Biology

Organs, Tissues, & Planned Parenthood

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Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 10.24.50 PMThe recent debacle surrounding planned parenthood has been… well, uproarious to say the least. Some people are saying that PP is selling organs for profit, some are saying that PP is not making a profit but using the money for processing fees. I am not going to try to parse through the competing information on this. What I want to do is something similar to what I did with my post on genetic engineering and human children… I want to go through the possible scenarios and come to a reasonable conclusion that can be applied, no matter what the truth of the situation is.

I’d also like to make an important suggestion. Before we say “I disagree”, we should seek to understand what is really happening. Once we understand it, we can point out the problems with it. There’s no need for us to fabricate evil… if the evil truly is there. For those unaware of my stance on abortion, I am pro-life. I wrote about it here. Read the rest of this entry »

Abortion 101 – Laying a Pro-Life Foundation

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Yesterday, January 22nd, was the anniversary of the famous Roe v. Wade decision made by the US Supreme Court in 1973, which was effectively a federally signed permission slip for women to get abortions. But many people, including myself, do not agree that the issue of abortion is settled by court fiat because… well, the court was wrong.

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 9.52.54 PMAbortion is an issue fraught with emotionally and rhetorically powerful arguments, so we have to make sure that we handle this issue with care. However, we are discussing an issue of great importance; if the pro-lifers (those against abortion) are correct, then we have been allowing the systematic destruction of the most helpless member of society for the last 42+ years. And if the pro-choicers (those in favor of abortion choice) are correct, then pro-lifers are looking to take away a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion.

Most of the ‘street-level’ arguments for and against abortion are a combination of assuming what they’re trying to prove (begging the question), personal attacks, accusatory motivational assumptions, straw men, loaded questions, and any number of other logically fallacious ways of thinking. How often have you heard a discussion on abortion where the pro-lifer is accusing the pro-choicer of hating babies and wanting to use abortion as birth control? …and in response, the pro-choicer accuses the pro-lifer of misogyny and being against women’s rights?
In fact, if you’re trying to hone your skills in logical fallacy identification, watch a popular level debate (on Fox News or CNN or something, those are almost always hilariously bad) and count the number of fallacies used by both people. That’s some hardcore on-the-job training, so be warned.

When we are approaching the issue of abortion, we have to ask two vitally important questions – one scientific and one philosophical.
What is the unborn? This is a scientific question.
What gives us value? This is a philosophical question. Read the rest of this entry »

A Christian Response to Ray Comfort’s ‘Evolution vs God’

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Tyler Dalton McNabb and I co-authored this back when Comfort’s ‘Evolution v God’ video came out and I wanted to repost it here because… well, because I like what we’ve written on the topic.

Ray Comfort has recently released another youtube sensation with his movie Evolution v. God. In typical Comfort fashion, Comfort interviews a handful of relevant college professors and students on the topic of evolution. Comfort’s main assumption in this movie seems to be that one must choose between God and evolution. In this battle royal or winner takes all match, Comfort argues that since evolution is bad science (if science at all), and the existence of God is obvious, God wins!

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 8.24.26 PMIn order to get to this conclusion, Comfort asks particular questions that range from basic epistemological questions to basic biological questions. It is in virtue of this that we will be separating this response into two major sections. The first major section will focus on the philosophical material that this movie contains, while the second major section will deal with the scientific material that this movie contains. In the following respective sections, we will be arguing that Comfort’s movie is based on both bad philosophy and bad science. Though in the end we will not be able to recommend this movie, we would like to recommend alternative apologetic resources at the end of this review.

Now before we begin this response, we would like to take time and mention that this response is in no way an attack on Comfort as a human being. We believe Comfort to be a loving Christian who has been mightily used by God. Though we are sure that many people will be in heaven because of Comfort and his ministry, we do feel that Comfort’s reasoning in this video reflects both poor philosophy and poor science. It is in virtue of this that we feel that Comfort’s video helps create an unnecessary stumbling block to the Gospel.

Alright! Go ahead and watch it.

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Why You Should Genetically Engineer Your Children

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Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 8.45.55 PMMost of us would do anything to help our children have the best future possible. We would make sure they had the best prenatal environment, the best diet and be sent to the best schools, all so that they could have the best possible future opportunities. But what would we do if we could, before they were born, alter our child’s genes in order to guarantee that advantage? The choice of genetically engineering our children is rapidly becoming a scientific reality, and we are faced with the question: If we are able to safely engineer a child at the genetic level… should we?

Genetic engineering is a topic that is greeted with a combination of curiosity, skepticism and apprehension. Those in favor of genetic engineering have been accused of “playing God”, whereas those opposed have been characterized as being against scientific progress. Many people view genetic engineering as something confined to the domain of science fiction; something so far in the future that it needn’t be worried about. However, with the advance of modern technology, this attitude towards genetic engineering is not only misguided, but can be dangerous.
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Cancer – What is it Anyway?

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Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 3.51.13 PMMany of you have likely encountered a kind of hype that is based almost entirely on the ignorance of the readers. People get a small glimpse into something they [rightfully] see as important, but because they don’t really understand it… they end up drawing erroneous conclusions.

Lets face it: many people don’t really understand cancer.
Its a difficult disease to understand, and people will often assume that there is some easy cure ‘out there’ and it is being concealed/ignored because cancer research facilities are just in it for the money (or… you know… something like that).

The first step in correcting this misconception is to understand what cancer is. With a proper understanding of the complexities of cancer, we can (hopefully) communicate this with people who do not understand it.

Cancer – What is it Anyway?

Cancer is the name given to a large group of diseases  that behave in a variety of different ways, depending  on the type of cell from which they originate. Broadly  speaking, cancer is associated with at least two  primary symptoms: uncontrolled cell division and  metastasis. In normal cells, the cell cycle is a tightly  regulated system that is highly controlled and  managed by proteins, enzymes and the corresponding  genes on the DNA molecule. In some cells, however, the regulations of normal cell processes are interrupted/altered by mutations. These mutations cause many genes to be expressed inappropriately, and this can lead to cancer.

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Newly Discovered Functions of Pseudogenes

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Abstract

Researchers have noted that there are portions of the DNA that look similar to functional genes, but contain lesions or premature stop codons. These genes have been assumed to be largely non-functional, but recent research suggests that many of these ‘pseudogenes’ are actually functional.  This paper is an overview of some of the research done in the area of  pseudogene functionality. I address several recent advances in the  area of genetic research regarding pseudogene functionality  chronologically, starting from one of the first discoveries of a  functional pseudogene and ending with a paper from this year (2013). Broadly speaking, it would seem that the assumption of non-functionality has been overturned regarding many pseudogenes, and the evidence suggests that many more pseudogenes may have a function that has yet to be discovered.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 9.22.09 PMPseudogenes have been typically understood as portions of DNA  that have lost their function and remain in the DNA as a relic that  signifies past functionality. The prefix ‘pseudo-‘ indicates that  something is fake or false, and a pseudogene is a portion of DNA  that looks like a functioning gene, but is not actually functional. Pseudogenes have been placed in the ‘junk DNA’ category, ‘dead’, non-functional by-products of evolution. If a pseudogene is transcribed at all, it is often considered to be largely a neutral process that hasn’t been weeded out by selection. However, recent evidence has shown that many pseudogenes have very important functions in the genome of nearly every organism, humans included. There are very good reasons to revise the definition of ‘pseudogene’ to include a wide variety of biological functions, from gene expression and cellular function to gene regulation and tumor suppression. The newly discovered functions are making the term ‘pseudogene’ notoriously ambiguous. This review will analyze a small handful of functions discovered for pseudogenes that were previously assumed to be non-functional byproducts of genome evolution. It is not intended to be an exhaustive treatment of newly discovered pseudogene functionality. Functions are being ascribed to pseudogenes on a fairly regular basis in contemporary genetics literature, and some of the literature is reviewed in chronological order.
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Rethinking Aristotle: The Unwarranted Rejection of ‘Final Causation’ in Modern Evolutionary Biology

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Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 9.49.16 PMWhy is the polar bear’s fur white? Why does the snake have the ability to unhinge its jaw? At first consideration, the answers to these questions are fairly straightforward. A polar bear has white fur for camouflage and the snake can unhinge its jaws to eat large prey. However, behind these questions lies a larger question, a question that is not directly answerable by describing the function of a certain feature. This question is of final causation, purpose or teleology. Does the polar bear have white fur because camouflage was the purpose of white fur? Is the snake’s unique unhinging jaw a result of a purposed process, with eating as a goal? Or are these features just the accidental by-products of the purposeless mechanism of evolution? Aristotle was under the impression that you do not fully understand an object unless you understand all of its explanations, including teleology, which Aristotle referred to as ‘the final cause’. Is that standard of explanation accepted today? And if we don’t embrace a teleological explanation today, is that rejection justified?

“Aristotle was one of the greatest philosophers and scientists the world has ever seen”. (Dunn, 2005) He was one of the first people to propose a formal logical system, a functioning ethical system, a methodology concerning causality and a systematic way of studying the natural world. During his study of the natural world, he spent a large portion of his time studying life; a field that we now know of as biology. “Aristotle’s studies encompassed the entire world of living things. Many of his descriptions and classifications remain sound today” (Dunn, 2005)

In addition to his study and classification of organisms in the natural world, Aristotle had a very specific way of looking at natural and man-made objects. In Metaphysics, Aristotle explains the 4 different types of aition, often translated as ‘explanations’ or causes’. He believed that in order to fully understand something, you have to understand it in light of the four causes. If you didn’t understand all four of the causes, you didn’t actually understand the object in question.
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