If a magnet can scramble one’s ability to make sound moral judgments, does that imply morality is all in our minds?
We’ve reported in the past on scientists who have investigated the relationship between religion and the human mind—see, for example, News to Note editions from February 2009, March 2009, and April 2009. Now, a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology reports that subjects’ senses of morality can be altered with a magnetic blast to the brain.
The team, led by Liane Young, experimented on twenty subjects in experiments that asked the subjects to make a moral judgment after hearing or reading a fictional account. In one test, subjects received a half-second magnetic pulse delivered on their scalp. They were then asked to judge the morality of a man who allowed his girlfriend to cross a bridge that the man knew was unsafe. Although such an action would typically be considered immoral, the subjects instead made moral judgments based on whether the girlfriend crossed the bridge safely. If so, the boyfriend was considered to have behaved appropriately.
In a second test, the subjects received a magnetic pulse for 25 minutes, then read stories that included morally dubious behavior. Yet again, the subjects judged the morality of the fictional actions based on whether they directly caused harm, not on whether the behaviors were inherently wrong. That is, if everything in the story “turned out all right” despite behavior that would typically be considered immoral, the subjects concluded that the behavior was moral.
The type of magnetic pulses administered by Young’s team, known as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), temporarily interrupt the normal function of brain cells. The team achieved the result by targeting the TMS at an area of the brain previously linked with thinking about others’ intentions.
“You think of morality as being a really high-level behaviour,” Young said. “To be able to apply a magnetic field to a specific brain region and change people’s moral judgments is really astonishing.” But can one extend the study’s conclusion and argue that morality is all in the brain? By analogy, what if a similar study showed that a magnetic pulse interferes with subjects’ ability to do mathematics properly—would that show that mathematics is simply a human construction, “all in our heads”? Of course not. The fact that many humans have warped, abiblical senses of morality (though generally not due to magnetic pulses!) does not imply that an absolute moral code is a myth any more than mistaken ideas about math prove that mathematics may be “true for you, but not for me.”
What happened to the woolly mammoths? It’s a whodunit (or, rather, a “what-done-it”) mystery of extinction that rivals the question of what did in the dinosaurs.
Perhaps the definitive creationist statements on what happened to the late woolly mammoth have been authored by Michael Oard, whose Extinction of the woolly mammoth (from Frozen in Time and The extinction of the woolly mammoth: was it a quick freeze? provide explanations for the creatures’ demise near the end of the post-Flood Ice Age.
As for evolutionists reporting in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, “the final extinction” of at least one group of woolly mammoths “was caused by a relatively sudden, rather than gradual, change in the mammoths’ environment.” The team considered genetic evidence from mammoth remains from Wrangel Island, a remote Arctic island that is thought to have been home to some of the last surviving mammoths.
By reviewing the genetic variation in the mammoths from Wrangel Island, the team learned that genetic diversity had not fallen to dangerously low levels—which would have indicated that a long-term process killed the beasts. Thus, the researchers concluded that either a sudden, relatively catastrophic weather event or a new disease killed the mammoths. (They note, however, that the same circumstances may not have applied to all mammoths.)
While the research may not apply to the mammoth extinction as a whole, it does fit well with what creationists have argued regarding the extinction of the mammoths. The late woolly mammoth met its demise not over a long period of thousands and thousands of years, but instead relatively rapidly near the end of the post-Flood Ice Age period.
We rarely think of the humble amoeba as a sophisticated life-form, even though it is almost unfathomably complex (as is all life that God designed).
A study headed by University of California–Davis microbiologist Scott Dawson analyzed the genome of the Naegleria gruberi amoeba. N. gruberi is fascinating: it spends most of its time as a “mere” amoeba, but when food becomes scarce it can deploy flagellae to travel elsewhere quickly.
The N. gruberi genome includes 15,727 protein-coding genes—about two-thirds the number that humans carry. The scientists identified 4,000 of N. gruberi’s genes that can allegedly be traced back to a single common ancestor. Of course, the similarities can also be the mark of common design, just as technology products from the same company may share interface or hardware elements.
“We [erroneously] tend to think of protists (single-celled organisms) as ‘simple’ and humans as ‘complex,’” Dawson explained, continuing, “but the Naegleria genome shows us that much of this complexity arose really early in evolution.” Or could it be that God has implanted clever and complicated designs in all creatures great and small?
Creationist. Ignorant of the facts. Is there a difference?
Last week we discussed the opening of a new evolution exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History—where security guards mistakenly expected creationist protestors. (The protests instead came from those worried about global warming.) Media coverage of the event included quotations from Answers in Genesis president Ken Ham. But what we missed from earlier in the month was Agence France-Presse coverage of a group of creationist students from Liberty University visiting that same museum.
The Telegraph carried the story, atop which ran a photograph of an illustration by Answers in Genesis artist Dan Lietha (as featured on an Answers in Genesis T-shirt). Beneath ran the provocative caption, “The group included a biology major who didn’t understand the principle of evolution.”
The article opens with similar provocation: “They plan to become doctors, researchers, and professors, but these students [are creationists]” (emphasis added). Among the quotes gathered in the article are Liberty University professors Marcus Ross and David DeWitt.
In one quote, Ross succinctly explains, “Creationism and evolutionism have different ways of explaining the evidence. The creationist way recognises the importance of biblical records.” He added something else that most of us know: “The attitude [of others is that] when you are a creationist you are ignorant of the facts.”
No explanation is given for the strange photo caption, but we presume the disconnect between caption and article may have escaped the notice of editors—and readers—in which case Ross’s claim is verified.
But Ross also noted, “In order to be the best creationist, you have to be the best evolutionist you can be.” That is, a knowledgeable creationist should fully understand evolution and related concepts—and therefore understand why they do or do not mesh with the biblical worldview. This knowledge is an important element not only of forming a biblical worldview, but also of witnessing when the topic turns to origins. That’s why we encourage biblical Christians to understand (at the appropriate age and with the appropriate guidance) competing worldviews, including evolution and its close counterpart, secular humanism.
By the way, our congratulations to Dr. DeWitt. He has just overseen the opening of the new Creation Hall Museum this week in Liberty University’s massive DeMoss Learning Center. The new displays of fossils and models will expose students and campus visitors to creation research and help individuals “view fossils and artifacts up close while learning how to defend their belief system.” This year is also the 25th anniversary of the university’s Center for Creation Studies.
Remember, if you see a news story that might merit some attention, let us know about it! (Note: if the story originates from the Associated Press, Fox News, MSNBC, the New York Times, or another major national media outlet, we will most likely have already heard about it.) And thanks to all of our readers who have submitted great news tips to us. If you didn’t catch last week’s News to Note, why not take a look at it now? See you next week!
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