Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Free Will and Science

Recently I was talking with a close friend about free will. You may ask yourself what this has to do with science…I did at first too.

The conversation followed the premise: Why didn’t Jesus make himself known to be God? Why do we have to discern for ourselves? Why didn’t he prove it? For that matter, why didn’t God the Father come down and take care of the whole question!

The answer is free will. God loves us so much that he is willing to let us choose whether or not we want Him. Remember the famous saying, “If you love someone set them free, if they come back they’re yours, if they don’t, they never were.” (See these and so many versions of this saying at: http://teratalks.com/index.php/teratalks/comments/if_you_love_someone_set_her_free/)

So it is with God. God wants us to choose Him.

If God showed up one day and you could see Him, you’d know just how real He is. However, if He just showed up, you wouldn’t have the choice to believe, you’d be forced to believe because He would be standing right in front of you. Free will wouldn’t exist.

However, do we realize that He is already amongst us? In my current manuscript, I show the many ways in which God is present in our DNA. But more subtly than that, God exists in every part of nature that we see and experience. Every tree, every bug, every sunrise and sunset, God is present. That is our proof that God exists.

Scientists grapple with questions of how the Big Bang happened, and the first event that even caused the Big Bang to happen. They look throughout the universe seeking evidence of the first elements, and how long those elements have existed. However, the question they are asking isn’t really the right question. The question is why. Why did the Big Bang happen? For me, I have to ask, “How fantastic was “the plan” that after the Big Bang happened I can now smell a stunning rose or experience an incredible sunset? In my imagination, I could never dream of such beautiful things.

The even greater question comes to mind. How can anyone have such a grand plan that everything in nature works in harmony? The “Grand Plan” contains many systems that keep nature working. For example, bees gather pollen for themselves, which makes honey for mammals to enjoy. But at the same time, those same bees are pollinating plants so that those plants can create fruits and vegetables for us to eat. Fecal matter from cows and sheep and other animals is used as compost to grow crops. Everything has a purpose; everything is in the Grand Plan.

So how do we go along life and not notice these things? How do scientists sit in their laboratories, eat their lunches and not consider that the Grand Plan provided them with that meal? How do we get to the point where we take all this for granted?

The answer is the same. Free will. If we were forced to acknowledge that God provided that meal, we would be forced to believe that we answer to a higher power and we would be stripped of free will. We would be stripped of true love.

In a past posting entitled, “The Bees Are Dying” (http://lorettaoakes.blogspot.com/2008/03/bees-are-dying.html), I talked about how bees become disoriented (Colony Collapse Disorder). Scientists believe this phenomenon is due to the increase in cell phone usage. The cell phone waves are interrupting the bees’ radar.

Now I want to take this a step further. Scientists have been genetically engineering crops for quite a while now for several reasons. They want to make the crops disease and pest resistant, increase productivity of the crop as well as enhance the size of the fruits from the crop. We are proud of ourselves in “manipulating” nature to get what we want.

However, what effect does that have on the rest of the system? When we change the DNA of even the simplest flower (how many hybrids do you plant every year?), how does that affect the pollen of that plant, the bees that pick it up, or the honey that is created from it? Do we know how we’ve affected the complete system?

Do we recognize that in actions of manipulating DNA, we’ve exercised our free will? It could have been in the Grand Plan that nothing, not an iota of matter, could be willfully changed. Yet, we are able to change it.

Do we realize just how far that free will goes? And when we do reflect on what that means, do we take responsibility for how we’ve affected the Grand Plan? A plan that we did not create, but a God that loved us enough to include us in His plan…how have we affected it?

Ideas to ponder, don’t you think?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Cough, Cough, Sniffle, Sniffle

For the last two weeks, I’ve been out of my routine with pneumonia. It seems like every spring I come down with a bad cold or some other virus that makes me stop everything I’m doing and just “be”.

As I agonized over the fact that I hadn’t updated my blog, I tried to focus on what I might write. I researched the pneumonia “bug” and bronchitis. Was science and faith present in this? While it was all very interesting to me, it didn’t speak from my heart.

What kept coming back to me was my grandmother’s saying, “…its hell to grow old.” That spoke to me. But why?

It seems that every year I get this respiratory bug, it gets harder to kick it or it takes longer. I look in the mirror and I see the wrinkles that weren’t there twenty years ago (even ten, even five!). I take a step and I hear my “Velcro” knees and know the arthritis that’s getting worse will eventually keep me from doing some of the things that I love (if I don’t spring for the $20K per knee injections of my scientifically grown cartilage). I think of all the little aches and pains I didn’t use to have and think of my grandmother’s saying.

So why do we grow old? Scientifically, our cells have a lifespan determined by something at the end of our DNA called a telomere. Each time our cells divide, a little piece of that is lost, so that by the time we are old, our telomere is very short (read the following two websites for interesting information on the importance of telomeres: http://users.rcn.com/jkimball.ma.ultranet/BiologyPages/T/Telomeres.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telomere). It’s like a time clock or an hourglass that gives us a certain amount of time on earth.

Remember the cloned sheep, Dolly? She seemed perfectly normal when she was born, but she lived only a portion of a sheep’s lifespan. She grew old quicker than she should have. Scientists studied this (as poor Dolly suffered) to find out that every time they divided the cells to get another clone, they shortened that all-important telomere that led to Dolly’s lifespan. They also used a six-year-old ewe to get the DNA to clone Dolly, so that ewe’s lifespan was already cut in half. That meant double trouble for Dolly.

So why was the telomere created? Certainly, our Creator had a reason for such a device. Why are we allowed to wrinkle, creak, and lose our faculties?


For Christians, pride is considered the root for so many other sins including lust, sloth, gluttony, greed, wrath, and envy. Where does the root of pride live? In our bodies. Beauty, athletic abilities, bird song voices, steel minds that can think through any problem, all of these things come from the bodies that our Creator has given us. Many times we are swept away thinking that we can accomplish anything…given the time…and we rely on ourselves to do just that.

But over time, we lose our beauty, our athletic skill, our voices, our minds. Each time we lose a piece of one of those things (or think we will lose it); we are forced to remember that we are not here forever. We are forced to rely on God.

I grew up watching the show, “Family Affair” and loved the movie, “Parent Trap” (the original!). I thought Brian Keith was fabulous. So it hit hard when I heard he committed suicide. Why did he do it? He felt like he was of no use, he was losing the battle with age and cancer. He despaired. He couldn’t release his pride.

Many people wonder why it is such a bad thing to rely on themselves. “God helps those who help themselves”, right? (That is actually a quote from Benjamin Franklin, not the Bible as so many people think.)

Yes…and no. The more we rely on ourselves, the less we trust God. And when we lose our balance on the tight rope of time, no one can save us but God. That’s where pride comes in. Can we let go of the pride and allow God to catch us when we fall?

If we are full of ourselves, then we are not full of God. Our motivations, our understandings, our works will all be marred by the stain of pride, not faith. The pain of this truth is the pain we all must bear if we desire more from ourselves than this earthly life. In order to offer ourselves daily to God, we must give freely of ourselves.

So now, while my bones creak and my eyesight wanes, I have a better understanding of my grandmother’s saying. I also have a better understanding of God’s plan. I can’t make it to Him with the weight of pride on my back. I have to let it go. Therefore, I’ll sit here with my cough drops, my tissues and my water, and consider the ways I can release my pride. So when I’m feeling better, I can focus on God’s plan for me with regard to this earthly life.

Now go wash your hands so you don’t get sick from this transmission!