How many times have you read claims like “Being exposed to X increases your risk of getting disease A by 75%? Or “Taking supplement Y cuts your risk of getting a disease B in half?” Such statements can be misleading. Determining the importance of such statements requires information on prevalence rates.
Here’s some examples.
In 1995, Britain’s National Committee on Safety of Medicines issued the following warning to women taking contraceptives: Rigorous studies have found that women taking 3rd generation contraceptives (contraceptives made after 1990) experienced a twofold (100%) increase in blood clots compared to a similar cohort of women who took 2nd generation (pre 1990s) contraceptives. In other words, newer contraceptives are doubling a woman’s risk of blood clots compared to older contraceptives.
It sounds like young women should avoid 3rd generation contraceptives because of the increased risk of blood clots. Well it depends on the prevalence of blood clots.
Contraceptive studies found that one out of every 7,000 women who took the 2nd generation pills had blood clots. This number doubled with 3rd generation pills where two out of every 7,000 women who took 3rd generation pills had blood clots. Is a 100% increase from 1 to 2 blood clots in a sample of 7,000 women something to get deeply concerned about? Not really when you consider that an overwhelming majority of women taking contraceptives do not get blood clots. If the prevalence rate of a disease is low, then a 2, 3, or 4 fold increase may not be important, unless you are among the unfortunate few who get the disease.
This potential pitfall on interpreting relative risks works the other way – in preventing disease.
What if you were told that vaccine A cuts your risk of getting disease X in half? Sounds good, but we must consider the prevalence rate of disease X. If the prevalence rate of disease X is 2 in 10 thousand or 0.01% and you're vaccinated, the risk of getting the disease is cut in half to 1 in 10 thousand or 0.01%. We would need to vaccinate 10,000 people in order to prevent one person from getting disease X.
The upshot is that we need to consider prevalence when evaluating risk. If the prevalence rate of an unfortunate event is 1 in 10 and intervention cuts that risk in half to 5%, the treatment is worth considering. However, if the prevalence rate is 1 in 10000 and intervention cuts that risk in half from 0.01% to 0.005%, the intervention may not be worth considering, especially if it is expensive or comes with risky side effects.
When questions about risk and prevalence arise, a cost versus benefit analysis usually determines the best course of action. Interventions that cut the risk of a low prevalence disease in half may be worthwhile if the intervention is cheap and/or the disease fatal or contagious. Similarly, engaging in behavior that increases the risk of a low prevalence disease may be worthwhile if the behavior enriches one’s life, which is why I occasionally drink large, creamy, fat-laden, blueberry milkshakes.
The nation’s young people have started back to school. These young people need to take advantage of the wonderful educational opportunities our society offers, but they also need to protect themselves against the indoctrination in naturalism that so often accompanies education. Textbooks and other educational materials today take evolutionary naturalism for granted, and thus assume the wrong answer to the most important question we face: is there a God who created us and does he care about what we do? Young people need to be prepared for the indoctrination they will receive in high school and university science classes, and for that they need to know some of the things that the public schools are not allowed to teach them.
Many scientists, and professors in general, are often confused about evolution. They may know a lot of details, but they don’t understand the basics. Many biology professors typically think that evolution from molecule to man is a single process that can be illustrated by dog breeding or finch-beak variations, that fossil evidence confirms the Darwinian process of step-by-step change, that monkeys can type Hamlet if they are aided by a mechanism akin to natural selection, and that science isn’t saying anything about religion when it says that we were created by a purposeless material process.
Many ordinary people are also confused about these subjects but they do tend to grasp one big truth that the professional intellectuals usually seem incapable of seeing and that is that the “scientific fact” of evolution presented to them consists largely of an ideology that goes far beyond the scientific evidence. Polls show that under 10 percent of the American public believes in the official scientific orthodoxy, which is that humans (and other living things) were created by a materialistic evolutionary process in which Gold played no part. If high-schoolers need a good high-school education in how to think about evolution, professors and senior scientists seem to need it just as badly.
Young people in America need to learn that “science” as defined in our culture has a philosophical bias that needs to be exposed. On the one hand, science is empirical. This means that scientists rely on experiments, observations and calculations to develop theories and test them. On the other hand, contemporary science is naturalistic and materialistic in philosophy. What this means is that the National Association of Biology Teachers’s official definition of evolution as an “unsupervised process” is simply true by definition--regardless of the evidence! It is a waste of time to argue about the evidence if one side (public schools and the federal government) has already won the argument by defining the terms.
When good teachers are teaching more advanced problems in mathematics or in other subjects, they love a student who will argue that the textbook answer isn’t correct. The reason isn’t so much that the textbook answer might be wrong but that people learn the truth best if they fully understand the objections to the truth. If I believe in evolution (or anything else) only because “teacher says so,” you could say I don’t really believe in evolution. What I do believe in is obedience to authority, and in letting “teacher” do my thinking for me. A democratic education aims to produce citizens who can think for themselves. I’m sure most science academics would agree emphatically and would say that unquestioning acceptance of the dictates of authority is the opposite of the kind of skeptical thinking science education should try to foster—except, of course, when it comes to evolutionary naturalism.
Occasionally I turn on my favorite Pandora internet music stations at work. It keeps my mind fresh when I am running lengthy statistical analyses. Lately I have noticed a disturbing trend in Pandora music – harsh swearing. There are F-bombs, S-bombs, and whatever else bombs you can think of in the lyrics. Harsh swearing is coming from artists that I enjoy like Pink, Maroon 5, Avril Lavigne, and John Mayer. These lyrics are censored on the radio, but not on internet radio.
What the @#%$! is going on?
I grew up in the 80s. From what I remember, 80s music had no harsh cussing. Even 80s rap music was more fun and tame than today’s rap music. Eighties rap music talked about things like how to “walk this way”; today’s rap music talks about things like how to “kill this way.”
Who is to blame? To be sure, society is becoming more accepting of raucous lyrics. Thank goodness we have an FCC to police verbal content on television and radio. In the past parents like me could count on the FCC to keep profanity off the airwaves. But what happens when the FCC becomes more permissive? Recently the FCC investigated the possibility of allowing harsh swearing on TV and radio. The FCC solicited feedback from the public on this more submissive approach. People across American voiced their concerns. It looks like the proposal to allow harsh swearing has, at least for now, been tabled.
We don’t need a randomized controlled trial to tell us that the words people hear directly affect the words they speak, and that the words they speak directly affect how they think and act. People who continuously engage in raucous talk will, in all likelihood, become raucous individuals – edgy, wild, boisterous, disorderly, and unruly.
Proverbs reminds us that “as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” I guess it is no surprise that artists like Pink, Adam Levine, and Avril Lavigne are kind of edgy and iconoclastic, or, in all fairness to their musical genius, are trying to appear that way for the purpose of advancing their music careers. If harsh lyrics sell, give the people what they want, right?
I will tolerate an infrequent, well-placed minor cuss word from others, as long as it does not mention deity. Even though I choose not to use such words, I understand that not all people share my LDS standards. As a testosterone-driven LDS male who is in an ongoing struggle against the natural man, I also understand what it is like to exercise constraint when the urge to speak harsh words arises.
What concerns me most is the increase in gratuitous use of cuss words in popular media. There is no reason for frequent harsh swearing in movies and music. I don't think it sells more movies or songs. I have traveled to a lot of different places; ordinary people don’t talk that way. It is time for musicians and Hollywood producers to stop pretending like they do.
Our family visited the Trilobite Quarry west of Delta, Utah. Last week. To the untrained eye the hillside is unremarkable in appearance. It looks like any other large mound of dirt and stone, but as quantum mechanics teaches us, things are not always as they seem. The hillside quarry is actually a large mound of Cambrian Era rock formations pushed up from below.
What is so special about Cambrian dirt you ask? What is special about Cambrian dirt is that dates back to the dawn of life (500 million years ago) when larger, diversified life forms suddenly appeared on the earth, a period referred to as the Cambrian explosion. One such creature, the trilobite, was abundant on the ocean floors of the Cambrian Era, which explains why fossilized remains of trilobites are everywhere are the Utah quarry which used to be at the bottom of a Cambrian sea.
It was a unique experience. I put on my safety glasses, grabbed a Home Depot “Homer’s” bucket and a chisel hammer, and head out with my kids to the pile of newly exposed rock. I started splitting hand-sized stones and in no time at all, started finding trilobites – first a few small ones or fragments of trilobites, followed by larger trilobite pieces, and then complete, larger trilobite fossils, museum quality fossils that make you say “Wow!” It was cool to think that I just uncovered a creature that laid untouched for hundreds of millions of years, and that my trilobites were older than dinosaurs.
A few days later I took a sampling of my favorite fossils to a geologist friend. This friend of mine is a World War II vet and former chair of the BYU Department of Geology. After admiring my fossils and graciously accepting one of my better finds as a gift, he said something insightful. He said, “The trilobite is one of nature’s best evidences against evolution.” I asked “How so?” He explained that the trilobite is a very sophisticated creature that suddenly appeared on earth with little or no evidence for gradual development from lower species.”
I did some research on the modern seer stone known as Google, and he is right. Here is a sampling of what I found. It turns out that “it’s all in the eyes.” Trilobite Eyes – very complex
Marine biologist Richard Ellis called the “compound eyes of trilobite… with their hundreds of lenses… far more complicated than the eyes of any vertebrates” (2001, p. 7). Scientists claim that the trilobite not only had “highly organized visual organs, but some of the recently discovered properties of trilobites’ eye lenses represent an all-time feat of function optimization… a very successful scheme of eye structure: the composite or compound eye.” (Levi-Setti, 1993, p. 29). Trilobite scientists have concluded that trilobites “possessed the most sophisticated eye lenses ever produced,” and their vision may actually have “been superior to current living animals” (Shawver, 1974, p. 72). Trilobite Eyes – oldest on record
The trilobite eye is the “oldest eye of which we have record” (Sinclair, 1985, p. 9). Trilobites lived, by evolutionist reckoning, over 500 million years ago. Trilobite Eyes – creation required understanding of laws
The Darwinist’s explanation of the origin of the trilobite eye is that: “Through natural selection operating on chance variations” trilobites evolved a remarkably sophisticated optical system. For an optical engineer to develop such a system would require considerable knowledge of such things as Fermat’s principle, Abbe’s sine law, Shell’s laws of refractions, the optics of birefringent crystals, and quite a bit of ingenuity” (Stanley and Raup, 1978, p. 182). Trilobite Eyes – no evidence of evolution exists
Trilobite eyes are an “impressive feat of early evolution,” but even though trilobites were the most prevalent animal in the Cambrian Sea, no evidence of trilobite eye evolution exists “in spite of an abundant fossil record dating back to the early Cambrian (1974, pp. 72-73). Lack of empirical evidence has forced scientists to speculate on the path of trilobite eye evolution and, for this reason, historically, “views on eye evolution have flip-flopped, alternately favoring one or many origins” (Fernald, 2006, p. 1917). Trilobite Eyes – evidence of design
The “real surprise” is not that the eyes functioned according to the laws of physics, but that their “basic lens designs” were engineered “with such ingenuity” (Levi-Setti, 1993, p. 54).
Did that last quote say “design” and “engineered”!?
References available at http://www.hhca.org/blogs/dsanders/files/2011/10/Trilobite-Evolution.pdf
Convincing evidence for macroevolution exists, which is why I do not berate evolutionists for their beliefs. If I were agnostic and listening to an erudite evolutionist, I might say, “Thou hast almost convinced me to become an evolutionist.” One example of impressive evidence for evolution across life forms is the discovery of Tiktaalik.
Tiktaalik is a northern native Canadian name for freshwater fish. This creature supposedly lived 365 million years ago. Its discovery in 2004 created quite a stir, not so much for its fossilized structure, but for the manner in which it was discovered.
More than a decade ago, Edward Daeschler, Neil Shubin, and Jennifer Clack decided that the best place to look for an elusive transitional fossil bridging the divide between fish and tetrapods was in Nunavut in northern Canada. This region, although now in the Arctic Circle, was once thought to be near the equator and to have a warm climate. So in 1999 they sent research teams to Ellesmere Island (77° 3'37.23"N; 88° 5'52.40"W) to look for transitional fossils in an area where an intermediate animal would most likely be found.
After 5 years of digging with little success, the researchers discovered what they had been looking for: a fossilized fish-tetrapod looking animal. The animal had characteristics similar to a fish but with skeletal characteristics akin to a crocodile. Its skeletal structure enabled it to support itself on land and water, and the presence of spiracles (small holes) on its flat head suggests that the animal had primitive lungs, in addition to gills.
The researchers’ hypothesis was confirmed. It is an amazing discovery.
Notwithstanding the impressiveness of this discovery, it does not rise to the level of what we might call definitive scientific evidence because it was not a crucial test of macroevolution. What is a crucial test? Let’s consider a brief example from Relativity.
When Einstein introduced his theories of Special Relativity and Relativity in the early 1900s, his ideas created a stir. Back then Newton was still revered as the undisputed champion of science and the thought of anyone challenging Newton’s ideas was considered heretical. However Einstein boldly challenged Newton’s ideas. He argued that space and time are not constant as Newton had supposed; rather space and time differed based on one’s state (hence the name “relativity”).
Searching for ways to test Einstein’s theory, scientists decided to study the light from stars next to a fully eclipsed sun. If Einstein was right then the sun’s gravity well would cause the light from ‘nearby’ stars to bend and thus appear shifted in the dark sky. And so in 1919 a British research team headed by Sir Arthur Eddington went on a distant journey to view a solar eclipse on Principe Island near the coast of Guinea in West Africa.
It was cloudy during the days leading up to the eclipse and a heavy thunderstorm rolled through the team's location on the morning of the much anticipated event (May 29th). The research expedition was in jeopardy of failing, nevertheless Eddington and his team set up their instruments and hoped for a miracle. Minutes before the eclipse when the sky was still overcast, anxieties grew as the moon moved in front of the sun and the sky darkened. Then suddenly, before the eclipse reached totality, the clouds parted revealing the corona of the sun and surrounding stars. The team quickly snapped their photos.
The photos revealed that light from ‘nearby’ stars (in the Hyades star cluster) had indeed shifted, as Einstein predicted. The sun’s gravitational pull shifted the position of the stars an average distance of 1.6 arcseconds. Like Tiktaalik, it was an amazing discovery.
The Crux of the Matter
Tiktaalik’s discovery provides reasonable evidence for accepting macroevolution, and Eddington’s eclipse study provides reasonable evidence for accepting Relativity, but the quality of evidence from these two studies are not on par. The essential difference is that one was a crucial experiment and the other was not.
A crucial experiment is one where a “do or die” scenario is set up that allows us to tentatively decide on the truth or falsity of a theory. Relativity was subjected to a do or die test and it survived. The bending of starlight around the eclipsed sun allowed us to ascertain with a great deal of certainty that Einstein was right. If the light had not bent, we would have had good reason to conclude that Einstein was wrong and we might still be going with Newton’s theory.
Tiktaalik, although an important and impressive discovery, was not a crucial test of macroevolution. By this I mean that Tiktaalik did not create a situation where the theory of macroevolution was subjected to a “do or die” scenario. If the Ellesmere research team had never discovered Tiktaalik then the theory of macroevolution would not have been any worse off. Explanations would have included, “Well, we’re not looking in the right place,” or “We just have to keep looking.”
The quality of scientific evidence hinges, among other things, on the possibility of finding something false. Scientific theories that have been repeatedly subjected to crucial tests and survived have earned the status of being proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Those that have not been subjected to crucial tests, like macroevolution, have not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. This suggests that people can reasonably reject macroevolutionary explanations for the origins of humanity.
Which one of the following statements is true?
A. Humans can catch and get sick from computer viruses
B. Some computers are sentient, self-aware, and self-reproducing life forms.
C. Text, audio, and picture files can be stored on and retrieved from DNA.
D. Scientists in Poland are developing warp core technology that will allow near-light speed travel.
If you think all of them sound impossible, you are right. The fact that one of them is a reality makes the discovery all the more impressive. The correct answer is C.
Scientists at the European Bioinformatics Institute in Hinxton, England encoded information by sequencing the four main nucleobasis of DNA: adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine (A, T, C, G). They encoded 26 seconds of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, a digital photo of their lab, 154 Shakespearean sonnets, and the 1953 James Watson and Francis Crick paper describing the double-helical structure of DNA. The scientists were then able to retrieve the information with 100% accuracy.
There’s more. DNA-based memory can last for thousands of years as long as it is stored in the proper environment. I guess it will probably outlive the information stored on my CDs, Bluray DVDs, and flash drives. There’s more. One gram of single-stranded DNA can store 2.2 Petabytes of information. There are about 1 million gigabytes in 1 petabyte. So that means that one gram of single-stranded DNA can hold roughly the equivalent of 275,000 8 gigabyte jump drives, or 100 Billion DVDs.
The recent discovery of the amazing storage and recovery capacity of DNA suggests that humans have the capacity to remember all of life’s events, thoughts and feelings. The idea that we have the capacity to perfectly remember everything in life is consistent with LDS theology.
Notwithstanding the marvelous storage capacity of DNA, I think there is a retrieval bug in my system somewhere that keeps me forgetting where I put my keys. Oh well, I can live with a retrieval bug as long as I never unintentionally hit the “reformat DNA hard drive” switch.
When I was a missionary I was district leader over 6 sister missionaries. The sisters were kind and effective missionaries, but they got this idea that they could get along well without me and my companion. They didn’t need those two younger, immature boys guiding them at district meetings. They were right. They could have gotten along well without me and my companion. They tried to start what become known as the infamous “Sister District,” a district for sisters and run by sisters. While I never promoted the idea, I was fine with it.
Mission president said “No.”
Church organizations are run a certain way. With the exception of RS and Primary, they are run by priesthood holders, and even those run by sisters are guided by priesthood holders.
If a business were structured the way the Church leadership is structured, it would face legal action for not promoting gender equality in leadership positions. But the Church is not a business. It is a religious organization lead by prophets and apostles who receive direction from the Lord. The Lord in His perfect understanding and infinite wisdom has structured the Church the way it is. We need to remind ourselves that His ways are not our ways.
So sisters wearing pants to church sounds like an interesting idea, but we would be remiss to think that doing so will promote sisters to Church leadership positions typically filled by men. In the same vein, no amount of pressure from gay organizations will make the Church accept gay marriages. The Lord is calling the shots on leadership and doctrine, not man (or women).
Have you ever wondered about the mental capacities of animals? Can we know which behaviors result from thinking and which behaviors are caused by instinct?
The other day I discussed our cat’s smarts with my daughter Brooklyn. Ever since she was a kitten, our Felis silvestris catus (that is her Latin name) has relieved herself in the litter box 100% of the time. Except for when she ate foam and got sick, she has gone in the right location every time! Should I also expect her to barf in the litter box? Well, we humans rarely make it to the porcelain throne when we throw up, so I will cut her some slack on that one.
Anyway, I told Brooklyn that I think our cat is smart. Our cat may think something like: “I gotta go and don’t want to mess up this nice carpet. Where is my litter box?” Come to think of it, if she relieved herself in a conspicuous location of the house and no one found out for weeks, wouldn’t that be a sign of smarts? At the same time, however, I said that her Freudian cleanliness may be due to instinct. She may think nothing at all and just instinctively run off to her litter box.
I am not certain of my cat’s cognitive abilities, but like so many pet owners, I am certain that animals experience joy. Watching my boyhood German shepherd burst into joyous tail wagging, bouncing, and spinning when she spotted me coming home from school, it was pretty clear to me that dogs feel joy. Some dogs even smile, and not just those in photoshopped funny dog pictures. The endowment creation video even tells us that animals feel joy.
If animals feel joy, can they also express gratitude? Can they display overt behaviors that are intended as expressions of thanks? I don’t know, but this heartwarming video of a freed whale comes as close to any display of gratitude as I’ve ever seen. Sure the whale is happy, but that it went on with jumping and tail wagging for an hour in the presence of those who saved its life seems to indicate gratitude. The person who saved its life comments on the possibility of gratitude at 7:09.
Fifteen years ago when I first heard about genetically modified food I thought, “Oh! They are messing with the genetics of our fruits and vegetables to make them bigger and better tasting.” It didn't seem so bad at the time. Genetic modification may have started with such good intentions, but sixteen years later after genetically modified foods first hit the market in 1996, it has become a dark and dangerous industry. Its deeds are probably far worse than most people could have imagined.
Food crops are being genetically modified so that they are resistant to Roundup, that broad spectrum herbicide that kills most living plants. Why do people want to make food crops resistant to Roundup? The answer is that they want to dump the stuff on crops so that farmers do not have to worry about weeds.
Roundup resistant crops, called Roundup ready crops, are being sprayed with the herbicide, harvested and processed, and then delivered to your local grocery store. Should you be concerned? Yes. There are copious amounts of data pointing to health concerns with this practice, data that the FDA is apparently ignoring. While we are on the topic of big organizations, you might also find it interesting that the company that manufactures Roundup, Monsanto, is heavily invested in the production of genetically modified seeds. It should come as no surprise that Monsanto is also ignoring data suggesting that Roundup ready food crops pose a health hazard.
With the FDA and USDA apparently in bed with big business (i.e., Monsanto) on this issue, the only avenue for change is the American consumer. We need to demand labeling of genetically modified foods so that, by choosing not to purchase these products, we can force the food producers to change their ways. In recent years consumers demanded labeling of milk products produced from rBGH-injected dairy cattle, a hormone that should never have been used in cattle and which our governmental agencies failed to protect us from. Now many consumers are opting to purchase only rBGH-free dairy products and the practice of injecting the hormone in cattle is quickly going out of style. We need to do the same with Roundup ready food crops.
Here is more information on how Roundup ready crops are sickening Americans and what you can do to protect your family.
The basic message of my last post, Do You Believe in Evolution, is that to study evolution, and any other secular theory for that matter, is good if one hearkens unto the counsels of the Lord. Those who fail to hearken unto the Lord’s counsels while studying evolution are prone to fall into personal apostasy.
For those wondering what it is like to fall into personal apostasy because of a failure to hearken unto the counsels of the Lord while studying evolution, here’s a short video clip. The clip shows renowned evolutionists Richard Dawkins describing how evolution was the catalyst that turned him from a believer into a non-believer, beginning at time 1:30 and ending at 2:02.
For an example of hearkening unto the counsels of the Lord while accepting evolution, take a look at this short video of another famous scholar, Francis Collins. Collins became a believer after studying evolution and achieving fame in the scientific community. Collins is the former director of the Human Genome Project and NIH director. Collins is now a theistic evolutionist. While I differ with some of his views on the creation, I admire him for having the courage to accept his spiritual witness for what it was – a testimony of God’s existence. He describes his spiritual journey in his NY Times best seller, The Language of God (a good read). In this video, note how he explains that an innate sense of right and wrong, the Light of Christ, was the catalyst for his eventual acceptance of God.