Category Archives: research

Have a Heart: the St. Jude Valve

Donate to St. Jude’s Hospital (just specify that the donation cannot be used for research involving embryonic stem cells or fetal tissue). Founded by Maronite Catholic Danny Thomas, St. Jude developed the artificial valve that keeps me and thousands of other people alive.

Have a Heart: Info from the National Marfan Foundation

Diagnostic Criteria for Marfan Syndrome.

“Living with Marfan syndrome”: Cardiovascular

Cardiac Emergencies

Eye Emergencies

Lung Emergencies

Children and Teens

Treatment

Skeletal Features

Image

Have a Heart; Diagram of an Aneurysm in the Aortic Root

Engineer with Marfan syndrome designs new aortic implant

An engineer in Tewkesberry, England, Tal Golesworthy, has used his engineering skills to develop a new aortic implant that doesn’t require either Coumadin or immunosuppression. It’s informally called “Tal’s exostent,” and as I understand it, it goes over the natural aorta to keep it from rupturing or continuing to expand. Each one is custom made to the patient by using a combination of MRI technology and CAD design. Golesworthy teamed up with a couple cardiothoracic surgeons to design the device, and was the first recipient of his own invention. Since 2002, 23 Marfans in the UK have been successfully treated with the device.

Will the FDA, which allows the deadly RU-486 drug, permit this to be used in the US? Well, let’s see: where are the ethical vaccines that work in other countries? Where is the ClearPlan NFP machine? Where are Allie’s lens implants?

http://www.theengineer.co.uk/in-depth/analysis/uk-engineer-develops-own-life-saving-implant/1006877.article

The 2007 NFP Study, revisited

I was just referring to this European study of Natural Family Planning methods that was completed in 2007, and I looked up my blog article on it to double check the numbers (here’s a link to the abstract of the actual study). While writing the elaborate reply to the person, I decided to just write a blog post and link it. 🙂

First, a word on “failure” of birth control methods. When they talk of “failure” of a birth control method, they mean that, when they say “X%” failure rate, they mean that, out of 100 couples who use the given method for a whole year, X women will become pregnant.

Secondly, it is a constant irritation to NFP advocates to have NFP dismissed as “rhythm method” or “modified rhythm method.” The article from _Scientific American_ linked above is so biased, it’s disgusting, and the only comment, after 4 years, is someone challenging whether the study was peer reviewed(!)

It flabbergasts me that liberals, who are “all about science” when it comes to Darwin, “Global Warming” and embryonic stem cell research, deny the science when it comes to women’s fertility. Liberals, who insist that we need to know everything about dinosaurs, the prevailing theories about the origins of the universe, and what’s inside an atom in order to function as ordinary human beings, balk at the idea that a woman should know how her own body works and be able to keep track of her own fertility.

Liberals, who insist that people should have self control about tobacco, insist that people can’t have self control about sexuality.
Liberals, who insist on teaching “safe sex,” and the importance of using a condom “correctly” or making sure a woman takes her birth control pills every day at the same time, think it’s an unbearable burden to ask women to take their temperature every morning, or to check their cervical mucus or to pee into a cup and stick in a test strip to find out if they’re ovulating. . . .

Liberals do not want to give women control over their own fertility. The very people who speak of women “owning their own bodies” and speak of “women’s rights” want women to listen to some doctor tell them what to do with their bodies. They do not want to empower women with knowledge of fertility.

The very people who talk about how important sex education supposedly is do not want to teach the most important thing people should know about sex.

Another preliminary note. There are three sets of “days” at play in understanding these issues. One is the number of days when it is possible for a woman to get pregnant. When cervical mucus is present, sperm can survive in the vagina for about 3 days (some texts say as many as 5, but most agree it’s 3). During the days leading up to ovulation, the woman’s body releases increasing amounts of Luteinizing Hormone (LH). The maximum amount is released on what is called “Peak Day.” In an ordinary cycle, the big shot of LH is followed up by a release of something called FSH, follical stimulating hormone, which actually triggers the release of the egg. There’s some relationship with FSH and progesterone (I’ve read a lot of stuff on NFP over the years but can’t always cite it, and I’ve combined material from a lot of texts).

One of the main problems of NFP “failure” comes from the problem of what’s called “false peak”–the LH is released, so all the external signs indicate ovulation, but FSH isn’t released, so no egg. The reason I advocate Marquette Model is that the ClearPlan machine tests for FSH as well as LH and gives a more precise reading to prove when ovulation occurs.

In any case, once the LH surge/peak day happens, then there is a 48 hour window for the FSH surge and the release of the egg. The egg will live for 24 hours if it isn’t fertilized.

The number of days required for abstinence in NFP depends upon the method and what methods of testing are involved. An ideal method of of NFP would be able to predict when ovulation was likely to occur and isolate ovulation exactly. ClearPlan makes a test which comes close to doing this, but the FDA won’t allow it in the US, and it’s rather expensive to mail order from England.

Again, you’ll hear different ideas of “days.” There are in reality only 4 days per month when intercourse can lead to pregnancy: the 72 hours before and 24 hours after the egg is released.

However, barring the perfect NFP method, that can be expanded to up to 2 weeks of abstinence. I don’t remember sympto-thermal’s rules well enough, but let’s just say 10 days.

OK, so back to the study.

The study showed the following, according to its abstract:
[blockquote]After 13 cycles, 1.8 per 100 women of the cohort experienced an unintended pregnancy; 9.2 per 100 women dropped out because of dissatisfaction with the method; the pregnancy rate was 0.6 per 100 women and per 13 cycles when there was no unprotected intercourse in the fertile time. [/blockquote]

This article, from Science Daily, was the one I referred to in my original post (though the original link was lost when I moved to WordPress from Blogger):
[blockquote]In the largest, prospective study of STM, the researchers found that if the couples then either abstained from sex or used a barrier method during the fertile period, the rate of unplanned pregnancies per year was 0.4% and 0.6% respectively. Out of all the 900 women who took part in the study, including those who had unprotected sex during their fertile period, 1.8 per 100 became unintentionally pregnant. . . .
Of the 900 women, 322 used only STM and 509 women used STM with occasional barriers during the fertile time. Sixty-nine women did not document their sexual behaviour. Out of the women who documented their sexual behaviour and abstained from sex during their fertile period (“perfect use”) the unintended pregnancy rate was 0.4 per 100 women and 13 cycles [2], and 0.6 for women who used STM plus a barrier if they had sex during their fertile period. For cycles in which couples had unprotected sex during the fertile phase, the pregnancy rates rose to 7.5 per 100 women and 13 cycles. The drop-out rate from using STM for reasons such as dissatisfaction or difficulties with the method was 9.2 per 100 women and 13 cycles, and compared well with the drop-out rates from other methods of family planning, which can be as high as 30%, although direct comparisons are difficult due to methodological problems. “This demonstrates a fairly good acceptability for this particular FAB method,” said Prof Frank-Herrmann.
[/blockquote]

A key point here is that “fertile times” means “thought they were fertile.” It refers to charting fertility. If you’re saying, “.4% of couples who had no intercourse during fertile time had a pregnancy,” and “fertile” means “fertile”, then the only conclusion, Dr. House would tell us, is that the women were going off and having sex with other men.

However, they mean that the people *charted* fertility and had a pregnancy. So that means there’s a .4% error rate in charting itself: out of every 250 couples who use sympto-thermal NFP for a year, 1 couple will have a pregnancy that results from misreading the signs and making a mistake in charting.

When considered by themselves, couples who had intercourse during fertile times had a 7.5% chance of getting pregnant. The researchers suggested that this came from “moderately cautious” use of NFP–only abstaining during the days of peak fertility. It may also indicate that the chances of any given act, even in fertile times, resulting in pregnancy are kind of slim.

Now, what we *don’t* know is how often the couples were engaging in marital rights. Numerous studies have indicated that NFP couples have intercourse more frequently than others, but the average seems to be about once or twice a week. We’ll take the high estimate and say twice a week.

“Fertile” period for sympto-thermal purposes, is day 6 or when the woman first detects mucus (whichever comes first) until day 3 after Peak Day.

If the woman ovulates on day 14 in a 28 day cycle, then that’s exactly 11 days of abstinence out of 28 (again, in terms of those who complain that is too much time to wait, compare to married couples who say they only have intercourse once or twice a month, particularly when the woman’s sex drive has been killed by the estrogen pill).

Again, 11 days of abstinence due to potential fertility, and only 4 days of actual fertility, which in the case of .4% of the couples, those don’t overlap.

So for those who had intercourse sometime in those 11 days (and the data weren’t specific enough to say), 7.5% got pregnant.

Now, let’s look at those who used barrier methods during those 11 days. This is where I think I made a mistake 4 years ago. I have often referred to this study because the rate of pregnancy was .6% among those who used barrier methods during charted “fertile times” and .4% among those who abstained. I was thinking that meant that the rate was 150%. Where I made a mistake was forgetting that the same rate of failure in the .4% is in the .6%.

We’ve established that the failure rate of the method to accurately detect ovulation is .4%, so that needs to come off the top of the other percentages. For those who used condoms when they *thought* they were fertile, it was .6%, but taking off the .4, that gives us .2% of couples getting pregnant because of condom failure as opposed to NFP failure (maybe higher, but that will do).

For those who had intercourse during the 11 days of potential fertility, there was a 7.5% pregnancy rate, and if we take off the .4, that reduces it to 7.1%.

This is the key. 7.1% got pregnant because they had “unprotected intercourse” during charted fertile times, and they charted accurately. .2% used condoms during charted fertile times, and charted accurately.

It is very important to get this down right: 7.1% of unprotected sex during accurately charted fertile times led to pregnancy, and .2% of “protected” sex during accurately charted fertile times led to pregnancy, so that means that 6.9 of those 7.1% would have been prevented by condoms. 6.9/7.1 = 97% That means that condoms are 97% effective *if used during fertile times*.

This has two equal and opposite things to tell us about condoms and other barrier methods.

On the one hand, in terms of preventing STDs, they may actually leak far more than is reported, since the only way to *know* if they leak is if they result in pregnancy, and this is the only study that shows their use during fertile times.

On the other hand, even the couples who used condoms or who had unprotected sex during fertile times were still using NFP information to try and avoid the peak days. So maybe they had sex on day 11, thinking they had time, but the sperm made it to day 14, or maybe the wife ovulated a day early or something. Most people don’t take these factors into consideration. Again, the researchers were surprised at how *low* the pregnancy rate was for unprotected sex.

According to this chart, the “failure rate” among most barrier methods is about 5%, so that tells us that those methods are more effective when practiced in conjunction with fertility awareness, which reaffirms that this is knowledge all people should have.

Look at the statistics on some of these methods. Now, for every method, there’s “normal use” versus “ideal use.”

People are fond of saying “NFP doesn’t work.” You’ll hear lots of people who say, “I tried NFP, and I got pregnant, so I started using birth control.” Yet plenty of people get pregnant on birth control. I once met a lady who conceived her second son less than 2 months after her first son was born. She was breastfeeding, and taking the Pill, and she had an IUD, and she got pregnant.

We’re told that NFP is too demanding, yet the Pill requires a woman to take it at the same time every day, and to have the exact dose for her body. Condoms have to be used “correctly.” So do other barrier methods.

“Failure” of IUDs is .2% (and when inter-uterine devices “work,” they prevent a “fertilized egg”, aka an embryo, aka a baby, from implanting in the uterus–“It’s not an abortion because pregnancy hasn’t started,” they tell us). This is slightly better than tubal ligation at .5% “failure rate”.

The male condom, used improperly, has a 15% failure rate, and a 2% failure rate used properly. The “female condom” (often heralded is a way to keep women from getting pregnant if they happen to be raped) has a 21% failure rate if used “incorrectly” and 5% failure rate used correctly. Diaphragm is 16 percent if incorrect/6% if correct.

There are so many other variants, it’s not worth saying. The chart isn’t entirely accurate, as it states the “failure rate” of “improperly used” NFP as 25% but only because it’s using the “failure rate” of the rhythm method.

The great myth is that somehow NFP is more demanding than any of these other methods or somehow they are perfectly accurate.

People use condoms, diaphragms, etc., thinking that these things are fool-proof “birth control,” and, worse, they use them thinking they’re fool-proof protection against STDs. Of course, they’re definitely not “fool-proof,” since responsibility and careful attention and self control are required for most artificial birth control methods to be maximally effective. And even when maximally effective, that’s no better than 2%.

15% if used improperly, as most people use it. For every 100 people who use condoms for a year, 15 pregnancies will result. That means that for every 100 people who use condoms to prevent STDs, 15 will get STDs. Yet we’re told condoms prevent AIDS.

Even 2% failure rate is unacceptable if we’re talking about STDs.

Similarly, while some critics might point to the 9% dropout rate in the German study, the researches point out in the Science Daily article that the average “drop out rate” among users of any given birth control method is 30%.

There is no 100% effective form of birth control except abstinence, and every argument waged against NFP could just as easily be made against any form of artificial contraception.
This study proves several things:
1) that NFP is actually more effective than the Pill (.4% versus 1.8%)
2) that NFP even used in conjunction with barrier methods improves the effectiveness of barrier methods.
3) that barrier methods leak

A Day that will live in Infamy

One of the most powerful pro-life talks I’ve ever attended was given by Dr. John Bruchalski of the Tepeyac Clinic, several years ago at adult education night at St. William of York in Stafford, VA. He shared a lot of the “inside scoop” as a medical professional, a revert who used to work in the clinic that pioneered in vitro fertilization in the US. I’ve discussed some of these before, but it doesn’t hurt to repeat.

Some of the key points:

1. There will never be a male contraceptive on the market. Whenever they test a male contraceptive pill, the test subjects did not like what it did to them, how shall we say, aesthetically. The estrogen pill doubles a woman’s risk of stroke or heart attack and increases the risk of various cancers. Any other drug with the estrogen pill’s side effects would be pulled from the market. Double standard, anyone?

2. When conception occurs, the newly formed embryo sends out an electrical impulse to tell the mother’s brain, “Hey! I’m here!” It is possible to detect pregnancy within moments of fertilization, since there are *immediate* changes to the mother’s biochemistry. When conception occurs in a petri dish, there is a visible flash of light. He says that, back when he worked at the IVF lab, they used to watch and wait for that flash of light, and they would cheer.

3. On January 22, 1973, he came home from school and found his father dressed in his funeral clothes. He asked him who died, and his father said, “I am in mourning for America, because today America legalized abortion.”

Fantastic Site on Human Development

This site has amazing pictures and videos of unborn babies. Think unborn babies go through the stage of evolution? Believe that “blob of tissue” bunk? Think that fetuses and embryos ‘aren’t human’? Doing research on abortion or prenatal development?

Check it out!

More evidence that verifies the Shroud of Turin

And, yes, skeptics, they do explain the process.

And, again, it falls in the category of, “How would an alleged Medieval forger have known this??”

1.  In 1978, letters were found around the face area of the Shroud of Turin

2.  Shroud researcher Barbara Frale has made a career of figuring them out.

3.  The letters say “Jesus the Nazorean” in Greek, Hebrew and Latin.

4.  Frale wanted to know *why* the letters were there.  She did a great deal of research and found out that, when executed criminals were buried under Roman law, they had to be buried in Mass graves.  In Roman-controlled Palestine, families were allowed to have the bodies back after one year, so the bodies were identified with papyrus strips.  Scripture tells us that Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus in *his* family tomb, versus a mass grave, (to make it easier to identify Jesus’ body a year later when the body was returned to the family).

The kind of ink used on these strips of paper would have chemically bonded with the shroud cloth over time.

5.  She sent copies of the letters to various ancient language experts, to verify the dating of the style of script.  She did not tell these experts what the letters came from.   They all confirmed the style of script dated to 30 AD.

Autism and Vaccines

We’ve probably all heard the hypothesis that autism rates in the US are somehow related to vaccinations. Now, there are several factors on both sides of this issue:

1. Mercury used to be used in vaccinations but is no longer used.
2. Mercury poisoning causes brain damage with symptoms similar to autism, but it is not, technically, autism.
3. The reason for increasing “rates” of autism is that autism is being more frequently diagnosed. It was not even recognized in the earliest versions of the DSM. Autism in its severist form used to be considered a form of schizophrenia until the 1960s.
4. Wondering why we have “more” cases of autism would be like people a generation or two now wondering why there were increased cases of Loeys-Deitz Syndrome.
5. The term “autism” was originally coined by Eugen Beuler to describe schizophrenics being focused inwardly: literally “self-ism”. Hans Asperger and Leo Kanner were the first to describe young “schizophrenic” children being “autistic,” around the same time, but it is not known whether they were aware of each other’s research.
6. People generally think autism is supposed to be something rare. In fact, one of Asperger’s points was that in any large school, there were a certain number of students who had these characteristics.

So, the theory that autism is somehow spiking in our society due to some other factor (like vaccinations) is really just a factor of autism being identified.

Now, what about parental wisdom coming into play? One of the most basic flaws of medical ethics is the refusal of doctors to trust patients’ self-knowledge. I spent nearly seven years trying to get someone to listen about my TIAs till an angiogram turned up my brain aneurysm.

So parents say their kids start showing signs of autism when they get vaccinated. Maybe it’s not anything in the vaccine; maybe it’s the vaccine itself.

Autism is, fundamentally, an attachment disorder. I’ve read about studies where autistic patients were given pitocin, and it basically cured their autism. The endorphin-oxytocin cycle of the brain actually explains a great deal of mental health issues.

Oxytocin is the hormone that helps humans form pair bonds, particularly family bonds. It is triggered by several activities, and is the hormone that gives that true feeling of “euphoria” you get from:

1. Having a great conversation
2. Meeting someone you really like/are interested in (whether in terms of romance, friendship or professional relationship).
3. Skin to skin contact
4. Completing a job.
5. Prayer or meditation
6. Lots of exercise
7. Massage
8. Childbirth and breast feeding.

Most people who’ve heard of oxytocin have heard of it because of its role in childbirth and breast feeding. The mother’s body releases a ton of oxytocin when she gives birth, to both loosen her joints and loosen her mind. Her body also releases a ton of it when she breastfeeds, to help bond her with her baby. But oxytocin is triggered by any of the above activities, giving the body a sense of satisfaction and relaxation, and opening the mind to pair-bonding, whether it’s parent/child, husband/wife or friend/friend.

There is a cycle of hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain which starts with endorphins and dopamine. These are the body’s “reward” hormones. They give that basic buzz you get when you finish a small pleasant task. The idea is to keep you going for the next “buzz” till the job’s done.

ADHD medicines trigger that part of the brain. So do caffein and cocaine. So does autoeroticism. Most addictive behaviors are addictive because they give the body that dopamine buzz. But the purpose of dopamine is to facilitate production of oxytocin, and too much triggering of dopamine can impede oxytocin.

So a great deal of mental health issues, including autism, are linked in some degree or another to failure of oxytocin in the system. The research I mentioned earlier tried artificial pitocin–the huge dose of artificial oxytocin sometimes given to pregnant woman to induce labor or help in a difficult labor–on autism patients and found them almost cured by it. But the dose was too strong to be healthy, and the implications of a drug that would make people trust one another implicitly were scary.

Now, let’s get back to the vaccination question. Vaccinations don’t cause autism, but do they exacerbate it? Parents think vaccines cause autism because the children’s behavior changes after receiving their shots. Mary says that about our own kids, that she saw marked changes in their behavior after their first sets of shots, not necessarily the first, but definitely the second.

Could the real connection not be a biochemical one, per se, but a psychological one? The infant’s entire sense of safety and trust is bound up in the parent bond. Vaccination takes that relationship of trust and immediately throws it into a challenge. The parent has brought the child to this stranger to be poked with a painful needle.

To a child with the genetic predisposition to autism, could this traumatic experience in infancy lead to a worse or earlier manifestation of autistic symptoms by breaking that crucial bond?

Scientists study recombination

Geneticists unearth the Roots of Human Genetic Variation“, says this sensationalistic headline.  In reality, it’s just a study of the exact process of recombination, and the “what to take home with you” in this article isn’t anything different than what I learned in Advanced Biology 17 years ago.

But it’s still interesting to read.

Women who have migraines with “aura” have higher risk of brain lesions.

Interesting.

“You don’t have a degree, so you don’t know what you’re talking about”

Whether we’re talking about the medical side or the theological side (or any other issue), a popular dismissal of opposition voices is “You don’t have a degree.”

Well, a 17 year old high school senior correctly diagnosed herself with Crohn’s Disease by examining slides of her own intestinal tissue in a microscope.

The article does not explain how she *got* the tissue.

Why embryonic stem cells will *never* be useful in treating diseases

From Don Margolis at the Repair Stem Cell Institute:

ESCs have no interest in sticking around and helping — they have but one
interest, to grow into a baby. . . .

To summarize — this is how far ESCs research has to go:

  1. Discover a way to avoid the need to destroy the patient’s immune system.
  2. Discover a way to “teach” these cells to continue to repair rather than proliferate, or
  3. Discover a way to “turn off” the cells before they become tumors.
  4. Discover a way to avoid the enormous cost in time and money to produce a trained ESC, something embryonic scientists never mention. America’s largest embryonic stem cell company tells investors quite clearly, in an SEC-required document, that the cost of its product may be too high to sell.

Repair Stem Cell Blog: 12 articles on heart repair that are 6 years behind

As the US finally gets it about adult stem cell therapies.

Adult stem cells used to help cornea patients with contact lenses

Using patients’ own stem cells to graft tissue onto contact lenses, doctors in Australia have found an efficient and low cost way of helping people with cornea damage.

More consequences of the Pill, and a cautionary tale on "reverse consequentialism"

According to a recent study, use of oral contraceptive pills can cause urinary incontinence in women. So, a pill taken to allow for sexual incontinence leads to urinary incontinence. . . .

Women who used oral contraceptives were found to be 27 per cent more likely to experience leakage at least weekly compared with women who had never taken them. The risk was found to increase significantly with increasing duration of contraception use.

The researchers, from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, said: ‘Our study findings suggest that oral contraceptive pill use may be associated with a modestly increased risk of urinary incontinence among premenopausal women.

‘However, this is one of the first reports of such an association and, thus, further research is needed to confirm our findings and investigate possible mechanisms.’

Another story in contraceptive news provides a cautionary tale of what we might call “reverse consequentialism.” Consequentialism is, of course, the ethical approach by which “the ends justify the means.” Often, in trying to demonstrate that certain actions violate Natural Law, we point to the various harmful effects those actions can have.

So, we could call this a “reverse consequentialism”: not “do evil that good my come of it,” but “evil will come of this act, so you know it’s bad.”

This is particularly true of the birth control pill.

“The birth control pill has all these harmful side effects, like cancer and stroke and urinary incontinence.”
“Condoms and diaphragms physically interrupt the sexual act.”
“Birth control pills, IUDs, and other methods that ‘prevent implantation’ are abortifacient.”

Well, some intrepid researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College have developed a contraceptive device which, they believe, will take away all the problems inherent in every other form of contraception. Bold claim?

Well, it’s a ring that, when inserted into the vagina, releases a cocktail of hormones, spermicides, acids and other chemicals. Since it’s only used during the act, it allegedly will not have the harmful side effect sof the Pill (though, arguably, if used frequently enough, it would).

It is shown in laboratory tests to be effective not just at killing sperm but also at killing STDs, including HIV.

If their claims are true, it could eliminate just about every “consequentialist” approach to contraception, which forces us to be more articulate about the Church’s teaching that sexuality must be a gift of total self-donation.

From Mary Meets Dolly: Embryo’s Heart drives blood formation

Apparently, a functioning heart is necessary to create blood, which is why the heart is one of the first organs to develop in an embryo.

What is a "Scientist"?

What, exactly, constitutes a “scientist”? It’s a constant theme on _Bones_ that Dr. Temperance Brennan is very elite in her mentality regarding what constitutes a “scientist”–indeed, she thinks anthropology is a science but psychology isn’t, and she was recently knocked down a peg by a physicist (IIRC) who told her that anthropology wasn’t a “real science”.

Is a physicist a “scientist”?
A chemist?
A biologist?
An anthropologist?
An archaeologist?
A psychologist?
A sociologist?
An economist?
A philosopher?
A theologian?

Certainly, for most of Christian history, theology has been regarded as a “science”–it is, with philosophy and canon law–one of the three “Divine Sciences.”

Why is it that one gains some special authority by being a “Scientist”? Why is that, say, a biologist like P.Z. Myers think that his degree in biology entitles him to pontificate about theology or philosophy?

Yet if you mention Albert Einstein’s statements about theology-which were derived from his work in advanced physics, and, by extension, metaphysics, the typical atheist will reply, “Albert Einstein was a brilliant physicist, but he had no credentials to discuss theology.”

So, what constitutes a “scientist”, and why does a “scientist” have any more authority than anyone else, except in that precise area where his discipline applies?

For those who insist that “science” proves embryos aren’t human beings:

On 25 May 1949 Dr. Benjamin Pasamanik of Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn
received the $1,500 Lester Hofheimer Research Award for a study showing Negroes
have the same mental capacity as other races.

In other words, prior to this study, “science” insisted they didn’t.

The Bible as History: the differences between Reason, Empiricism and Scientific Method

For the past week or so, I have been engaged in an interesting, but increasingly annoying, exchange with one Chad Tonka. This fellow has the appeal of a higher level of discourse than one usually finds in the blogosphere, yet he is taking it to a rather opposite extreme.

In his efforts to avoid the question of the humanity of the embryo, Mr. Tonka, who presumes a first-name basis, has insisted we veer off into a long side trip on the merits of the scholastic philosophical approach, etc. He has raised some interesting questions, and provided some insights into the narrow minds of secularists. However, a combox discussion is not suited to the complex issues he is raising, and I have decided to create some separate posts to tackle some of these issues.

One of the things that is most disingenuous about scientific atheism is the claim of being “rational.” “Big ‘S'” Scientists have inappropriately co-opted to themselves a great deal of terminology, depriving it of its original meaning. Properly speaking, the natural sciences do not require a great deal of “reason”: perhaps “rationality” in the sense of “pertaining to ratios.” The level of reasoning applied in science does not rise much above mathematics: science is about observing and quantifying phenomena. Done properly, science only involves the most simple conclusions derived from the evidence.

The problem with “scientific” Atheism is that it claims to be “science” that which is properly philosophy. For example, Darwinism. Whether or not evolution actually occurs is a scientific question. *Why* evolution occurs is a necessarily philosophical question. Atheists claim that the scientific evidence that points to evolution somehow necessitates an interpretation of that evidence that says a) it disproves the Bible and b) it proves that the unvierse is “random.” Neither of these is a necessary conclusion from the scientific evidence. Intelligent Design proponents try to make this claim, and are dismissed as “unscientific.”

The problem Christians have with “Scientists” (again, big “S”) is not the science: it is that they engage in a great deal of conjecture and speculation, loosely based upon the scientific evidence but revealing more about their own biases than anything else. Meanwhile, they demand we offer evidence of the historical truth of the Bible, and find convenient excuses to dismiss any evidence we present. We can find a mountain that matches the description of Mt. Sinai in the Bible, both by geographic location and by certain key details, and they’ll say it’s “random” or claim that we could find any number of mountanis like that, or that doesn’t prove Moses was at that mountain. They find a dinosaur with a similar skull to a duck and tell us it’s proof of evolution, and we’re supposed to accept it because they have Ph.D.’s.

The other term that science has co-opted, somewhat rightly, is empiricism. Empiricism is the approach to epistemology that emphasizes what we can observe. The school known as “British Empiricists” ran the gamut from very scientific thinkers to George Berkeley (for whom Berkeley, CA is named), who said that everything we observe is just in our minds, and that everything is ideas.

But they all based their ideas more on what is observed than on extrapolation from their observations.

Now, science has an epistemology of its own, the scientific method. That’s great . It’s a great way to learn the kinds of truths about nature that scientists study. In some ways, the scientific method can be extrapolated to other fields. The practical form of Pascal’s Wager, as embodied in the case of Fr. Alphonse Ratisbonne, is a kind of scientific method: “Wear this miraculous medal for 30 days and see if anything happens.” Interestingly, scientists insist that claims of divine activity are not scientifically provable, because they are not subject to experimentation. This has three flaws. First, there *have* been scientific studies indicating the effectiveness of prayer (proving that patients who are being prayed for, and don’t know it, are more likely to recover than patients who are not being prayed for, and don’t know it). There are also ways to prove miracles by lack of scientific explanation–the methods the Church employs in ratifying a saint’s cause or an alleged apparition. Thirdly, miracles are precisely *not* the work of natural laws; miracles are the work of an intelligent God. God is not a vending machine. If you could set up a proper experiment and test the verifiability of a miracle, then it would not be a miracle, but a previously undiscovered scientific phenomenon (like, maybe the miracle spring is drawing from some undiscovered opiate).

God would not be an intelligent being if He merely responded to stimuli, like a Pavlovian dog.

All of that said, empricism means that which we *observe*. It does not exclusively mean “That which we observe by scientific method.” This is particularly true in the case of history.

We take most things in life on faith, not empiricism. We trust other human beings to tell us the truth, particularly if they present us with plausible reason to believe them (such as a Ph.D. or evidence or a generally truthful manner). So, for example, I have never been to China. I take it on faith that all the witnesses who tell me China exists are both honest and not mistaken.

Yes, in theory, I could travel to China myself to verify its existence, but I do not feel the need to do that. Nor do I expect I ever will do so.

However, th eatheist would still contend that China is a verifiable proposition.

But is the Ming Dynasty a verifiable proposition? Barring the invention of time travel? There is no way for me to verify that any given historical event happened.

We can read primary sources. We can accept that those primary sources are more or less accurate. We can find the very scant archaeological evidence to support what the primary sources tell us. But it is really interesting how selective atheists are regarding their “evidence.” For example, I’ve read in so many “modern” Scripture textbooks how we know Jesus exists because “Josephus” confirms it. The passage in Josephus is something like, “Christians worship a man named Christ who was crucified under Pontius Pilate.” Josephus doesn’t really talk about Christ directly; he only verifies the existence of Christians.

But that is taken, by atheists, as being a more reliable text than the Gospels themselves in terms of verifying that there really was a man named Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified in Rome. Does anyone have similar doubts about the mere existence of Socrates? I know they doubt whether Plato accurately depicted Socrates’ personality and/or views, but I don’t think anyone seriously doubts that the historical figure Socrates existed. Yet many people entertain doubts that Jesus Christ historically existed at all. If Christians engage in such doubt-for-the-sake-of-doubt, such as when they challenge the evidence for Evolution, they’re accused of being uneducated and anti-intellectual. Yet if atheists engage in it regarding the Bible, they’re “healthy skeptics”.

History is based upon people writing down the events they witness *empirically*.

They write down the events, and we decide whether we think their accounts are reliable. The Bible is just as much an historical record as the works of Thucidydes or Herodotus or Josephus or Tacitus. The Bible at least deserves that much credit. Indeed, since the Bible is actually a collectoin of historical documents, offering different accounts of the same events, events that were safely guarded in a people’s oral tradition, it should be considered a more reliable document than these other histories that were written by individuals.

Plus, modern scholars tend to be very dismissive of the ancients. We neglect how important oral traditions were to ancient societies (even while anthropologists put a great deal of emphasis on the oral traditions of contemporary oral cultures). We also ignore how meticulous they *were* about keeping historical records. Genealogy, for example, was crucial to these cultures.

So the Bible constitutes *empirical* evidence: it is a record of the events that these historians, or the witnesses they interviewed, observed. Or a record of what someone observed and passed down by careful oral tradition until it was written.

It is not *scientific* evidence, in that it does not fall under scientific method, but, then, no historical event is really capable of being evaluated by that standard.