quote him in my book for the nominal fee of $100 — well worth the price, in my opinion. Mick Jagger and Keith Richard charged me $5 more to quote a verse from one of their songs, and I won’t complain about that, either.

Loosely translated, the song describes what Genesis 22 says. No one can deny the obvious, which is that God ordered Abraham to go to the land of Moriah and offer his only son Isaac, as a human sacrifice. Now, why would Yahweh, assuming He exists and is a benevolent creator, make such a deplorable demand?

As literally told, the story seems horrific. Yahweh appears to be capricious and unimaginably cruel. And Abraham acts somewhat doltish. Why doesn’t Abraham protest, or even question whether or not God really wants Isaac to be killed and burned as an offering?

Keep in mind that later, in the book of Judges, Gideon asks for multiple signs with dew and fleece to confirm that he’s actually received God’s command. But with far more at stake Abraham is told to kill his son in a murder ritual, and he gets up early the next morning, without a word of protest, determined to follow those incomprehensible instructions from Yahweh without hesitation.

Why? It seems that at least these five possibilities exist, and maybe more.

  1. The story is false.  God, Abraham and Isaac could be fictional characters. We may safely assume that the incident never occurred.
  2. The story isn’t meant to be read literally, but is allegorical.
  3. The story is true, but nonsensical. God is both creator and destroyer.
  4. The story is (sort of) true and accurate. Abraham was delusional, and had murderous intent toward his own son. Only through divine intervention was a tragedy averted.
  5. The story is true, accurate, and extraordinarily concise. Only by reading previous chapters, and making a few logical assumptions, can we have the story make sense and be true.

Atheists and secular readers usually gravitate toward the first alternative as the most plausible and consider the last option as least likely.

Option #1 is the simplest, and therefore the easiest explanation to believe on face value. Did the author believe the story was true or know the story was false because he was making it up? As the published author of three novels as well as three nonfiction books, I can attest to the fact that writing nonfiction is much easier. Research is not hard. Making up a plausible story from one’s imagination is much more difficult. The third and fourth options are both problematic because they acknowledge the existence of a creator, but offer no explanatory value. Neither the story itself nor the subject make any sense.

And Christians ought to be troubled by all five of these options, shouldn’t they?

Not in my opinion. According to my theory (that originated in Bible study) the fifth and final option is the reasonable answer, and therefore is probably correct.

Of course that would mean the story is essentially true and accurate, but extremely concise because the author doesn’t want to say things that paint Abraham, the father of Israel. in a negative light.

The key to this interpretation lies in what isn’t there — any sort of justification or detailed explanation of why God would test Abraham this way.

After all, isn’t this the same Yahweh who abhors the worshipers of Baal for their child sacrifices?  Is it safe to assume Yahweh only loathes child sacrifices to other gods? Interestingly, the Bible prefaces its description of the incident found in Genesis Chapter 22 with these words: “Some time later God tested Abraham.”

Some time later than what? Herein lies the beauty of Bible study, chapter by chapter, line by line.

Read the last section of Genesis 21.  It tells the seemingly banal story of a treaty made between Abraham and Abimelech the Philistine, at the well called Beersheba. The account includes one rather odd detail. Abraham accuses some of Abimelech’s people of stealing a well he claims to have dug, and demands return of the well as part of the treaty. Abimelech denies any knowledge of the issue. Then for no apparent reason, to placate Abimilech and sweeten the deal (while swearing that he was being truthful) Abraham sets aside seven ewe lambs to give Abimilech as part of the deal.

Did Abraham rightfully own the well?  If so, why would he offer to pay for a well that he already owned?

It’s also very interesting to note what the author of Genesis 21 says about Abimilech’s reaction to the last minute inclusion of the well into the treaty — he was afraid of Abraham’s God, so he didn’t argue the facts. With the application of deductive reasoning, it seems that Abraham may not have only been the patriarch of the Hebrew tribes, he may have also been the father of tough negotiations and driving the hard bargain.  Genesis 21:33 doesn’t elaborate. It simply reads, “Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called upon the name of the LORD, the eternal God.”

A plethora of questions spring into mind, such as….why were these two stories included in the Bible? What is the significance of the treaty with Abimelech?  Why mention the added detail of the disputed well? Could this be the reason God decided to test Abraham? 

And what the heck is a tamarisk tree?

Tamarisk tree, but not Abraham

My theory, which is sheer speculation based not on what’s in the Bible, but what isn’t there, nevertheless seems to provide the only rational explanation that might tie these two accounts together and “justify” the near sacrifice of Isaac.

If we ever do agree that my theory to explain the enigma of Abraham and Isaac is reasonable, there will be plenty of other stories need that need to be studied in order to gain some measure of understanding. The Bible is a mysterious book that describes a mysterious creator God. It is an indispensable tool in our search for truth, and answer to the existential questions.

Why were we created?  Is there a reason we exist? Does humanity serve some unknown purpose?  

Inquiring minds want to know…

The B/Z reaction, and the problem with peer review

Alan Turing

In 1951, the brilliant British scientist Alan Turing published a paper proposing a theory in chemistry called morphogenesis, which explains how cells are grouped together within an organism.

According to Turing, oscillating chemical reactions predictable by mathematical formula are partially responsible for organizing cells to form organs, bone, and tissue. Of course, Turing’s greatest claim to fame was his role as the leader of the team that remarkably broke the Enigma code during World War II, the secret German code once considered unbreakable, as depicted in the excellent film The Imitation Game.

Unfortunately, Turing committed suicide only three years after his paper on morphogenesis was published, after his prosecution for the “crime” of being homosexual. Alan Turing didn’t live to see the publication of evidence that would have validated his theory almost immediately.

Boris Belousov

Only a few years after Turing’s paper on morphogenesis was published, chemist Boris Belousov mixed potassium bromate with citric acid, discovering that the blended mixture changed colors as the fluids oscillated and chemicals reacted, which seems to prove Turing’s theory. And as these videos illustrate, the phenomenon is actually very easy to replicate by experiment.

However, when Belousov attempted to have his research published in 1951, the leading scientific journals flatly rejected his work, based on the assumption that the experiment results were “impossible.”

Only a single paragraph from Belousov’s analysis was finally published four years later, in 1955. Alan Turing was already dead. And so was the career of Boris Belousov,  so disgusted the editors of the leading journals had flatly rejected his work without even trying to replicate the results that he stopped performing scientific research.

Anatol Zhabotinsky

The reason his discovery is also named after Anatol Zhabotinsky is because the latter discovered Belousov’s research and performed a very similar experiment, successfully publishing the results of his work in 1968.

Zhabotinsky used a slightly different chemical solution than Belousov, substituting melonic acid for citric acid to increase the visibility of the reactions.

Because of the role he played in the discovery of the B/Z reaction, Zhabotinsky has been called the father of nonlinear chemical dynamics. But does that make Boris Belousov the grandfather?

A horribly flawed peer review process utterly failed Boris Belousov. The editors of science journals successfully asserted themselves as the arbiters of what may be considered acceptable science, and their power remains largely unchecked even today.

In reality, the contemporaries of Boris Belousov were not his peers. Fortunately (for the advancement of science, at least) Anatol Zhabotinsky was Belousov’s intellectual equal, and a true scientist who appreciated the power of discovery via experiment.

Rather than simply assuming that some process or claim  is “impossible,” perhaps we should seriously consider at minimum a cursory investigation of the alleged evidence. Quid est veritas?

Opinions may change over time, but truth never changes.

Peer review is a horribly flawed system, but unfortunately, it remains the best system we have.

Echolocating night-hunting aerial interceptors

ew_bookcoverThe book Evolutionary Wars contains a section bearing the title above. In layman’s terms, it describes the method by which bats hunt insects at night.

Author Levy writes,

The most difficult task for nocturnal airborne predators is to detect, locate, intercept and successfully engage a moving target.  To achieve success, the predator must acquire an almost continuous stream of information giving instantaneous data about the target’s size, velocity, direction and altitude. (pg. 188)

The complexity of the work involved for mere survival of the bat is astounding.  Flying is only one complex function. By its description echolocating is several — essentially using its “naturally” occurring sonar capability to navigate and hunt without being able to physically “see” it’s prey.

As part of a lengthy technical description of how bats eat insects, Levy says,

If the echo returns at a lower pitch, the target is moving away; if the echo is at a higher pitch, the target is approaching. Each ear picks up the echo at a slightly different intensity and time.  In this way, the bat’s minuscule on board computer, it’s 10 milligram brain automatically triangulates and gives in-flight directions for the intercept.

illustration by Paul Mirocha

illustration by Paul Mirocha

Charles Levy implies a slight in his opinion of this remarkable creature when he  describes the bat’s brain by weight.  Admittedly, only ten milligrams for a brain is only a tiny fraction of the weight of the brain an average human carries around in their head, is around three pounds.

On the other hand, I’ve learned there are some birds that seem to be a bit smarter than some people I know — maybe that’s why the expression “bird brain” has been frequently used as an insult because of the human’s advantage in brain size. But we don’t use most of our brains. And we often describe animals as “dumb”, but consider the fact that a bat can naturally accomplish a number of things which a human cannot, without help.

Sure, humans can fly, but not without airplanes or wingsuits. We can mimic the bat’s ability to echo locate by using sonar and radar equipment built by intelligent humans, but we can’t safely navigate by air, land, or water without being able to see where we are going or special devices specifically developed to assist us in those tasks.

By comparison, the bat’s brain seems to be perfectly designed for it’s body. After all, if a bat had a three pound brain, it wouldn’t be able to fly.

Do bats serve a purpose?  Of course they do.  Many different types of bats eat insects. Keeping the insect population under control seems to be a valuable function to provide the overall environment, especially since Rachel Carson’s inflammatory book started the movement that led to the ban on DDT.

Any birth defects allegedly prevented by the ban on DDT are easily negated by the estimated sixty million needless deaths due to malaria and other insect-born diseases estimated to have occurred since the ban on DDT was instituted by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1972.

DDT has been proved to be much safer than Carson’s book Silent Spring claimed. To prove how safe the pesticide actually is, some scientists have actually drunk supposedly lethal amounts of DDT on camera, with no ill effect. As reported in Ecoworld’s website by chemist Edward Wheeler, DDT is very safe and effective. However, for too many people, real truth doesn’t matter anymore.

Yet for those same people (and especially the eco-warriors), once they have made up their mind that something is bad for the environment, it becomes immutable. No matter how powerful or convincing that contradictory evidence may be, they can no longer be convinced of the truth.

Once they have become convinced that DDT is harmful and dangerous, neither logic, reason, or scientific evidence can convince them otherwise.

Those same people might also believe that carbon dating tests conducted in the late 1980s had proved the Shroud of Turin was a medieval forgery, and they will flatly reject compelling new evidence that established the 1988 tests used a contaminated sample – dismissing the new evidence without even looking at it.

Radical environmentalists would rather believe that the companies that produce the chemical pesticide are inherently evil, and they would rather poison people than help save them. Because of radical environmentalists, it’s no longer politically correct (or legal) to use DDT, and babies in south Florida are being born with horrible birth defects due to the Zika virus instead.

Although it’s also true that bats can carry rabies, the percentage of bats with rabies is quite small, which means the risk of getting rabies from a bat is a lot less than the risk of getting malaria or worse virus from a mosquito bite. So we need bats, because we need fewer mosquitoes.

We must love, cherish and protect our echolocating night-hunting aerial interceptors, because until common sense and solid scientific evidence convince the radical environmentalists that our best weapons against disease already exist, bats are about our best defense against mosquito-born diseases.

rachel-carson-and-silent-spring-radiogreenearth-488Though she probably only meant well, Rachel Carson is allegedly responsible for more deaths than Hitler, Stalin, and the Black Plague combined.

Sixty million people.

The road to Hell really must be paved with “good” intentions…and marked for traffic by “bad” science.

Eye of the beholder

images-2Eye of the beholder

Familiar with the expression “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”?

Various forms of the phrase date all the way back to Greece in the 3rd century B.C.

However, Margaret Wolfe Hungerford is generally credited with the first use of that exact phrase in her book Molly Bawn, originally published in 1878. The cliche simply means that different things will appeal to different people.

The eye is a collection of tissue that forms an organ and provides visual feedback from our physical world. The ability to see an adversary who is fighting blind is almost always gives an unsurmountable edge to the fighter with unimpaired vision.

Some biologists, notably Jerry Coyne, describe the eye as an imperfect creation or an organ that is easy to create. Coyne wrote,

The human eye, though eminently functional, is imperfect – certainly not the sort of eye an engineer would create from scratch. Its imperfection arises precisely because our eye evolved using whatever components were at hand, or produced by mutation. Since our retina evolved from an everted part of the brain, for example, the nerves and blood vessels that attach to our photoreceptor cells are on the inside rather than the outside of the eye, running over the surface of the retina. Leakage of these blood vessels can occlude vision, a problem that would not occur if the vessels fed the retina from behind. Likewise, to get the nerve impulses from the photocells to the brain, the different nerves must join together and dive back through the eye, forming the optic nerve. This hole in the retina creates a blind spot in the eye, a flaw that again would be avoidable with a priori design. The whole system is like a car in which all the wires to the dashboard hang inside the driver’s compartment instead of being tucked safely out of sight.

All of this bluster is to say how much better the Jerry Coyne eye would be as an improvement over the eye made by God. No engineer has produced an functionally operational equivalent eye, much less a superior version. There is no Jerry Coyne manufactured eye, or any artificial device that can replace a human eye and restores vision.

Science can do wonders with the existing organic material, but once the sight is gone, as of this date it cannot be restored. Yet Coyne claims science can make a better eye. So where is it?geordilaforge

Prosthetic devices may look real, but they do not restore vision. Unfortunately, those stylish Geordi Le Forge shades with the oil filter lenses don’t really exist – except as a prop from a television show. Apparently, the writers of Star Trek: the Next Generation seemed to realize the foolishness of suggesting artificial eyes would be superior to the ones we have, or else the entire crew would have worn the same apparatus.

Coyne isn’t the first biologist to foolishly claim the eye would be easy to make one or improve. In his summary statement at the Wistar conference , Dr. Waddington made the remarkably silly statement, “I think it is relatively simple to make an eye.” (pg 97)

Astonishingly, Ernst Mayr agreed with him, and the remaining participants were apparently too dumbfounded by the suggestion to respond. Mayr said,

Somebody quoted Darwin yesterday and, as with the Bible, you can quote him for one thing or another. In one place he said that it completely horrified him to think of the eye and how to explain it, and at another place he said once you assume that any kind of protein has the ability to react to light, once you admit that, then it is no problem whatsoever to construct an eye.

No problem at all to make an eye? Easy peasy? Respectfully, Drs. Waddington and Mayr, then why hasn’t science made one?

Dr. Trevor Woodhams and company at the local Woodhams Eye Clinic in Dunwoody do remarkable work using LASIK surgery to correct vision, but they are working with existing organic material. Corneas may be transplanted, but not entire eyes. Doctors do not perform artificial eye replacement with “bionic” eyes — that technology only exists in science fiction novels, movies, and television shows.

The latest and greatest medical miracles seem to be organs grown from stem cell tissue in a lab. Although the cultivated heart does not yet beat, it still qualifies as a significant scientific achievement. But if and when it does begin to beat, it cannot be considered an improvement over what God created. It is merely a replica, not a superior creation.

Perhaps they next can cultivate an eye. But it isn’t the same thing as making an eye from scratch, better than the real thing.

We cannot make a better heart, a better brain or a better eye. Our best efforts mimic God’s creation but never surpass it.

In his poem “Ode to a Grecian Urn”, Keats famously wrote, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty — that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

To recognize beauty for what it is, we must first be able to see it.

Microtubules of the brain

microtuble

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: The bulk of the original content of this article was published at Examiner.com when I wrote as the Atlanta Creationism Examiner. Unlike previous articles from that source which were only re-formatted and lightly edited, new material has been added that has developed since the article was first published.]

Microtubules of the brain

How does our brain really work?  Are brain cells special?  How do brain cells store memories? Computers are modeled after the human brain, and like humans, they have both short-term and long-term memory.

For short-term memory, computer allocates space in a storage cache to “remember” information…for example, a calculator application accepts input from a user and must remember the numerical values entered, the operand (in order to know whether to add, subtract, multiply, divide, etc.) and then must store the result of the operation to be displayed as feedback. However, when the application ends or the computer is turned off, the short-term memory is wiped out. Lost forever.

As far as long-term memory is concerned for computers, a storage device is required, and the information is literally written to a computer chip, hard drive, flash drive, or some other permanent medium. If you store your data “in the cloud” it only means you’re using storage provided by someone else, which might be convenient, but not very secure. Literally, somewhere there must be a physical device which stores your information to be recalled and reused at a later date.

So with that in mind, how does a human brain record long-term memories?

If we simply assume, for the sake of argument, that short-term memories are merely chemical reactions in our physical brain cells (because that’s probably how a neuroscientist would describe them, but that isn’t the point of this article), it doesn’t answer the question of how we remember past events from thirty, forty, or more years ago. Where, and how, are those memories stored?2430001_z_memek16cau

One of the most interesting and brilliant movies I’ve ever watched was called Memento.

A brief summary of the plot: due to a severe blow to the head, the protagonist’s brain was injured to the point where he could no longer form new long-term memories. Any distraction that disrupted his attention span would cause the hero to forget where he was, what he’d been doing, and why he was there, but he was determined to hunt down (and kill) his wife’s murderer. Because his brain no longer worked normally but the protagonist remained very intelligent, he solved his long-term memory problem by tattooing clues to the identity of the the killer on his own body, so he couldn’t forget them.

If you haven’t seen this movie, I highly recommend it. Director Christopher Nolan has made a number of excellent movies, but in my opinion, this is his very best work.

And here is the problem: I have no tattoos. How did my brain record and then recall the details of this movie so vividly, when at least a decade has passed since I last watched it? Exactly where, in my brain cells, do my memories live?

Anesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff worked with Sir Roger Penrose while serving as associate director of Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona in Tucson to develop a theory of consciousness. They have asserted that the mind is not simply a by-product of the biological activity of the human brain but something more.

Hameroff’s research focused on microscopic structures in brain and nerve cells called microtubules. Their claim to have discovered quantum vibrations in the microtubule structures in our brains have been published as a result of their work toward a theory of consciousness.

Dr. Hameroff said in an interview:

“The inside of the brain and nerve cells are comprised of girders or cylindrical structures called microtubules that self assemble to form the shape of a cell. They are the nervous system of a cell and process information internally to organize what happens within each cell and also how cells interact with other cells. These microtubules are actually very well designed as computational devices.”

Not only has our brain been compared to an organic computer, Dr. Hameroff has characterized each microtubule as a quantum micro-processor as he asks this pointed question: is DNA really a quantum computer? This prompts me to ask another interesting question of my own: like creation without a creator, can intricate and extraordinarily complex design really exist without a designer?

Primary source: The Day I Died, a BBC documentary.

 

Compounded improbabilities

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is the final article originally published at Examiner.com in the series on the theory of evolution, on a favorite topic of mine: is it possible to quantify the luck that would be necessary to explain our existence, without invoking a supernatural Creator of all things? The secular approach to eliminating God from creation can take at least two different, diametrically opposed forms. The goal of both is to eliminate a problem called fine-tuning of this universe, described in this article.

First, there is the multiverse hypothesis, which improves the probability of “this” (successful) universe by speculating an unknown number of unsuccessful universes were also created at the Big Bang anomaly. The other option is that it may be argued that the creation of the universe was actually deterministic (Grand Unified Theory, or GUT) assuming that this universe had no choice except to exist, and to enable complex life to exist.]

Compounded improbabilities

martin_reesCosmologist Sir Martin Rees has declared that “just six numbers” dictate the nature of our universe. For clarity and ease of discussion, these six values shall be referred to as “cosmic factors” for the remainder of this article.

Apparently to avoid giving a divine Creator any credit, Rees said,

These six numbers constitute a ‘recipe’ for a universe. Moreover, the outcome is sensitive to their values: if any one of them were to be ‘untuned’, there would be no stars and no life. Is this tuning just a brute fact, a coincidence? Or is it the providence of a benign Creator? I take the view that it is neither. An infinity of other universes may well exist where the numbers are different.

It’s the old “multiple universe” trick, as Maxwell Smart would say. But, as with any theory, there are problems. According to Rees, the six cosmic factors are:

  1. omega (value=1) to represent the amount of matter in the universe.
  2. Epsilon (value=0.007) represents the degree to which atomic nuclei are bound together.
  3. “D” is the number of dimensions (value=3).
  4. “N” is the strength of electrical forces that bind atoms, divided by the force of gravity:(value=1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000).
  5. “Q” is a number that represents two fine-tuned fundamental energies (value=1/100,000).
  6. Lambda (value=0.7) represents a measurement of anti-gravity in the universe.

Also according to Rees, the slightest change in value in any of the cosmic factors would result in a universe that would not support life. One less zero for the value of “N”, for example, would mean this universe failed. His proposed alternative to supernatural creation for resolving the statistical improbability of our “Goldilocks” universe is an infinite number of “universes”, also known as the “multiverse.”

A simple formula (using the right values, of course) should produce the cumulative improbability of the combined cosmic factors, expressed as a single value:

Probability(Universe) = Probability(Omega) * Probability(Epsilon) * Probability(N) * Probability(D) * Probability(Q) * Probability(Lambda)

Even if the probability value of variation in each universal factor were as low as one percent, the total improbability of the Big Bang producing our perfect universe are considerably lower because of the compounded risk of variation in any one of the six — not unlike the odds against winning a lottery [the following example is for illustrative purposes only, not actual values]:

.01 * .01 * .01 * .01 * .01 * .01 = 0.000000000001 chance of total success

Thus for life to exist, we must “win” more than one lottery.

The likelihood of variation in any cosmic factor is probably much greater than one in a hundred. Therefore, we may reasonably conclude that odds against the origin of our universe were ridiculously low. But even if my simplistic example were accurate, an undirected origin of life would be even more improbable because the improbable universe was first required.

The odds against the origin of life increase exponentially — the improbabilities do not merely aggregate; they are compounded because the existence of life as we know it is actually predicated on the existence of the universe that supports it. According to (co-discoverer of DNA) Francis Crick, the random assembly of six billion pieces of information found in the double helix should have taken several billion years to form, leaving practically no time for evolution theory to work its magic.

Francis Crick wrote,

An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going. (Life Itself, pg 88)

Naturally, I aspire to be an honest man. Crick proposed a hypothesis called directed panspermia to solve the time problem without invoking a divine Creator, effectively moving the problem from earth into outer space.

Nobel Laureate in Chemistry Ilya Prigogine claimed,

The statistical probability that organic structures and the most precisely harmonized reactions that typify living organisms would be generated by accident is zero.

Even if Prigogine was wrong and the statistical probability of undirected life was an incredibly small number but slightly greater than zero, it would be further reduced when compounded by the improbability of our anthropic universe. To properly evaluate “the Big Scheme” of things, life cannot be separated from the environment that supports it.

We must also ask: even if our universe could have “accidentally” happened through a fluke related to quantum mechanics, why did entropy fail to break down the chemical compounds before they had time to complete assembly of the first form of life?

Speciation theory allegedly describes the undirected mutations that occur through the mechanism of sexual reproduction.

After countless generations, two compatible, paired organisms diversify solely through the mechanisms of sexual reproduction and turn into organisms as unlike as oak trees, sperm whales and humans — all from the same single, original cell called LUCA.

This concept is difficult to quantify into any numerical probability.

For sake of argument, let’s say it’s a fifty/fifty probability — essentially a coin flip, whether a vampire bat could have evolved into existence without intelligent direction. Please consider the complex ability by which they are able to fly by night to hunt: echo location navigation.  And take into consideration the fact that a flying mammal and an aquatic mammal possess this same capability and ask yourself why we should assume these two wildly disparate creatures in most respects should share a common ancestor.  Simply throw away the concept of irreducible complexity, at least for a moment, in order to consider the whole problem.

Even in that scenario, that flip of the coin (which gave us dolphins, whales, and vampire bats) had to happen after two unimaginably unlikely events happened in the right order. The improbabilities of the anthropic universe and abiogenesis being created by nothing adversely affect the odds of speciation happening by random chance, further compounding its improbability factor.

No matter how hard you try, the numbers just don’t logically add up.