What is the best argument for belief in God?


(John Dalton) #61

I don’t know. You said it just above What is the best argument for belief in God? ; that’s what I was talking about.

The Crusades were just one blip on the record. Look at the entirety of Western history and consider all the acts performed by Christian individuals, organizations and governments.


#62

The Crusades were just one blip on the record. Look at the entirety of Western history and consider all the acts performed by Christian individuals, organizations and governments.

I mean, believe me I’m listening. There was some indigenous persecution (most deaths undoubtedly had to do with diseases, though I’m not underplaying the catastrophes that occurred) and a few thousand more died in the witch hunts. But there’s nothing else, at least that I’m aware of, that is significant. Yeah yeah, there were individual cases of this and that. But even compared to just one of the great advancements of Christianity and I think it’s dwarfed.


(John Dalton) #63

So you think the history of Christian Europe, in it’s long, long run, is essentially blemish-free? A shining example with just a few little mishaps here and there, which wouldn’t in anyway contradict what we might assume God’s perfect society to be, and which can be used as proof that God exists?

I’m thinking of all the wars, rampaging soldiery, all the persecutions, burning of heretics, all the murder, etc. etc., at home and abroad, done in Christian countries under Christian governments and Christian organizations and by Christian people.

Now don’t get me wrong–I think it’s all part and parcel of the Western historical record. I simply don’t see how it would be considered as an argument that some kind of an unusual moral system was at work. Surely the fruits would have been rather different in that case. If you toss out those things, I guess you’re arguing that the influence of Christianity on Western civilization was rather weak.


(GJDS) #64

If we take a historic outlook, we should see the impact of the Christian faith on the cruel and callous Roman Empire, and on the barbarians in Northern Europe. We also need to remember that not all kings and chieftains were Christian, and those that claimed to be may have done so for convenience.

Within this mix, a reasonable assessment would be that over time, the Christian values and attributes had an astonishing civilising influence on Europe and the East. Such an assessment would have to include the later influence of Islam.

Too often, critics invent a sort of mayhem that conflicts brought to Europe as the Roman Empire crumbled, and wrongly decide this was due to Christianity. Ironically, pagans blamed Christianity for Rome’s downfall, because they took the people away from their gods and what have you. Just shows you, critics can come up with anything, as long as they lay the blame at the Christian faith.


(Jennifer Thomas) #65

I’m a bit puzzled here. As I understand it, this discussion is about best arguments for belief in God, not best arguments for existence of God. These are two different questions. I’m sure there can be quite a bit of overlap. And I’m also sure there’s probably not much difference between the two questions for those who want to prove there is no God. But there is a difference.

I’m wondering about the ideal of “God’s perfect society” you mention above. Perhaps you can give some specifics about this “perfect society.” Are you assuming that all Christians believe in such a perfect society here on Earth? Because if you are, it suggests you’re assuming that all Christians, regardless of personal experience and education, are blind to the complexity and suffering and healing involved in human life.

But perhaps it’s not that. Perhaps you’re projecting a claim about a “perfect society” onto Christians so you can knock it down and use it as part of a proof for the “No-God” argument.

I’m certain that in any generation you could find some Christians who believe in the “shining example” of a perfect society. But you’d have better luck finding examples of such pursuits in any philosophical or cultural construct founded on pure ideology (e.g. the ideology of Plato’s Republic or the ideologies of Marx and Engels).

One of the great blessings of Christianity is that it isn’t founded on pure ideology. There are certainly some ideological strains that have complicated life for countless people (both Christians and non-Christians). But faith – not religion, but faith – is about relationships, not ideology.

Christians are called to try to love their God and love their neighbours as themselves, so this means, in practical terms, that many Christians try to show that love by helping improve the lives of others. Even when we try our hardest, it’s not possible to create a “perfect society.” But we can strive for a “better society,” one in which healing and inclusiveness take precedence over domination and segregation. It’s in the effort and the hard work, and the tears and the courage that a person of faith comes to know God better.

In its best clothes, Christianity is a bottom-up way of life that starts with individuals who use their free will and their relationship with God to struggle their way through the difficult experiences of life with as much dignity and humbleness as they can. It’s true that Christianity has often shot itself in the foot when it has embraced top-down ideologies (such as large chunks of Platonism). But there’s still lots of good bottom-up stuff in there that inspires people to be their best selves.

To get a clear picture of the ways in which Christianity has helped or hindered people over the centuries, you can’t approach Christianity as a single monolithic belief. You instead have to parse all the different aspects of Christian doctrine and morality and practice, then examine each one for how it helps or hinders specific human traits such empathy, openness to experience, conscientiousness, relationships, cognitive learning, emotional learning, memory, sense of happiness, sense of meaning, ability to love, ability to forgive, ability to do the right thing when the going gets tough, intuitive thinking, creative insights, and ability to admit mistakes.

Christianity, when it’s wearing its best clothes, does a good job, when compared to pure ideologies, of helping individuals build these crucial internal aspects of the human experience. Christianity isn’t perfect, and it never has been. But it gives people some darned useful tools for learning and healing and transforming their lives.

I’ll take messy and non-linear and ambiguous and wondrous and mysterious any day over perfect and certain and dualistic and logical.

God bless.


(John Dalton) #66

I have no interest in proving there’s no God, but that is otherwise a fair point. I don’t see the practical difference here though. To be explicit, I don’t think that the Christian historical record provides strong support for a belief in God.

I’m not assuming that. It doesn’t matter what a perfect society would be like. I intended it as a hypothetical ideal. My point is that I would not expect it to include murderous wars, torture of heretics, slavery, and various other of the uglier parts of the history of Christian nations in general.

No, I’m not at all.

I have no issue with that. I think my point has been missed, but I don’t think it’s complicated. I said early on in this exchange “It seems to me the record of Christian individuals and organizations is decidedly mixed, and difficult to tease out from the overall picture of Western civilization.” This was in response to an argument which I thought downplayed some of the negatives in Christian and Western history. I’m pretty surprised that this is being so vigorously contested. I welcome hearing why I’m wrong about it, but can it really be that far off the mark?


(George Brooks) #67

There are a couple of aspects about the Crusades that need to be remembered, or realized:

1) The trigger for the Crusades was a new zealous Muslim regime that closed down the pilgrimage routes to prevent Christians from visiting the holy sites. The new regime was more interested about pure faith than tourist dollars!

2) While the Crusaders were being pushed out of the Holy Land, the Crusade closer to home - in Hispania - proceeded with all due deliberation. Spain was recovered once and for all. [Details below]

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“It was not until 1492 that the Emirate of Granada with city of Granada and the Alhambra and Generalife Palaces, the last remaining Muslim territory in al-Andalus, fell in the Battle of Granada to forces of the Catholic Monarchs (los Reyes Catolicos), Queen Isabella I of Castile and her husband King Ferdinand II…”

So just as the Muslim chapter was closing in Western Europe (Austria’s shock was still to come in 1529!), the discovery of the Western World would proceed from secure anchors in Portugal and Spain!

Though the Templars had been disbanded (not convicted) in the early 1200s, the re-named Hispanic branches of the Templars (Poor Knights of the Temple became Knights of Christ) spent the next 300 years slowly recovering their corner of Europe.

Right around the same time that Spain was being permanently recovered, Islam was conquering the “spa” of Asia - - Afghanistan! I think maybe the Europeans did a little better in the comparison!

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

  1. Lastly, though the Base 10 math system (triggered by exposure to the practical business math of Muslim merchants) is in modern times frequently referred to as Arabic Numbers, the mathematical system was actually more Indian than Arabic. And as for the orthography of the numbers themselves, from 0 to 9, the only numeral that Europe clearly borrows from the Arabs is “9” !!!

The other numbers, 0 to 8, appear to be novel creations of a few influential European math mavens. Even the wiki article rejects the “trope” or “urban myth” that European numerals are based on how many angles can be found in each number, but as someone who used to write True Arab numbers while working in Kuwait, the perceived plausibility of the unique approach to European numerals (replacing the Roman ones) is quite reasonable. Neither Arab nor Indic numerals look anything like 2 to 8!

0 - the circle has no angles.
1 - has one angle (the Arabic number 1 looks similar, but is based on “curves” than angles,
as confirmed by their 2).
2 - drawn as a “Z”, we can see 2 angles… even when veiled as a backwards “S”.
3 - clearly a number based on 2 internal angles and 1 external one. Ironically, the “3” backwards looks
similar to the Arab “4”.
4 - Visualize the 4 as a 3-sided triangle on a stick, the stick makes the 4th angle!
5 - drawn with straight line segments, the 5 angles are easy to recreate.
6 - a square (which has 4 internal angles, and a bent flat rising above (provides 2 more angles).
7 - the most tortured of the European numerals. For those who wonder where the "short stroke"
running horizontally across the vertical stem of the “7” comes from - this mini-cross easily creates
4 angles, and then either a bent portion above (or another cross piece as a base) provides the
final 7th angle.
8 - the most dramatic of the European numbers… though it is usually drawn as an upright infinity
symbol, it is derived from 2 squares stacked on top of each other: 2 times the 4 angles of each square.

9 - Trouble! Having reached 8 by stacking 2 squares, would anyone be so bold as to put a flag on top
of all that? Apparently not. The 9 was borrowed directly from the 9 used by the Arabs.

All in all, 1 and 9 might be said to be Arabic. Some say our Zero is borrowed from the Arabs, but they
used a levitated dot to indicate the zero place holder. It would take the European mind to see the dot
(a singularity of nothing?), and see its enlargement as a circle, with no visible angles. This becomes
fodder for word play, with the circular egg (or “goose egg”) sometimes representing zero. And the
famous point system of tennis: Love / 15; Love / 30; Love / 40; Winner - - is based on the French
word for egg:

“It is possible that it derives from the French expression for “the egg” (l’œuf) because an egg looks like the number zero.”

The other explanations for the practice are, shall we say, ridiculous.


#68

The way I view it, good people are going to do good and bad people are going to do bad. This is true of whatever religion they belong to or don’t belong to. This becomes even more complex when people gain power since humans tend to abuse power once they have it. This is true for secular and religious organizations. In my own formative years, the utter corruption of the PTL and the Bakker televangelism organization was quite the eye opener, as one example.


(Jennifer Thomas) #69

If this is your main point, I have no quarrel with it. There’s no question the history of Christian individuals and organizations is mixed. I tried to make the same point.

I think it’s probably here that you’re being contested. (I know that for myself it’s where I see issues to be debated.) There’s actually an enormous difference between asking what’s the best argument for belief in God and what’s the best argument for the existence of God.

If God does indeed exist (and I, like many Christians, avidly believe that God does, indeed exist), my personal belief in God doesn’t prove that God exists and doesn’t prove that God doesn’t exist. My puny human brain power can’t create God; it can’t uncreate God, either. Similarly, my puny human brain power can’t create the many natural wonders I don’t fully understand and have never seen; and my human brain can’t uncreate them, either. I’ve never seen the Grand Canyon, for instance, and I suppose I could argue vehemently that it doesn’t really exist and all the photos and personal testimonies and scientific papers about it are simply lying. But really . . . that kind of stubbornness in the face of multiple forms of evidence has nothing to do with the reality of the Grand Canyon. Such stubbornness has only to do with how the human brain actually works (as opposed to how we’d like to imagine it works).

If God and the Grand Canyon do indeed exist, they exist independently of human thought and human will power. Different arguments and proofs can be offered to convince stubborn human brains of their existence, but it’s only when the proofs are accepted within the brain’s networks that they can be considered to be a “human belief.”

Once the human brain chooses to accept a major belief system (such as belief in God), we’re talking about neuroscience and all the complex ways in which a major belief system affects the architecture and functioning and triaging filters of individual human brains.

Major belief systems can include religious belief systems, but they can include many other kinds of beliefs systems, such as political belief systems or scientific belief systems. All major belief systems, if held onto strongly for long periods of time (as opposed to fleeting inquiries or investigations) will eventually have an effect on how individual brains are networked.

So believing in God isn’t neutral in terms of how the brain is networked. But believing that God doesn’t exist is also a major belief system that is NOT NEUTRAL in terms of how the brain is networked.

I know there’s a popular idea floating around that atheism is somehow the neutral or baseline position of the human brain, and that religious morality and ideas about relationship with God are layered on top of that ever-so-natural baseline position. But recent research about the differences between System 1 and System 2 thought processes are starting to reveal that human beings are hardwired for faith and religious experience. It’s in our DNA.

It would also be fair and reasonable to say that epigenetic factors have – and always have had – an enormous impact on how the human brain processes data related to major human belief systems.

I think strong arguments can be made with regard to epigenetic factors and the ways in which they shape our ability to be our best selves in relationship to each other and God. The history of Christianity is in many ways a history of our slowly evolving understanding of what those epigenetic factors are and how we can use our knowledge of them to try to make the world a better place.

Thanks for an interesting discussion.

God bless.


(John Dalton) #70

I understand that, but not sure about “enormous”. “Belief” here means “belief in existence”, doesn’t it? I think the sets of arguments will overlap considerably. Maybe this is the way my mind works–I can’t see believing in something unless I believe it exists in some way. Maybe you have something different in mind. I don’t quite understand what that is below though. Anyway, as I’ve said, I recognize the difference, but the totality of the historical experience under discussion doesn’t give me reason for belief in any way.

If God does indeed exist (and I, like many Christians, avidly believe that God does, indeed exist), my personal belief in God doesn’t prove that God exists and doesn’t prove that God doesn’t exist. Similarly, my puny human brain power can’t create the many natural wonders I don’t fully understand and have never seen; and my human brain can’t uncreate them, either.

Sure.

I’ve never seen the Grand Canyon, for instance, and I suppose I could argue vehemently that it doesn’t really exist and all the photos and personal testimonies and scientific papers about it are simply lying. But really . . . that kind of stubbornness in the face of multiple forms of evidence has nothing to do with the reality of the Grand Canyon. Such stubbornness has only to do with how the human brain actually works (as opposed to how we’d like to imagine it works).

Fine. This is how I feel about Flat Earthers, making this not so hypothetical (and that’s not the only such belief for sure.)

If God and the Grand Canyon do indeed exist, they exist independently of human thought and human will power. Different arguments and proofs can be offered to convince stubborn human brains of their existence, but it’s only when the proofs are accepted within the brain’s networks that they can be considered to be a “human belief."

I’m with you.

Once the human brain chooses to accept a major belief system (such as belief in God), we’re talking about neuroscience and all the complex ways in which a major belief system affects the architecture and functioning and triaging filters of individual human brains.

Here I’ll interject. Can we say “the human brain chooses to accept a major belief system” in fact? That seems like odd wording. Is that quite what happens? Do we really understand what effects, if any, this might have on various aspects of brain activity? I understand it’s hard to put this kind of thing into words. Maybe I’m quibbling (I do that sometimes)

Major belief systems can include religious belief systems, but they can include many other kinds of beliefs systems, such as political belief systems or scientific belief systems. All major belief systems, if held onto strongly for long periods of time (as opposed to fleeting inquiries or investigations) will eventually have an effect on how individual brains are networked.

Do you have any kind of support for all this? I’m interested, but I’m not really sure about it. Is this really well understood?

So believing in God isn’t neutral in terms of how the brain is networked. But believing that God doesn’t exist is also a major belief system that is NOT NEUTRAL in terms of how the brain is networked.

Ditto, but I’m following you.

I know there’s a popular idea floating around that atheism is somehow the neutral or baseline position of the human brain and that religious morality and ideas about relationship with God are layered on top of that ever-so-natural baseline position.

I’m not sure I’ve heard that, but I can imagine it being said I guess.

But recent research about the differences between System 1 and System 2 thought processes are starting to reveal that human beings are hardwired for faith and religious experience. It’s in our DNA.

From what I’ve read recently, I understand something about the “religious experience” portion of that. I’m not familiar with the “faith” part. Just looking around a bit at System 1 and 2, I notice “Thinking, Fast and Slow” as a book to learn more about this? Looks interesting; I’ll have to read it. Thanks for mentioning the above, and if you have any other recommendations I’d love to hear them.

It would also be fair and reasonable to say that epigenetic factors have – and always have had – an enormous impact on how the human brain processes data related to major human belief systems.
I think strong arguments can be made with regard to epigenetic factors and the ways in which they shape our ability to be our best selves in relationship to each other and God. The history of Christianity is in many ways a history of our slowly evolving understanding of what those epigenetic factors are and how we can use our knowledge of them to try to make the world a better place.

OK I just found this–perfect for me! :blush:

I see what epigenetics means but I don’t quite get the rest of your statement. To begin, an impact how exactly?

Thanks for an interesting discussion.
God bless.

Likewise, cheers!


(Jennifer Thomas) #71

Hi John. Thanks for your detailed reply. I don’t have time for a long response at the moment. Just want say I understand and respect your right to have your own opinion and your own beliefs. That’s what free will is all about.

Thanks, too, for digging up the link about epigenetics. It’s a really great little summary (better than I would have given). :grin:


#72

If I am reading between the lines correctly, an argument for a belief in God that the opening post is talking about is one of the arguments on the “Pro” side of a “Pro’s and Con’s” list. It isn’t meant as a self-contained and logical argument for the existence of God, but rather one of the reasons that people do believe in God, if that makes sense.


#73

So you think the history of Christian Europe, in it’s long, long run, is essentially blemish-free? A shining example with just a few little mishaps here and there, which wouldn’t in anyway contradict what we might assume God’s perfect society to be, and which can be used as proof that God exists?

This reminded me about the bloody century of religious war that followed the Reformation. So I did in fact forget a pretty big thing. Therefore, there are two points that need to be made;

  1. There are a few really big negative events done in the name of Christianity, such as the century of violence following the Reformation, smaller events like the crusadess/witch trials/indigenous atrocities, and then 2) tiny events done on an individual by individual basis, such as the execution of William Tyndale for translating the Bible into English (thus Tyndale remains one of the greatest men to ever live)
  2. It must be reminded that just because a bad act is done by a Christian, does not mean it is done in the name of Christianity. So, when one says:

I’m thinking of all the wars, rampaging soldiery, all the persecutions, burning of heretics, all the murder, etc. etc., at home and abroad, done in Christian countries under Christian governments and Christian organizations and by Christian people.

It doesn’t exactly work, since it equates crime done by a Christian = crime done in the name of Christianity. This is a false equivocation, and the only things concerning us are what is done in the name of Christianity.

So, what has been done in the name of Christianity? We’ve outlined the problems above. But again, I maintain that just one of the great advances of Christianity through world history eclipses all the aforementioned problems. And that’s not a joke. The hospital? How many billions more would have died without hospitals? There is a fact that, when I learned, it dropped my jaw. Consider the European continent and America (I am neither American nor European). Every year, Americans personally donate $500 billion. At the same time, Europe donates $10 billion every year. That is a shocking difference, and when you consider the fact that Europe has double the population as America, we learn that the average, day to day American, is literally 100x more generous than the average European. That is a ridiculous difference.


(John Dalton) #74

I don’t think it’s an equivocation in any sense, false or not. We’re talking about two different things. If that’s all that concerns you, that’s your business, but considering that Christianity had an entirely dominant position in the moral, social and political spheres in the Western world for the better part of two millennia, I think what I’m talking about is entirely relevant.

I said early on that “I think you can rightly point to various contributions”.

That is interesting, but I’m not sure what it is supposed to signify.


(Jennifer Thomas) #75

I’m going to take a stab at answering this question in a general way. But instead of using an example from the history of Christianity (which often seems to trigger heated reactions from all sides of the debate), I’m going to use an example from the history of neuroscience. I’m drawing on a 2006 essay called “The Reinvention of the Self” by Jonah Lehrer.

It seems strange to us today to realize that the reality of neurogenesis (the growth of new neurons in the brain) wasn’t accepted until the 1990’s. For most of the 20th century, the field of neuroscience accepted as dogma the theory that primate brain cells don’t divide, don’t die, and are never reborn. (This theory originated with Santiago Ramon y Cajal.) Although this theory was challenged in the 1960’s by Joseph Altman, Altman’s findings were ridiculed. Then, in the early 1980’s, the original theory was defended by Pasko Rakic, who stated in no uncertain terms that primate brain didn’t grow – and couldn’t grow – new neurons. Rakic also provided a plausible evolutionary theory to explain why this should be so. Rakic’s dogma was eventually overturned by the research of Elizabeth Gould, but not without considerable resistance from the scientific community and not until the 1990’s. So for most of the 20th century, neuroscientists and those in the medical community who relied on the specialized research of the neuroscientists were in basic agreement that humans were born with a set of neurons and if something happened to these neurons (through illness or stroke or head trauma), well, too bad for you because you couldn’t grow more.

Although Santiago Ramon y Cajal and Rasko Rakic were completely wrong, and although their scientific observations derived from the stressful ways in which they treated their laboratory animals (a profound flaw in their experimental methods which they themselves failed to see), their theories – their strongly held beliefs – spread widely to others, and in turn affected how those other scientists and medical professionals treated patients who had suffered a stroke, etc. Naturally, if you believe strongly that the human brain can’t repair itself, you’re not going to suggest or endorse rehabilitative measures that encourage neurogenesis. You’re instead going to recommend caretaking measures to keep the physical body as healthy as possible while doing nothing directly to help the brain (though improvements may have occurred despite the doctors’ best efforts).

As it turns out, research in the past 25 years or so has begun to show that the environment in which a person lives (which includes both physical and emotional factors) has a profound effect on how the brain is wired. As Lehrer wrote in 2006, “The structure of the brain, from the details of our dendrites to the density of our hippocampus, is incredibly influenced by our surroundings. Put a primate under stressful conditions, and its brain begins to starve. It stops creating new cells. The cells it already has retreat inwards. The mind is disfigured.”

So it’s a chain of cause-and-effect factors, not a single factor. Research theories tell us how we should understand the brain’s function. Major scientific theories, like all major belief systems, change the way we make our choices about daily life. We consciously choose to do things differently based on the belief system we’ve accepted as likely to be “true.” The way we do things differently in turn has consequences for how the brain wires itself. Some of these consequences may be helpful and some of these consequences may be hurtful. But there are always consequences, as far as the brain’s wiring is concerned, for the decisions we make based on major belief systems.

This is where epigenetics comes in, because epigenetics – the environmental factors that affect which genes are turned on and which genes are turned off – are also linked strongly to the choices we make for ourselves, our families, and our communities, which are in turn dependent on our major belief systems. So it’s all intertwined. You can’t separate the architecture of your brain from the belief systems you put into your brain. And you can’t stop the neurons in your brain from being damaged from the effects of long term exposure to your own stress hormones. So . . . if your belief system causes you to make choices that create stress for you (even if you’re completely unaware at a conscious level that these choices are creating stress for you), you will eventually damage your own brain.

So back (very briefy) to the point I raised about the history of Christianity being, in many ways, a history of our slowly evolving understanding of epigenetic factors. If your moral belief system is derived from the idea that God calls you take responsibility for your relationships with other people (as discussed above), you’ll start making choices that help you improve such relationships. One example is the choice to help “the widows and orphans” (an ancient aspect of Judeo-Christian morality). This choice in turn leads to questions about how to help them in practical terms, which in turn leads to questions about poverty and economics and nutrition and medical healing and education. And each question you ask about these general categories leads to more and more specific inquiries (like the branches that grow from the trunk of a tree). And eventually, though it may take centuries, if you really want to help those widows (women!) and orphans (children!) you’re going to have to start opening both your heart and your mind to what scientific observation brings to bear on these questions. And you’re going to have to start making changes about your daily life practices based on what the science has to say.

This is why I said above that science and morality progress together in lockstep. A morality based on the certainty of love and forgiveness can’t help but lead you eventually to the scientific “fruits” that help you bring more love and forgiveness into the world.

To my way of thinking, the fact that God allows us to explore the intertwined intricacies of “the Tree of Life” and “the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil” is a breaktakingly wondrous proof of how much God really loves us and trusts us.

God bless.


(John Dalton) #76

I don’t think it’s an equivocation in any sense, false or not. We’re talking about two different things. If that’s all that concerns you, that’s your business, but considering that Christianity had an entirely dominant position in the moral, social and political spheres in the Western world for the better part of two millennia, I think what I’m talking about is entirely relevant.

Having thought about this some more, it’s kind of abrupt, and I wanted to add to it. It probably isn’t going to help us to try to pin down exactly what is or isn’t an equivocation here, so I suggest we just leave that, if it works for you. Basically, I guess we disagree on what might constitute useful evidence here. It’s your argument ultimately I think, and I don’t want to force my viewpoint on you. A couple of things do occur to me though. It seems you’re saying that to evaluate the worth of Christianity (which ultimately will decide if we should believe it or not) we can’t look to the whole of Western history during the Christian era, but should look at what has specifically been done in the name of Christianity only. Is that fair? Would you then agree with me that it would follow that the influence of Christianity on the Western world historically has actually been rather limited, and that many if not most important events have taken place outside the scope of legitimate Christian teachings and influence? To be clear, I’m not sure I agree with all that, but I’ll understand your position here better if that’s the case, or maybe it can help us get closer to it.


(John Dalton) #77

Thanks for the very detailed and interesting response! I don’t doubt that a positive moral system can have a positive effect on people, and you suggest an interesting mechanism here, that sounds logical to me. I am definitely interested in reading more about psychology and how the brain works on a physical level. I’m sure I remember hearing that neurons don’t regenerate in the past.


#78

There are also tons of other mechanisms other than DNA methylation and histone packaging that influence gene regulation, and these mechanisms have been known about for a long time. It is also worth mentioning that DNA methylation can be reversed, so it isn’t a permanent thing.

It may also be worth mentioning that epigenetics plays a role in many developmental and tissue repair pathways. For example, DNA methylation is involved in stimulating muscle progenitor cells to become mature muscle cells and build muscle, and this pathway is initiated by muscle damage, either due to exercise or injury.


(Jennifer Thomas) #79

An excellent point, and one that goes to the heart of the healing process because there are possibilities to be hopeful about recovery.

As you’re a biologist, you know a lot more about DNA than I do. (My background in the hard sciences lies in chemistry, though my work experience in the mental health field led me to undertake a study of neuroscience.) I therefore found this recent feature article in the Globe and Mail – “Cracks in the Code” by Carolyn Abraham – absolutely fascinating. It’s about a project called Canada’s Personal Genome Project that studied the whole genome of 56 relatively healthy Canadian volunteers.

This paragraph really startled me: ‘The PGP study found more than 27,000 copy-number variantions among the 56 Canadians. The tally includes eight participants missing huge swaths of code from their genomes; a man with a long stretch of Chromosome 20 that’s inverted; and, in Participant No. 56, such a dramatic hiccup in Chromosome 17 that she has extra copies of a full 16 genes. “It could make her special, it might eventually make her sick,” Dr. Scherer says. “It’s definitely doing something; we just don’t know what it is. There’s nothing to compare these copy-number variants against.”’

So I guess it’s a lot more complicated than we originally thought.


#80

Scientists like to say that biology is messy. With the completion of the initial Human Genome Project it gave the impression that the human genome was this monolith that was the same for everyone, but the facts are that biology and genetics have lots of variation. The processes that cause opposite strands of DNA to stick together in a double helix can also allow one section of DNA to loop around and stick to another piece of DNA somewhere else in the genome, and that can cause the larger structural changes you highlighted. With all of the ID talk about DNA being information or a coded language it is easy to forget that DNA is first and foremost a molecule, and it does some pretty dramatic stuff because of its chemistry.