1. BioEdge: “Is it morally wrong to take a life? Not really, say bioethicists

Killing weeds, killing people—what’s the difference?

Bioethicists seeking to justify harvesting vital organs before donors are “technically” dead have written an analysis entitled “What makes killing wrong?” Published January 19 in the Journal of Medical Ethics, their article states, “If killing were wrong just because it is causing death or the loss of life, then the same principle would apply with the same strength to pulling weeds out of a garden. If it is not immoral to weed a garden, then life as such cannot really be sacred, and killing as such cannot be morally wrong” (emphasis ours).

Bioethicists Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and Franklin Miller claim, “Killing by itself is not morally wrong, although it is still morally wrong to cause total disability.” They acknowledge, “Every major religious tradition and every major moral theory includes some rule like ‘Don’t kill.’” However, using situational ethics, they conclude that since being irreversibly totally disabled or unconscious is just as bad as being dead, killing such a person by removing vital organs does him no harm and is therefore not immoral. (They define total disability as having no control over anything in one’s mind or body, distinguishing this state of chaotic mental activity from “brain death.”) To those who would suggest killing such a person “violates God’s commandment” they respond, “Why would God forbid us (or have any reason to forbid us) to do something that does not make [the patient] worse off? Similarly, secular theorists might claim that life has sanctity or intrinsic value, but why is life valuable in this extreme case when it includes no ability (or pleasure)?”1

“The established legal and ethical prerequisite for vital organ donation is known as ‘the dead donor rule’: vital organs, such as the heart, both lungs and both kidneys, cannot legitimately be procured from a donor unless the donor is already dead. The dead donor rule fundamentally reflects the application of the norm that doctors must not kill,” the authors write, adding, “In actual practice, however, donors of vital organs are not dead—or not known to be dead—at the time when organs are procured.”

The problem is, if life support is withdrawn from a patient—and the decision to do this for patients not “brain dead” opens up another controversial area in morality and ethics that these authors do not address or even acknowledge—the heart is expected to stop beating. Minutes after the heart stops, organs are harvested for transplantation without instituting CPR or heroic measures to ensure the heart cannot be made to beat again. The authors say such a patient is not truly dead. They assert, “The criterion of irreversibility has not been satisfied; hence, these patients are not known to be dead at the time of organ procurement.” For the record, incidentally, many bioethicists assert such a patient is really dead. These authors claim such positions are “dubious,” only “redefining death, using neurological criteria for death and fudging the requirement of irreversibility.”1

The authors claim the only thing morally wrong about killing is causing “loss of all remaining abilities.”1 Therefore, they write, “It is not even . . . morally wrong to kill patients who are universally and irreversibly disabled, because they have no abilities to lose.”1 Responding to objections that their ethical position could endanger people who have fewer abilities than others, the authors maintain “the value of equality and justice overrides any difference in the value of lives and makes it morally wrong to treat people differently even if they have different abilities.”1

One could write a book exploring the logical implications of the ideas presented by these bioethicists, but here we’ll focus on just two. Although the writers “prefer our moral theories to be independent of religion,”1 without the standards established by God as our Creator, all moral assessments are merely man’s opinions. Evolutionists may debate about the origin of the conscience and social behavior, and humanist philosophers debate moral issues, but apart from a source of truth from someone greater than man, there is no reason any person’s moral judgments are more valid than another’s. God’s account of Creation recorded in the Bible is consistent with what we see in the physical world and validates His ownership of humanity and His right to set our standards.

These authors declare their system of ethics better than those “dubious” approaches presently used by medical professionals they claim are “fudging,” but their declaration is their opinion. And they believe the “value of equality and justice” will prevent their system from its logical extension to wreak havoc on the lives of people with less “ability.” Yet by denying the validity of biblical authority, even this assertion is arbitrary and changeable at the whim of man. Who decides the “value of equality and justice”? Who defines “justice”? Or even “equality”?

God’s standards for right and wrong never change. God made man in His image. Therefore all human beings are of equal value in God’s sight. This biblical idea is expressed in our Declaration of Independence, which states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” God is the source of true morality and true sanctity of human life.

Equating human life to weeds is an absurd logical fallacy inconsistent with the plain reading of Scripture. The Bible uses the word nephesh in reference to the life of humans and animals but never plants. Plants were given for food in the perfectly good world God created. Pulling a weed or eating a potato doesn’t cause death of any sort of life in a moral sense and should never be used as an argument to minimize the significance of death. Death did not enter the world until after Adam sinned. Biologically, a red blood cell and a dandelion can be considered alive, but that designation represents an entirely different use of the word life. With their “living weeds argument” the authors are stooping to the logical fallacy of equivocation to make their case, building on two completely different uses of the word life.

Since the authors have rejected the authority of the Word of God, they refuse to see that human life is special—and even that animal life is different from plant life. Therefore, they absurdly posit humans with vegetables as if there were no difference. Even most others that reject God's Word would not make such a comparison!

Notwithstanding the United Nations position on Mother Earth’s rights,2 human life is special. Scripture reveals God created human beings in His image. God explained in Genesis 9:6 His reason for prohibiting murder was because He made man in His image. God commands us not to murder (Exodus 20:13) and to defend the “speechless . . . who are appointed to die” (Proverbs 31:8–9). Having just recognized Sanctity of Life Sunday in many of our churches, we need to remember the way to wrestle with tough decisions is to keep our feet firmly grounded in God’s Word. The lives of the unborn, the lives of human embryos in laboratories, the lives of the weak and the helpless—all have value because God made human beings in His image.

Medical professionals grapple with tough life-and-death decisions. We trust our physicians with our lives, and we trust them with our deaths. They are equipped to help families with end-of-life decisions. But those decisions cannot be settled by arbitrarily deciding killing shouldn’t bother us because it’s okay to weed our gardens.

2. The Indianapolis Star blog: “Creation science bill clears the Indiana Senate

Indiana Senate passes amended school bill.

Indiana’s Senate voted 28–22 this week to pass a bill offering schools the option of requiring “various theories of the origin of life” be taught in public school science classrooms. The bill passed in extremely amended form, however. Despite the good intentions of the bill’s sponsors, a couple of aspects of the bill—in its original form and more so in its amended version—raise concerns.

As we reported last week, Indiana’s Senate Education Committee voted 8–2 in favor of a bill stating:

The governing body of a school corporation may require the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of life, including creation science, within the school corporation.

To avoid the appearance of endorsing a particular religion, lawmakers agreed to an amendment proposed by one of the bill’s opponents.3 The amended bill, which will now go to the House, states:

The governing body of a school corporation may offer instruction on various theories of the origin of life. The curriculum for the course must include theories from multiple religions, which may include, but is not limited to, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Scientology.4

Although the 1987 Supreme Court decision in Edwards v. Aguillard prohibits teaching creationism in order “to advance the religious viewpoint that a supernatural being created humankind,” religion may be taught in public school if it serves “a secular educational purpose.”5

According to Mount Vernon Community School Corporation Superintendent William Riggs, “We’ve always been able to do that.” Riggs says his schools teach “two theories of the origins of life” in the same way literature classes examine both the Bible and the Quran. He says, “The idea is to get kids to think.”

In contrast to the Indiana proposition that schools wishing to present alternatives must teach a smorgasbord of religious ideas, Louisiana’s Science Education Act allows school boards the option to “assist teachers, principals, and other school administrators to create and foster an environment . . . that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”6 Teachers, the law states, in addition to standard texts, “may use supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials [as permitted by the . . . school board] to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner.”6 And the Louisiana law specifies it is not to “promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.”6

Answers in Genesis has likewise never suggested public school teachers should be required to teach creation science. As we have written many times, we are encouraged by the efforts across the country to try to provide teachers and students the opportunity to question and critically examine evolutionary claims. However, we remain “opposed to the compelled instruction of any alternative view (i.e., biblical creation or intelligent design) in public schools. You see, science teachers who are committed to an evolutionary belief system will teach any alternative to evolution in a poor and probably mocking way. In the end, it would be counterproductive.”7

We maintain teachers should have the academic freedom to help students develop critical thinking skills by openly discussing various scientific positions on origins without fearing to criticize evolution or fearing to mention creationism. Origins science—because it involves interpretations outside the realm of observable science—always involves faith, even if it is an evolutionist’s faith that no deity was involved. Students allowed to explore the difference between historical science and observational science should develop a superior understanding of the true nature of science. And by seeing evolutionary claims are not unassailable as commonly claimed, students should then be able to see true scientific observations are consistent with the Bible’s account of Creation and the Flood.

The amendment requiring any school opting to teach alternative viewpoints to teach the views of multiple religions in science class adds to the problems with Senate Bill 89. The point of academic freedom in science class is not to turn science into a class on comparative religions and suggest a multiple choice scenario for origins. With all due respect to the well-intentioned boosters of the current bill, to require teachers present material in the way now described in the amendment will not improve students’ scientific understanding but instead will likely cause more harm than good. Biblical young earth creationism offers models consistent with observable evidence, but treating it as a “religious option” will just obscure its consistency with science and make all ideas but the evolutionary fairy tale look foolish.

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3. Discovery: “Dinosaur Freeway Found In Colorado

Is the Dinosaur Freeway a record of migration “to find new forage” or a panicky attempt to evacuate?

Several hundred dinosaur tracks in addition to pterosaur and crocodile tracks discovered in a dry Colorado reservoir match those of the so-called Dinosaur Freeway in western North America’s Dakota Group of Cretaceous rocks. The finding has prompted much paleo-ecological pondering about dinosaur behavior. “The Dinosaur Freeway runs from Northeast Colorado, near Boulder, to east central New Mexico, near Tucumcari,” geologist Martin Lockley explained. Lockley and Reiji Kukihara found the tracks in Colorado’s John Martin reservoir during an extended drought. Their analysis of the tracks and their patterns has appeared in Cretaceous Research. They believe the patterns outline migratory routes along the coastal plain of an ancient seaway splitting North America.

“They mainly show that dinosaurs roamed very freely and for long distances along coastal plains,” says Lockley, who is the director of Dinosaur Tracks Museum.

The tracks, identified as predominantly ornithopod, run in a roughly north-south orientation. “Sometimes the ornithopod dinosaurs appear to have walked in herds,” Lockley said. “Their trackways are parallel and equally spaced, and sometimes they all belong to individuals of similar size.” The tracks come in three sizes, which the researchers suggest could represent juveniles, young adults, and adults, or even three different species of this dinosaur type. Curiously, the researchers point out, only large tracks are found in the northern regions, with the mixture of sizes confined to the southern parts of the Dinosaur Freeway. Crocodile tracks and swim marks are mixed in with this dinosaur parade but not in any particular pattern.8 The coastal plain, Lockley says, “was riddled with waterways and wetlands ideal for crocs.”

The Dakota Group includes a widespread prominent layer of massive sandstone covering about 815,000 square kilometers in the western United States. Many secular geologists believe the Dakota Group—additionally consisting of alternating thinner layers of sandstone and shale—was a coastal plain along a seaway stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Sea. They believe the seaway formed millions of years ago and that the coastal plain sediment, which is rich in calcium carbonate—a cement-like mineral—built up over millions of years and was eventually lifted up by the tectonic forces that produced the Colorado Plateau and mountainous regions of the West.

The interior seaway has been proposed to explain the ancient presence of so much water in the middle of North America. However, deposition of the 30-meter-thick layer of massive sandstone over such a vast area is more consistent with rapid deposition of water-borne sediment. Preservation of tracks likewise requires rapid burial in sediment containing highly mineralized water. Thus, the paleontologic and geologic findings of the Dakota Group are consistent with the global Flood.

The geologic column is predominantly a record of the order of burial during the Flood. Typically, fossilized tracks are found in the rock layers below the body fossils of the same types of animals, and larger animals of the same types tend to appear higher in the column. Larger mobile animals would have logically tried to flee the rising surging floodwaters, scurrying to and fro and leaving tracks in wet, recently deposited sediment. As surges of water returned—bringing carbonate-rich sediment to bury the tracks—and rose higher, the animals that left tracks were eventually overcome, swept away, and buried in higher layers of sediment elsewhere. The Dakota Group, while hosting many vertebrate tracks and invertebrate trace fossils, is noticeably lacking in body fossils.8 Thus the absence of body fossils in the Dakota Group where large numbers of tracks and traces are preserved is consistent with the biblical Flood’s waters rising over a period of weeks, as described in Genesis 7.

4. National Geographic: “Deceptive Beauties—The World of Wild Orchids

Orchid beauty—“an unplanned marvel of evolution”

A National Geographic book review of Deceptive Beauties—The World of Wild Orchids describes the beauty of orchids as “an unplanned marvel of evolution.” Darwin, the review says, considered orchid shapes, colors, and scents to be “‘beautiful contrivances’ meant to dupe pollinating male insects in the strangest ways,” even imitating pheromones and the appearance of female bees. The book excerpt says, “An orchid enthusiast himself, Darwin gathered wild orchids near his home in Kent and propagated them. In fact, orchids inspired some of his most critical thinking on natural selection. In his book The Various Contrivances by Which Orchids Are Fertilised by Insects, he explains the co-evolution of insects and orchids and calls them ‘amongst the most singular and most modified forms in the vegetable kingdom.’”

Deceptive Beauties—The World of Wild Orchids celebrates the diversity and beauty of orchids, and judging from the slide show of photos accompanying the review, it must contain rich photographic testimony. The authors emphasize the global distribution and diversity of orchid species. Orchids are found in the Alps, the tropics, and countless habitats in between. Some of the most interesting varieties are those that imitate insects. Darwin’s 1862 book about orchids mentioned above explained orchid variation mediated through natural selection but used the diversity in orchids to support his notion that new kinds of organisms evolve all the time. However, scientific observation has not shown one kind of organism evolving into another. Orchids, diverse as they are, demonstrate the adaptability and variability God designed into the orchid kind.

Darwin described orchid adaptations and partnerships with pollinators as “the sum of many inherited changes”9 but failed to offer a mechanism by which flowers perfectly mimicking female insects could develop when no selective advantage existed for the many component parts. Neither Darwin nor modern evolutionists have been able to provide an evolutionary explanation for the supposed co-evolution of orchids and their bees.

The complex pollinating machinery of orchids, designed as it is typically to require and facilitate a once-and-for-all pollination scheme, is a fine example of irreducible complexity. Many species of orchids, for instance, depend on specific species of male bees for pollination, and the corresponding bees likewise depend on those orchids for fragrances that facilitate their mating success.10 The orchid attracts the bee and attaches a mass of sticky pollen to it. The blob of pollen is later scraped off in an orchid of the same type. Evolutionists have assumed these organisms co-evolved by the back-and-forth stepwise manifestation of new traits. However, the selective advantage of pollination half-measures would be nonexistent, so “the evolutionary processes that [presumably] gave rise to these associations remain poorly understood.”11

Biblically, we know that God made all kinds of plants on the third day of Creation week and flying insects on the fifth day. God created plants and animals to reproduce successfully, so we can conclude that He created some organisms capable of forming productive partnerships. The genetic capacity to vary would enable some organisms to establish new mutualistic partnerships as conditions change. And whenever a species-specific mutualistic relationship develops, reproductive isolation of the orchid species would soon develop. (Recent research has shown the orchid bees to be less choosey than previously thought; the mutualism seems somewhat one-sided.10) Orchid diversity is a product of the interaction and interdependence of variations within created kinds. Biblical principles explain orchid diversity and their mutualistic relationships with bees.

5. Science Daily: “How Viruses Evolve, and in Some Cases, Become Deadly

Series of mutations said to evolve a “key innovation”12

By observing the development of a successful way for a virus to fool a bacterial receptor, researchers say they have observed evolution in real time and shown how key innovations can evolve. Even though the ability to bind to the bacterial receptor required four mutations, the innovation was achieved. The Michigan State researchers report they have elucidated “the complex interplay between genomic processes and ecological conditions that favor the emergence of evolutionary innovations.”12

“We were surprised at first to see Lambda evolve this new function, this ability to attack and enter the cell through a new receptor--and it happened so fast,” lead author Justin Meyer said. “But when we re-ran the evolution experiment, we saw the same thing happen over and over.”

The study involved culturing a lambda virus with resistant E. coli bacteria. A small percentage of the viral population demonstrated the ability to enter the bacteria through a receptor other than the one this virus usually attacks. This ability spread through the viral population. The modification required to fool the receptor involved four separate mutations. Natural selection presumably can only act on the fully mutated form of the virus, but the researchers found that the first step in the series of mutations offered survival advantages of a different sort. Furthermore, the ability of the virus to develop virulence was also affected by the characteristics of the E. coli. Therefore, the researchers believe their study can help in the understanding of co-evolution.

The authors note, “Processes responsible for the evolution of key innovations, whereby lineages acquire qualitatively new functions that expand their ecological opportunities, remain poorly understood.”12 They admit the need for observable, repeatable scientific trials. And they say, “Microbes are well suited for such research because their evolution can be observed in real time, experiments are easily replicated, and transitional states can be studied by reviving samples stored at different times during an experiment.”13 All these statements demonstrate sound scientific method. And the researchers designed an elegant series of experiments to demonstrate the complex molecular and genomic changes involved in diversification of this virus. However, the evolution of new kinds of organisms was not demonstrated here. The viruses were still lambda viruses and the bacteria were still E. coli.

The researchers also did not demonstrate specifically how the viruses acquired or passed around this information, but the viruses in the initial test consistently showed that a small percentage already possessed the needed mutation. Furthermore, microbes like these tend to pass genetic information between themselves using horizontal gene transfer. What this study illustrates is the fact that natural selection can operate on a series of mutations and even on other organisms to produce a population change with a noticeably new characteristic. Yet for all that, the result was diversity within a kind.

God created all things in the beginning. He designed organisms to reproduce after their kinds and to be able to adapt and vary. We can be confident that the roles of microbes—even viruses, not technically “alive” by our definitions—in the original Creation were not detrimental because God pronounced His Creation good. The ability to vary using horizontal gene transfer, mutations, and other mechanisms has facilitated microbial survival for six thousand years but not evolution into different kinds of creatures.

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And Don’t Miss . . .

  • Human embryonic stem cells (hESC), based on a preliminary report, may have been used successfully to treat retinal disease in two patients. Reporting in The Lancet, researchers from Advanced Cell Technology announced on January 23 that retinal cells were stimulated to grow from hESC and then injected into two legally blind adult patients with two kinds of macular disease. The patients have had some measurable improvement in visual acuity. After four months, the retinal cells appear to have attached and survived. So far, none of the many tumor-related complications associated with hESC have been manifested, but stem cell experts point out a much longer period of observation is needed. The researchers are hopeful the use of hESC in eye disease will avoid the tumors because the immune system is minimally active within the eye. Boston stem cell transplantation expert George Daley comments, “This is a milestone that will offer tremendous encouragement to the field, and promises hope for many families, but these are still very early days of an uncontrolled and unblinded trial, and we have much more to learn about the safety and effectiveness of this new treatment before we can claim success.” Even if the treatment is deemed a success, we must point out that the harvesting of human embryonic stem cells destroys human life. Many clinical successes have been achieved using adult stem cells without the problems of rejection and tumor development. And in another report this week, Shinya Yamanaka announced his clinical trials using induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) should begin within a year. Trials will also likely begin with the eye. Yamanaka points to the highly versatile nature of iPSC and the lack of ethical problems with their use.

  • Mathematician Thomas Hair has presented a study demonstrating, he says, that aliens are ignoring Earth. He bases his calculations on his own “conservative estimates for how long it would take a society to muster up the resources and technological know-how to leave its home world and travel to another star.” He reasons Earth is 5 billion years old and has technology like NASA’s Kepler planet-hunter, so planets twice that age surely have fantastic technology and know we’re here. He thinks the reason we’re being ignored is not so much cosmic snobbery as cosmic diversity. He says, “Any ancient civilization is probably not biological. They don’t need a place like Earth. They don’t need to come here and steal our water. There’s plenty of it out in the outer solar system where the gravity is not so great and they can just take all they want.” Hair’s presuppositions of course are purely evolutionary. The long age of the universe and the belief in molecules-to-man evolution are the basis for all his conclusions. The Bible does not say that God didn’t create extraterrestrial life. However, evolutionary presuppositions are the only reason to assume aliens exist. And what if “alien” life were intelligent? The whole creation groans with corruption (Romans 8:21–22) under the Curse of man’s sin. God’s Son Jesus Christ came to Earth as a human being, the “last Adam,” (1 Corinthians 15:45–47) to die for all human beings who, like their real common ancestor—the first Adam—are sinners. Thus the theological position of extraterrestrial intelligent life would cast aspersions on God’s character, as such beings would be reaping the guilty whirlwind of man’s sin without access to the grace of Christ. See also Kepler’s Mission: To Boldly Seek Out Where Life Could Have Evolved, Don’t Alienate the Aliens, News to Note, October 8, 2011, and Ken Ham’s blog: “I’d love to baptise an alien.”
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Footnotes

  1. Sinnott-Armstrong, W. and F. Miller. 2012. What makes killing wrong? Journal of Medical Ethics. DOI: 10.1136/medethics-2011-100351 Back (1) Back (2) Back (3) Back (4) Back (5) Back (6)
  2. News to Note, April 16, 2011 Back
  3. eaglecountryonline.com/news.php?nID=2936 Back
  4. www.in.gov/legislative/bills/2012/SB/SB0089.2.html Back
  5. News to Note, January 28, 2012 Back
  6. www.legis.state.la.us/billdata/streamdocument.asp?did=482728 Back (1) Back (2) Back (3)
  7. Misrepresented (Sigh) Time and Time Again Back
  8. Kukihara, R. and M. Lockley. 2012. Fossil footprints from the Dakota Group (Cretaceous) John Martin Reservoir, Bent County, Colorado: New insights into the paleoecology of the Dinosaur Freeway,” Cretaceous Research 33:165–182. Back (1) Back (2)
  9. Orchids ... A Witness to the Creator Back
  10. News to Note, October 8, 2011 Back (1) Back (2)
  11. www.sciencemag.org/content/333/6050/1742.abstract Back
  12. www.sciencemag.org/content/335/6067/428 Back (1) Back (2) Back (3)
  13. Meyer, J. et al. 2012. Repeatability and Contingency in the Evolution of a Key innovation in Phage Lambda. Science 35:428–432. Back