Bare Bones Biology 101 – Religion and Science

Beginning this week, I’ll try to evaluate, with a very broad brush, several different belief-systems that are trying to improve human welfare for the future. Today and next week will be religion-based ideas.

I’ll try to be critical about all these efforts, for four reasons. First, that’s what I’m trained to do – to look for the flaws in any hypothesis. Second, understanding what needs to be improved is much more useful than a false belief that everything is just dandy and it always will be and we have no responsibilities beyond ourselves at level one. Sometimes I wonder if the Corposystem is the author of the glass-half-full mantra. I always imagine a glass with nothing in the bottom half, and a layer of pink lemonade magically suspended in the top half. Nobody can make wise decisions if they never even see he bottom half of life. Further, we can’t take care of responsibilities we don’t believe exist, or enjoy accomplishments we can’t see. And while God probably can perform miracles, I doubt if we can count on him to save us from our own failure to recognize our responsibilities.

So –

Third – I am not trying to bash anyone, in spite of what I just said. It’s not even about me; I’m too old to benefit by anything that is likely to result from a critical analysis. Fourth, I’m not formally affiliated with any of these positive actions, but I do care very much about the positive human values they all espouse. If we must take sides, I’m on yours.

There are many religion-based efforts to improve our world, beginning with individual self-improvement, and then a plethora of groups that may or may not be affiliated with established religions. The Dalai Lama, Karen Armstrong and others (Some references are below) outline an ethic that can be espoused by anyone, with or without a religion, who believes in the more positive human values. I’m sure there are also many, many other wonderful developments within all of the religions.

Whatever our religion, it is critically important at this time, when humans hold so much destructive power, to understand why religion is not science and science should not be a religion. For an example, I collected a series of podcasts from an organization called Evolutionary Christianity (ref). Each podcast is the message of a different speaker who describes how he or she believes very positively both in God and in evolution. These are available at the Peach Clubhouse.

Religion is not a science, because religion is based in human values; and science should not be a religion because science should not be based in human values.

Religion functions at the individual and population levels of human reality. Its purpose is to support human values and serve human welfare. Basic research science functions at all levels of physical reality, and it’s purpose is to learn how things function. I’m not talking about technology, which is about making things, and usually selling things. Basic research biology, for example, is about learning how life functions to stay alive.

For the most part, life does not operate according to human values. Certainly the whole earth ecosystem does not. The ecosystem is the functional result of all the interacting life cycles of all the organisms, including humans, that live on earth. The ecosystem functions according to natural laws, like gravity or thermodynamics, and laws do not care about our emotions. To understand laws, we need facts. Therefore, science is about measurable facts, and these facts tell us that the ecosystem has its own needs some of which are different from what humans may need or want.

If we want to support human values and serve human welfare, we humans have at least two sets of needs and values to consider. First is the welfare of the ecosystem, because it is the ecosystem that gives us life. At the same time of course we must find a way to compassionately sustain human kind within the ecosystem. Both these jobs are important to our well being, but they are different tasks requiring different tools.

Bare Bones Biology 101 – Religion and Science
KEOS FM 89.1, Bryan, Texas
Audio download available
here and at

    Recommended References

Karen Armstrong, Charter for Compassion,

Evolutionary Christianity –

H.H. The Dalai Lama, Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World

Huston Smith, The World’s Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions…/0062508113

Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, with Bill Moyers, on DVD at PBS

Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth,

Bare Bones Biology 052 – Emergent Properties

I expect you know what I am doing in this current mini-series of audiocasts. I’m following the outline of the “simplest solution” that I proposed a few weeks ago.

Having spent my life trying to figure out how things work and then squeezing the result into a five-minute spot – well, I was quite proud of that, and now it seems useful to expand it a little and talk about how it applies to real life. Today I’m thinking about the human tragedy that results from our failure to understand emergent properties.

Last time I talked about levels of organization – the way in which the universe is organized so that bigger things are made of smaller things that are made of smaller things that are made of smaller things. It wouldn’t have to be that way, you know, but in our universe it is that way. The most important aspect of that kind of organization is that new things and new qualities and characteristics appear – it seems that they appear magically, and that’s why they are called emergent properties.

Where there was no life – life appears. You know this was not so obvious to people a couple hundred years ago. They thought life emerged from – for example that mice and cockroaches were born out of piles of rags and trash. But they are not. Life comes from life, and life is much more complicated than a pile of trash. The simplest kind of life, the cell, with all its hundreds of different kinds of molecules that each can do it’s special function when and where it is needed – anything less complex could not be alive. If you take a cell apart – poof! Life is gone and all you have remaining is a pile of thousands of different kinds of molecules. Life was in the emergent property generated by the special way those molecules were organized.

A more complicated life form, such as a person who is made of trillions of intricately organized cells, also has emergent properties. For example the ability to think – or to make urine, or blood, or to express compassion – that a cell cannot do because it doesn’t have all the necessary parts to make those characteristics possible. How we came to have those characteristics is another question. The physical reality is that emergent properties do exist and they explain a great many things.

Emergent properties explain water, that is a liquid at room temperature but results when two different gases are bonded together in a particular way; emergent properties explain life, that is, the ability to use energy to move and grow; it explains the human capacity for compassion that is inherited from one generation to the next; and it explains the tragedy of our human relationship within the ecosystem. That we have come to express our human compassion in a way that is harmful to our host. Through our care and compassion for each other, expressed in medicine and food shared and hundreds of other shared elements of our shared livelihood, we have grown our presence on this earth until our very growth is unbalancing the life force of the ecosystem, you might say the Garden of Eden, that gives life to us. That greater life force, just like yours and mine, must stay balanced to stay alive. It is the balanced complexity of all the interacting functions that maintains its life and all our lives together.

We have enough power — through our intelligence, our science, our humanities, and our technologies – we have enough power to save and nourish and grow our Garden of Eden, the ecosystem, in a sustainable balance with our own human welfare. Nothing is stopping us but ourselves.

Bare Bones Biology 052 – Emergent Properties
KEOS radio 89.1, Bryan, Texas
Transcript at
Audio at