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Devotional Biology

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  1. Introduction & Preface
    4 Steps
  2. Chapter 1: Biology for the Believer
    15 Steps
  3. Chapter 2: The Living God: Biological Life
    14 Steps
  4. Chapter 3: God’s Glory: Biological Beauty
    6 Steps
  5. Chapter 4: God is Distinct: Biological Discontinuity
    9 Steps
  6. Chapter 5: God is Good: Mutualism & Biological Evil
    10 Steps
  7. Chapter 6: God is Person: Animal Behavior & Personality
    17 Steps
  8. Chapter 7: The Provider God: The Anthropic Principle
    12 Steps
  9. Chapter 8: The Sustaining God: The Biomatrix
    8 Steps
  10. Chapter 9: God is One: Monomers, Biosimilarity, and Biosystems
    8 Steps
  11. Chapter 10: God is Three: Biodiversity
    11 Steps
  12. Chapter 11: God of Hierarchy: Biological Hierarchy
    13 Steps
  13. Chapter 12: The Almighty God: Metabolism
    8 Steps
  14. Chapter 13: God the Word: Animal Communication & Language of Life
    8 Steps
  15. Chapter 14: God’s Fullness: Reproduction, Diversification, and Biogeography
    10 Steps
  16. Chapter 15: The History of Life
    9 Steps
  17. Appendix
    4 Steps
Lesson Progress
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The following transcript was automatically generated and may contain errors in spelling and/or grammar. It is provided for assistance in note-taking and review.

In this session, we’re going to examine the question, “What is science?” and associated with it, “What is biology?” I want to begin the discussion of “What is science?” with perhaps almost an apology. It turns out it’s not so easy to define it. Most of the time you pick up a book or you pick up a dictionary, they’ll have a definition. But I would suggest that a real close examination tells us that science is actually a very difficult thing to define. Why is that? Well, one of the reasons is there are several things in our society in the English language. There are a variety of things called science that aren’t the kind of science that we’re talking about here. For example, you’ll see occasionally references to things like the science of fishing, or the science of polo, or something of that nature. And really what it means in that case, they’re using the term to refer to the art, or the rules, or the procedures involved in a particular activity. And that’s not what we’re talking about. Also, there’s another reference to things like I’ve heard people say, “Science gave us the light bulb. Science gave us the airplane, and Velcro, and all of this sort of thing.” That turns out not to be the science I’m talking about either. The science I’m talking about didn’t actually give us anything. It didn’t invent things. This is actually something we call applied science. It turns out science doesn’t actually give us anything of value doesn’t produce anything of value. Its purpose is to get understanding. Now you can take that understanding and then use it to build buildings, and cure diseases, and that sort of thing. But that turns out not to be the science I’m talking about. The science I’m talking about is discovering things, is learning things. To take that information and use it to make something useful is actually something we call applied science. That’s a different kind of science than the science I’m interested in. So we usually, in fact, we usually call that kind of science, the one I’m talking about, natural science as opposed to applied science. Or maybe we call it pure science. Those that think that’s better, I guess, than the applied science would call it pure science. But natural science studies the natural world to understand the natural world. That is different from applied science. And it turns out that even within that discipline of natural science, there are so many different natural things in the world. There are stars, and critters, and there’s the earth itself. There are people that study very different things. Studying stars takes quite a bit of different equipment, different procedures, than studying a bacterium. And that takes something different than studying something at the bottom of the ocean. That takes something different from studying the inside of the earth. So since natural science studies so many diverse things, so many different things, there’s a lot of different fields of natural science. It makes it difficult to create a definition for science that sort of pulls them all in. We also have a problem that there are many false definitions of science in our society. As a matter of fact, if you go into a typical textbook, you’re going to find a false definition of science. This comes about as a consequence of several things. Most of the time, the reason that we have false definitions is because in our society, science has come to be valued very highly. When a person is called a scientist, other people are impressed. They tend to be impressed. People tend to want to be called a scientist. Or if you said, “You’re not a scientist,” that comes as an insult. And so, given that science has in our society come to be known as something important like that, that creates problems because people want to be scientists.

They want to be called scientists. So guess what? They want to change the definition of science to include them if they don’t happen to fit into that definition. Or they like to change the definitions to exclude people they don’t want to be scientists. So the problem of pride in our society, and the problem that our society elevates science creates special challenges there. That people will distort the definition to get more respect for themselves. They’ll distort the definition in order to exclude people they don’t want to support or favor. They’ll change the definition to make what they do even more important. All this leads to challenges in defining science. So I think the very first thing we need to do here is admit from the outset, when we’re asking the question, of science. Admit it’s a difficult thing to define. And it may be that we can’t get a good solid firm definition where we might have to take it easy a little bit, step back and get a broad definition that usually works, but maybe not precise definition.

There’s always going to be areas of gray. Uncertainty. What’s the difference between the applied science and the natural science? When have you stopped learning about something and started to create something? Sometimes that line isn’t easy to define. When is it that you’re studying the natural world as opposed to what’s not the natural world? Sometimes the natural world fuses into the non-physical world. For example, if science is a study of the physical world, I believe it is, then if there’s a non-physical world, a spiritual world, that’s integrated closely with it, then studying the physical world might get really close to and cross the boundary into studying the spiritual world. In which case, where are you going to draw that line? It’s going to be some difficulty drawing a line between the physical world and the spiritual world. So sometimes we’re going to have difficulty drawing lines between science and non-science. So that’s another challenge. We also keep in mind, as I said, that natural science is so broad. There’s so many different fields involved, and there’s different personalities involved. Humans that do science, the scientists, have very different personalities. I was always impressed when I was in college, being taught for the first time by scientists, that I realized that a person’s personality, my different professors had different personalities, and the personality showed up in their science. The person that tends to be kind of bombastic, and moves and talks fast, produces science fast, produces lots of papers, and is usually very brave in those papers.

Kind of crossing boundaries, and making people nervous and all of that with crazy ideas. And then there’d be another person who because of their personality is laid-back, takes it slow, takes it easy, and is very precise, doesn’t produce very many papers, and doesn’t rock the boat. Tends to stay with theories, proposing theories, and playing with theories that don’t make other people nervous. Very different methods are used by different people because we’re talking about different personalities. So we have different things to study, and we have different personalities. That results in very different… If you were to watch it from the outside and say, “What is science?” You’re going to see very different things done by different people. And we have different theologies that people have. That’s going to make a difference as to whether across that line between the physical and the non-physical, for example. We have people of different cultural backgrounds. We have all sorts of differences among those who do science that make the defining of science difficult. Also, there are so many different things to study. Stars. You can’t touch the stars. So it’s not like you can pick up a rock and study a rock, or play with an animal or a plant. The stars can’t be touched. Furthermore, it takes time for the light to get from the star to here. So actually, you’re not studying the star in the present. You’re studying the way it looked in the past. So for example, light from the Sun takes eight minutes to get here. You’re not looking at the Sun when you’re looking at the Sun. You’re looking at the Sun eight minutes ago. The Sun is no longer that way. It’s right now. You can’t see the Sun the way it is right now. You won’t be able to see the Sun the way it is now until eight minutes from now. That’s just weird. And the farther it is away, you’re looking at Jupiter one hour ago. And that means, wow, that’s a different field. You’re having to approach and study stars in a very different way than you study animals and plants. And of course, studying the microorganisms that you need a microscope for requires different equipment, different approaches. And look at the things. I mean, people are studying brain. Some people are studying fish on the bottom of the ocean. Some people are studying microorganisms in the bottoms of wells, miles beneath the surface. Others are studying… Even in biology, you’ve got an incredible variety of organisms. Those that live in the ice, those that live in hot water vents, those that float around in the atmosphere. So given that there are so many different things to study, very likely people use very different methods in studying those different things, making the definition of science a challenge.

So given all those caveats, we must be careful. We can’t really settle on a precise definition that’s going to say, “Oh, now I know this person’s definitely a scientist. This person’s definitely not.” There might be some folks who clearly will fall within our definition of science, but then there’s always going to be gray areas. And people are complex, so we need to keep our definition kind of loose. So here’s what I’m going to do in the definition. I’m going to define science in a sentence, but I’m going to work through that sentence phrase by phrase to help develop that concept of a science. But it’s going to be a loose definition in the end. First of all, beginning our sentence, science is something humans do. In other words, it’s something humans created. It wasn’t created by God. God didn’t give us science. Humans created science, and humans do science. I don’t think God does science, and I don’t think angels do science. I don’t think rabbits do science. Humans created it. Humans do it. It is a distinctly human thing. Now, why do I even emphasize this? Well, humans have personalities. That means science, it turns out to have some of the characteristics of humans. It’s kind of funny. It’s got personality, if you wish. Part of what makes it difficult to define. Because it’s done, it was created by humans, done by humans, performed by humans. It’s a little quirky. It’s got kind of the human characteristics. Also, it’s important to note here by this that as a scientist, I’m trained as a scientist, work as a scientist, a professional scientist, that I tend to see this word “science” as a verb. Now, it isn’t. It’s a noun. I understand that. If you go to the English class to find what it is, it’s a noun. But I often will refer to science as something I do. I do science. It’s something alive. It’s not just something you sit here, “Oh, I’m going to go into this biology class and learn a bunch of science. Like a bunch of things I got to learn.” No, that’s not how I see science. Science is something I do. It’s cool. It’s fun. It is not a pile of information that I have to learn. It’s a process of learning information. and information has something to do with it. But a big part of it is collecting the information. That’s the fun part. So at least as far as scientists are concerned, they often see science as an activity. Something that they actually do. As I said, both of those add up to the fact that science has characteristic people. People in science are not emotionless. Scientists are humans. They have biases. They have disagreements among scientists, not always based upon data. It’s based upon personalities. There’s drama in science. And there’s errors. People make mistakes. Scientists make mistakes. Scientists sin when they do things that are wrong. They do things wrong against other scientists and against non-scientists. Scientists are human. It’s hard sometimes for people to realize that, especially since many definitions of science, especially in the textbooks, give you the impression scientists are unbiased.

In fact, very often that’s the first thing they say. Science is an unbiased study of the natural world about us. That’s a bunch of bunk! Science is done by scientists. Scientists have biases. It’s much more interesting. Perhaps it would be nice to think that scientists were unbiased and so on. But that’s not reality. Science is done by human beings with all the positives and negatives of being a human. So science is something humans do, continuing our phrase, our sentence, in order to understand the physical world around them. This gives us the purpose of the focus of science. What are humans doing? Well, they’re trying to understand the physical world. Again, going back to this reference to applied science, applied science produces things that people can use. It builds bridges so people could drive across them. It is what produced Velcro and all of these sorts of things. But natural science doesn’t produce anything useful. I stress this, perhaps overstress this, to make my point. Pure science, or natural science, or sometimes called modern science, does nothing at all useful. It just doesn’t do anything useful. It doesn’t give you anything useful. So if you want to cure a disease, science isn’t what cures disease. Applied science does. Medicine cures disease. It addresses problems like that, That solves problems, gives solutions to problems. It gives things to people. Science does not do that. Natural science does not do that. Natural science’s purpose is to understand. Take the child that’s just been given a new toy, and the child wants to take the toy apart to figure out how it works. That child is doing science. The child is trying to understand how it works. As opposed to, “Now that I understand how this thing works, let me build it, or let me build it better. Let me improve it.” Now the child is no longer doing science. The child is doing applied science. So this comment, “to understand the physical world,” focuses us on the fact that science’s purpose is not to create anything useful, but to understand things. It also means that what the science is studying, what it focuses on, what it’s trying to understand, is the physical world. It’s not trying to understand God. It’s not trying to understand angels. It’s not trying to understand the mind. It might understand the brain, but not whatever this thing is we call the mind. It is focusing on the physical world and attributes of the physical world, in the physical world, but not outside the physical world. So theology, the study of God, studies God. So it focuses on God. Science studies the physical world. That’s one of the things that God has created to make that distinction. So to understand the physical world emphasizes both the fact that the purpose is to understand, not to build, not to create, but to understand, and that what’s being understood is the physical world. Thirdly, science is something humans do to understand the physical world. By what process? The process is proposing theories of explanation. Theories of understanding. If your purpose is to try to understand, then what scientists do is they create these ideas. They think, “Well, I think it works this way. I think this is its nature.” So they propose what we call theories to explain the things that they’re seeing. And again, their purpose is just to understand these things. And it’s important to note, this is so powerful, that these are proposed ideas that scientists can never know for sure are true. You cannot prove anything in science. I know it’s common knowledge to think, “Oh, science can be used to prove this.” Well, you can’t realistically use those two words in the sentence in the same way. Science and proof don’t go together. Scientists can’t prove anything. “What? It’s crazy. What do you mean?” Well, they’re trying to understand the world that exists. You can never know for sure if your understanding is exactly right. Sometimes you can know that the understanding is wrong. I got an idea on how this works, but alas, oh, well, that doesn’t fit that. Well, okay, it must be wrong. But what if I’ve got an explanation which seems to work and it keeps working? How do I know it’s really true? You really don’t know. There’s no real way to know. There’s an apocryphal story. Who knows if it’s really true? It’s a cute story Professor Stephen Jay Gould shared a number of years ago, and it illustrates this point that you can never know for sure in science.

According to this story, there was a scientist whose specialty was the behavior of animals. More specifically, the behavior of mice. And he developed this particular theory to explain how mice behave. and it immediately was acclaimed. It got famous for it. People got excited about it. It had done so much better than other theories to explain the behavior of mice. It was so good that he actually went on tour. He had a whole sequence of universities that had him come speak. And he did a tour of the United States in giving his lecture on how it was that mice behaved. And so the story goes. He’s at the University of Michigan in Lansing, gives his talk on how mice behave, and he then opens it up for questions. In the question period, after a couple of people towards the front had asked some questions, there was a man in the back who finally his turn comes for his question.

and he’s an elderly gentleman. So he rises to his feet and he says, “I have a mouse in my backyard that doesn’t do what you say he ought to do.” Upon investigation, it turns out that truly that man had a mouse in the backyard that didn’t behave the way that scientist’s theory said he should behave. Upon investigation, he realized that his theory was wrong. And he was in disgrace. He couldn’t finish his series of lectures at other universities. His theory was ruined. And the warning here is you never know for sure if your theory might be falsified today, tomorrow. Maybe it won’t be in your lifetime. You always hope it won’t be, so that you can be famous for your theory and all of that sort of thing. And if your theory is falsified, you do hope that you’re the one that discovers it, and you create another theory and become famous with the second theory to explain this thing anew. But the warning here is be careful of the mouse in Michigan. You never know for sure if your theory is true. Science might have arrived at truth. It might have discovered the right theory, And you can test it. We’ve tested theories for centuries before somebody found that proverbial mouse in Michigan to show that it wasn’t right. You never know. In Christianity, we can read the Bible and know that these things are true. This is absolute truth. But in science, a theory can never be known for sure to be true. I don’t have any mechanism in the science to know it for sure. Thus, theories are only tentative truths. They’re possible truths. This is a possible way to understand it. Theories are never anything more than tentative truths. They can’t be anything more than tentative truths. And this goes, by the way, for even these things called natural laws. There are definitions of science out there, very common ones. I can remember the definition from my high school biology text. I can remember the page in the biology text. I can remember the picture at the top of the page. In about six lines down, there was a bold-faced word, “science.” And in the parentheses, it says “science” in quotes, derived from the Latin word scientia, meaning truth or knowledge. Close parentheses. I was impressed. I looked at that and said, “Well, wow. This means science is knowledge. Science is truth. Science is something that you can know is absolutely true.” But it turns out that’s not true. In that same textbook, it went on to explain, “Now, the way science works is this. A scientist in an unbiased fashion goes out and collects data.” Oops, got a problem. Because no scientist is unbiased. But anyway, he goes out there and collects a bunch of data, collects a bunch of information. And then from that information, he deduces a hypothesis. And then he takes that hypothesis, scientific hypothesis, and he tests the hypothesis to see if it works. And if it tests well enough, long enough, it becomes a scientific theory. And if he continues to test it, and it continues to pass the test over and over again, it eventually becomes a scientific law. That’s what I was taught. That’s a bunch of bunk. Okay, that’s just all bunk. First of all, in science, we don’t make a distinction between hypotheses and theories. I know of nobody that makes any distinction like that. That’s only in the textbooks, in the definition. We, a theory is a theory, is a theory, is always a theory. A hypothesis is a theory, and always a hypothesis is a theory. I mean, they don’t change status. And a scientific law is a scientific law from the moment it is invented. Because a scientific law is a special type of scientific theory. It’s a theory that makes a statement about a general regularity of the universe. So if there’s a theory that says, “I think the universe works by a thing. There’s a thing called gravity in the universe that has the strength of the gravitational force between two objects is a gravitational constant times the mass of one object times the mass of the other object divided by the distance between the two squared.

I think that’s true.” When you make that theory, when that theory is proposed, what you’re saying is, “I believe this is true across the entire universe. It’s been true across the entire universe for all of time. As soon as I make such a statement, that theory is a natural law. You’re making a statement about a regularity of the universe. And as soon as you do that with any theory, that theory is a special kind of theory known as a natural law. It can be just as wrong as any other theory, and it should be held as tentatively true, only tentatively true, as every other theory.

But a theory doesn’t become a natural law. A natural law is a theory, is always a theory, and will always be a theory. It can only be a theory. So even natural laws are to be held as tentative truths about the universe. Theories don’t become anything but theories. They stay theories even after they’ve been tested. Since this is true, all theories are to be taken tentatively. And let’s add one more piece of information. The theories we believe now in science don’t correspond to theories we believed 300 years ago. Think about how many theories, well, you wouldn’t know, but if you looked at how many theories we believe 300 years ago are actually believed today, it’s a ridiculously small number. It’s probably less than one-tenth of one percent of all the theories we believed 300 years ago. We still believe today. Science is continually changing. It’s deciding, “Oh, this theory wasn’t so good at explaining the universe. We replace it with another one.” It’s always replacing theories. If that’s the case, how many theories in the present are actually wrong? If 300 years ago we’re saying that basically all those theories were wrong, Are we saying that today we got them all right? Probably not. They’re probably all wrong. We’re probably in the same situation we were in 300 years ago. They’re tentative truths. They might be right. Maybe they’re closer to being right, or maybe not. Do we really know? No, we don’t know. We only know we got a bunch of theories. We have to take as tentatively true. It’s very likely that every theory is wrong. Now, it might not be totally ridiculously wrong. It might be really close to the truth. But what part of it is right? What part of it is wrong? Is it 1%? And which 1%? We don’t know. So the real truth about science is it might be largely wrong. Rather than being, and some people think it’s truth, in fact, it might be quite the opposite. So science is something humans do. It’s something they do to understand the physical world. It’s something they do that understanding by proposing tentative theories of explanation. And finally, there’s a value statement put in here. They value theories that fit the real world. This is the last key component. You see, when we create a theory of explanation, we don’t just stop there. We decide, hey, this is a good theory or bad theory, or maybe even rejected as a theory. Why? What criteria do we use to determine if it’s right or wrong? The criterion we use in science is we compare the explanation with the physical world it’s supposed to explain. If in fact the explanation fits the natural world, it does seem to explain the natural world. As long as it continues to explain the natural world, we think the theory is a good theory. If, however, we find something in the natural world that doesn’t fit the theory, like the mouse in Michigan that just doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, then you throw out the theory, or you modify the theory to make it fit the natural world. So we’ve got a standard of truth in science that is the physical world. That’s our standard of truth. The physical world exists. It’s out there. That’s what our standard is. We take our theories, which we invent in our brains, and we compare it against the real world, the physical world. And if it fits, then we keep on holding to the theory. If it doesn’t, we throw out or modify. Now by comparison, if you’re in biblical Christianity, if you’re in conservative Christianity, we hold the Bible as truth. It’s the standard of truth. You compare everything to that. And if something doesn’t compare favorably to it, you say that it’s wrong. The Bible is the standard of truth in Christianity. In science, the standard of truth that you compare everything against is the physical world. That’s the standard. So theories that fit are okay for now. Theories that don’t are thrown out or modified. So because we value theories that fit the physical world, we can compare theories. Which ones are better? Which ones are worse? Those theories that explain more of the physical world, we think are better theories. If you’ve got two theories and one explains more than the other, well, we prefer the one that explains more. We do prefer theories that have been tested against the physical world. If you’ve got one theory that was just proposed, and nobody’s checked it out yet, another theory that’s been around for a while, has been checked out and fit the world really well, we tend to like the one that’s been tested. We also tend to like theories that make sense, that are logical, that fit with other theories, that don’t conflict with other things that we know, maybe even outside of science. And we also prefer theories that lead to other good ideas. Other theories to explain things. So it doesn’t mean that theories of science have to explain a lot of things. It could be that a theory of science explains just a small amount. But we would prefer theories that explain a lot. So these are theories that are preferred, not theories that are required in science. So here’s what it comes down to. Science is something humans do to understand the physical world by proposing tentative theories of explanation and valuing fit with a physical world. So this is biology class. Biology is one of the sciences. So what is biology? I’m going to start there with the word itself. The word “biology” is from two Greek words, Bios, which means life, and logos, which means word or discussion. So if you looked at the word, you might think, “Well, science is the study of life.” And that’s actually the discussion of life or the study of life. That’s a common definition. But I’m going to say there’s something a little bit problematic about it. It’s a correct definition if life is entirely physical. But we have the fact that God is a living God, and God is a spirit. God’s life is not physical, and biology doesn’t study that particular life. So if biology is a study of life, and it doesn’t study God, who is life, then biology doesn’t study all of life. Furthermore, the Bible says that Adam is a living soul. Adam became a living soul. The Spirit of God breathed into Adam, and Adam became a living soul. His body became alive. He was a body before he was alive. So it suggests that life itself is not the body. It’s not physical. If life isn’t physical, then studying the body of Adam isn’t really studying his life. And you’re not studying life when you’re studying the life of organisms. So a better definition for biology is the study of organisms, physical beings that have life. So whereas science is something humans do to understand the physical world by proposing tentative theories of explanation and valuing fit with the physical world, biology would be something humans do to understand organisms, physical beings that have life, by proposing tentative theories of explanation and valuing fit with the physical world.

That’s the definition of biology that we’re going to go with in this particular course.