Cosmos (a new version of Carl Sagan’s series) has begun, bringing with it discussions across the Internet about Giordano Bruno, who is often wrongly hailed as a martyr of science.* From Jay Richards:
Many viewers may have been baffled that so much time would be spent [in the opening episode of the series] on Bruno, an Italian Dominican friar born in 1548 who was neither a scientist nor credited with any scientific discovery. Why is that? It's because he's the only one with even a passing association with a scientific controversy to be burned at the stake during this period of history. As a result, since the 19th century, when the mythological warfare between science and Christianity was invented, Bruno has been a leading character.
But there's one problem: Bruno's execution, troubling as it was, had virtually nothing to do with his Copernican views. He was condemned and burned in 1600, but it was not because he speculated that the Earth rotated around the sun along with the other planets. He was condemned because he denied the doctrine of the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, and transubstantiation, claimed that all would be saved, and taught that there was an infinite swarm of eternal worlds of which ours was only one. The latter idea he got from the ancient (materialist) philosopher Lucretius…. Yet a documentary series about science and our knowledge of the universe fritters away valuable airtime on this Dominican mystic and heretic, while scarcely mentioning Copernicus, the Polish guy who actually wrote the book proposing a sun-centered universe.
Humphrey Clarke at Quodlibeta explains the religious views that got Bruno into trouble:
Bruno was a follower of a movement called Hermetism, which was a cult that based its beliefs on documents which were thought to have originated in Egypt at the time of Moses. These writings were linked with the teaching of the Egyptian God Thoth, the God of learning and had arrived in Italy from Macedonia in the 1460s. To followers of this cult, Thoth was known as Hermes Trismegitus, or Hermes the thrice great. The Egyptians worshipped the sun and it is possible Nicolaus Copernicus himself was influenced by Hermetism to put the sun at the centre of the universe. For instance, he wrote in De revolutionibus that:
At rest, however, in the middle of everything is the sun. For in this most beautiful temple, who would place this lamp in another or better position than that from which it can light up the whole thing at the same time? For, the sun is not inappropriately called by some people the lantern of the universe, its mind by others, and its ruler by still others. [Hermes] the Thrice Greatest labels it a visible god, and Sophocles' Electra, the all-seeing.
Subscribers to Hermeticism included such high profile figures as Phillip II of Spain, and the writings were generally tolerated by the Catholic Church. Bruno’s ‘dangerous idea’ was to take the view that the Egyptian religion was the true faith and that the church should return to these old ways; which they were none too pleased about.
Holding opinions contrary to the Catholic Faith and speaking against it and its ministers.Holding erroneous opinions about the Trinity, about Christ's divinity and Incarnation.Holding erroneous opinions about Christ.Holding erroneous opinions about Transubstantiation and Mass.Claiming the existence of a plurality of worlds and their eternity.Believing in metempsychosis and in the transmigration of the human soul into brutes.Dealing in magics and divination.Denying the Virginity of Mary. ...
It was his personal cosmology which informed his espousal of Copernicus, not the other way around. Bruno and his trial made a big splash at the time and all his ideas were tarred with the same brush. It is possible if it hadn’t been for Bruno, Copernicanism would not have made such a splash with the authorities and Galileo might not have been persecuted.
Bruno’s view of the universe was primarily a result of his religious views, as was his conviction and death at the hands of the Inquisition (as Cosmos acknowledged). As the conclusion of the episode’s segments on Bruno tells us:
Bruno was no scientist. His vision of the cosmos [received in a dream, according to the episode] was a lucky guess, because he had no evidence to support it. Like most guesses, it could well have turned out wrong.
The people of Bruno’s time were rejecting his unsubstantiated revelation, not science. Certainly they should not have burned him at the stake, but neither should they have been swayed by his views.
More on Cosmos. More on Bruno (and the alleged “banned books” Cosmos said he “dared to read”), his beliefs, and the origin of the myth. Watch the two segments on Bruno beginning at 16:38 (available until May 4) and read a refutation. And if you’d like to hear how Cosmos’s concern that “expressing an idea that didn’t conform to traditional belief could land you in deep trouble” doesn’t just apply to Bruno’s time, see here.
*Cosmos depicts Bruno as more of a hero of free thought than of science (yes, as odd as it seems, they celebrate his religious vision as free thought gloriously challenging the scholars’ understanding of the cosmos), but since the “science martyr” idea is still widespread, this post is intended to address that misconception.
After examining the evidence, cosmologists and physicists have largely embraced the fact we live in a universe that began to exist at a point in the distant past. At this point of “cosmic singularity” all space, time and matter came into existence abruptly, beginning in an extremely hot and dense state and expanding rapidly. Everything came from nothing. This view of the universe’s origin is called the Standard Cosmological model, and it best explains the evidence we presently observe. Astrophysicist Andrew Liddle and astronomer Jon Loveday affirm this: “The standard cosmological model is a striking success, as a phenomenological description of the cosmological data… The model’s success in explaining high precision observations has led a clear majority of the cosmological community to accept it as a good account of how the universe works” (Oxford Companion to Cosmology, page 8).
If the universe began to exist, however, it’s reasonable to look for a cause sufficient to begin its existence. This cause, by definition, would have to be something non-spatial, a-temporal and immaterial (something other than the universe itself). In addition, the foundational cause of the universe must be uncaused, or it simply isn’t foundational. All of us, regardless of worldview, are looking for the first, uncaused, sufficiently powerful, non-spatial, a-temporal, immaterial cause of the universe. From this description you can see how dangerously close this cause sounds to a theistic description of God. Perhaps this is why many researchers and cosmologists seek to find a cosmological model avoiding a cosmological singularity (a model denying the beginning of space, time and matter). A number of models have been offered, but none have the explanatory ability to supplant the Standard Cosmological Model:
The Steady State Model This theory was developed in 1949 by Sir Fred Hoyle, Thomas Gold and others, although a number of variations of this idea have been proposed over the years. Steady State (also known as “eternal inflation”) theories acknowledge the expansion of the universe, but explain this as the result of new matter being formed over time. As galaxies move away from one another, new matter appears in the voids created by the expansion. The universe is continually expanding not from a point of beginning but as a continuous process of stretching and “infilling.” The theory removed the need for the universe to have a beginning, but it had several flaws causing scientists to abandon it. The theory violates the laws regulating the conservation of mass, has never been confirmed by a single observation. Most scientists abandoned the theory in the late 1960s when observations affirmed the universe was in fact changing over time: quasars and radio galaxies were observed at large distances (meaning they existed in the past), but not in closer, newer galaxies. In addition to this, the theory fails to explain cosmic background radiation (the Steady State Theory tried to explain this radiation as the result of light from ancient stars scattered by galactic dust, but this is inconsistent with the “smooth” nature of the radiation). Worse yet, there has never been any experimental or evidential verification of the idea, and no one’s been able to offer a reasonable mechanism explaining the appearance of new galaxies.
The Oscillating Universe Model This model describes the universe as continually expanding and contracting from eternity past. While we may observe the universe to be expanding at this moment, oscillating (also known as “cyclical”) models claim the universe will eventually slow under the gravitational attraction of its own mass, causing it to coalesce, more or less, to a much smaller region of contraction. While the model certainly describes an infinite universe with no beginning, it does not explain the creation of the first matter at all. The theory also suffers from other observational and theoretical problems. Every attempt to demonstrate the existence of enough mass in the universe to cause this kind of gravitational attraction has failed. The mass of the universe is simply insufficient to halt the expansion we observe or reverse it toward contraction. In fact, red shift measurements of distant supernovae reveal the universe is expanding faster now than it was when it was much younger. In addition, the Second Law of Thermodynamics must be considered in these cyclical models. In each successive cycle of expansion and contraction, the useful energy in the universe would decrease, making the cycles larger and longer moving forward in time. As we go back in time, these cycles would be smaller and smaller until, once again, we come to a point of cosmic singularity. Cyclical models fail to provide us with a viable alternative eliminating a beginning of the universe.
Quantum Gravity Models Discoveries related to sub-atomic “virtual particles” opened up yet another alternative explanation for researchers rejecting a cosmic beginning. Scientists believe “virtual particles” arise due to fluctuations in the energy contained in a vacuum at the quantum level. Cosmologists, working with this information, have proposed Quantum Gravity (also known as “emergent”) models describing a primordial, stationary vacuum pre-existing our universe. Energy fluctuations in this eternal vacuum caused tiny universes to be born the same way virtual particles pop into existence. Under this theory, our universe is just one of an infinite number of universes, all of which came into existence in the primordial environment. Skeptics of these theories have noted the difficulty of such explanations. If the primordial vacuum is eternal (infinitely old), we would expect an infinite number of universes to have popped into existence in an infinite number of locations across the vacuum. We would expect these universes to interact with one another, and given the infinitude in which they have existed, we should see some evidence of these intersections. This is not the case, however. One possible solution to this dilemma is to describe the primordial vacuum as ever-expanding to accommodate the appearance of these universes without interaction, putting each of them out of reach from one another. But this expansion (when rewinding the timeline) would once again infer a point of singularity in the past, this time for the primordial vacuum.
Scientists who postulate the sudden appearance of virtual particles (or universes) from a primordial vacuum still have to account for the primordial vacuum. Theoretical physicists have redefined the notion of nothing by describing a vacuum containing much of what we commonly consider to be something. According to Stanford University theoretical physicist, Leonard Susskind, “The vacuum represents potential for all things that can happen in that background. It means a list of all the elementary particles as well as the constants of nature that would be revealed by experiments in that vacuum. In short, it means an environment in which the Laws of Physics take a particular form.” According to this definition, the primordial vacuum is spatial, filled with particles, charged with energy, and able to change over time. Even Lawrence Krauss, theoretical physicist and author of A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing admits the vacuum is really something, rather than nothing: “…it would be disingenuous to suggest that empty space endowed with energy, which drives inflation, is really nothing. In this picture one must assume that space exists and can store energy, and one uses the laws of physics like general relativity to calculate the consequences. So if we stopped here, one might be justified in claiming that modern science is a long way from really addressing how to get something from nothing” (Kindle location 2029). Theories such as these fail to account for the origin of the environment in which universes such as ours could emerge.
Alexander Vilenkin, theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and professor of Physics and Director of the Institute of Cosmology at Tufts University is not a theist, but he rejects eternal inflation, cyclical, and emergent models. In 2012 he authored a scientific paper with Audrey Mithani entitled, “Did the Universe Have a Beginning?” He examined “…three candidate scenarios which seem to allow the possibility that the universe could have existed forever with no initial singularity: eternal inﬂation, cyclic evolution, and the emergent universe.” Here’s what he concluded: “The ﬁrst two of these scenarios are geodesically incomplete to the past, and thus cannot describe a universe without a beginning. The third, although it is stable with respect to classical perturbations, can collapse quantum mechanically, and therefore cannot have an eternal past.” Not only does Vilenkin’s work address (and eliminate) all the eternal inflation, cyclical and emergent models, it also excludes any future proposals in which the expansion of the universe is acknowledged. The most reasonable inference from the evidence and the alternatives is simply this: The universe began to exist. It’s reasonable to look now for a first, uncaused, sufficiently powerful, non-spatial, a-temporal, immaterial cause of the universe. Theism offers such a cause, and He remains the most reasonable explanation.
All of us, regardless of worldview, are looking for the first, uncaused cause of the universe. As an atheist (and committed philosophical naturalist), I believed science would eventually identify such a cause, and I expected the answer to be something other than “God.” Alexander Vilenkin (professor of Physics and Director of the Institute of Cosmology at Tufts University), for example, believes this cause is an eternal, primordial, quantum vacuum from which our universe (and many, many others) popped into existence. The vacuum, according to Vilenkin, was the first, uncaused cause; making questions like, “Where did the vacuum come from?” irrelevant and meaningless. First, uncaused causes don’t need a cause, after all.
Interestingly, cosmologists have refined their thinking on this issue over the past several decades. Early researchers (like Einstein) initially rejected the idea our universe had a beginning at all. For thinkers like Einstein, our universe was the uncaused environment from which stars and planetary systems evolved. Why is everyone so obsessed with identifying an eternal entity and an uncaused, first cause? Because the nature of this first cause will determine which worldview (atheism or theism) is true. For committed atheists, like Carl Sagan, the desire to identify the eternal is deeply metaphysical:
“The Cosmos is everything that ever was, is and will be.”
That’s a rather theological sounding statement, and Sagan intended it to be. For Sagan, the universe (the “Cosmos”) was worthy of worship. In fact, most of us will direct this kind of reverent awe to the first, uncaused cause in any series of causal events leading to our existence. For Vilenkin, the primordial vacuum merits this sort of awe and inspiration. As a theist and a Christian, I have come to place my awe in the uncreated Creator. All of us are in awe of something, and this something typically lies at the beginning of a causal chain. Why is this true? Because each of us intuitively understands something called the Principle of Causality. If you came into a room and observed a ball rolling across the floor, you would naturally look around to see who kicked it. The ball didn’t start moving on its own without the help of someone (or something) to begin its movement. The ball has no ability to move without an initial cause; an initial mover. Scientists recognize this reality and have developed a list of things requiring a cause:
Every effect has a cause Everything that begins has a cause Everything that changes has a cause Everything that is finite has a cause Everything that is limited has a cause
Even the famous skeptic, David Hume, when questioned about causal relationships such as these, confirmed the necessity of the Principle of Causality:
“I never asserted so absurd a proposition as that anything might arise without a cause.”
Great thinkers from every worldview must wrestle with the Principle of Causality as it relates to the universe, especially given the evidence the universe is not eternally old (we’ll look at some of this evidence tomorrow). If the universe had a beginning, it cannot be the first, uncaused cause. If this is true, we are warranted in trying to identify such an initial cause, as this first, uncaused cause is an object of awe and worship. When we apply the Principle of Causality to the nature of the universe, a classic argument for the existence of God emerges (the “Cosmological Argument”):
(2) Anything That Has a Beginning Must Be Caused By Something Else (Affirmed by the Principal of Causality)
(3) Therefore, the Universe Must Have a Cause (Inferred from the Principal of Causality)
(4) The First Cause Must Be Eternal and Uncaused (Declared by definition)
(5) The Cause is God (Offered as the most reasonable uncaused first cause)
The Principle of Causality requires us to look for the cause of our universe based on the finite nature of the Cosmos. The first cause must also be uncaused in order for us to avoid the irrational conclusion of an infinite series of causes (more on that in future posts). All of us then, regardless of worldview, are searching for the uncaused, first cause worthy of insertion in the fifth line of the Cosmological Argument. Is this first cause impersonal (like Vilenkin’s primordial vacuum) or personal (like God)? Like any logical case, the first premise of the Cosmological Argument is critical to its conclusion. Tomorrow on the Cold Case Christianity Blog we’ll examine the evidence related to the beginning of the universe. This evidence is important because it establishes the need for a cosmic first cause, laying the foundation for the first premise of the Cosmological Argument. It all begins, however, with the Principle of Causality, a simple, intuitive series of claims ultimately pointing to the existence of God.
For many years now, scientists have been working feverishly to create “artificial life” in the laboratory. Researchers and scientists expect to announce success within just a few years, declaring victory in the rarified field known as “wet artificial life” research. Their goals are ambitious. They must first create a container (or membrane) for the synthetic cell. This membrane must prevent unwanted or destructive molecules from entering the new synthetic protocell, while allowing beneficial and necessary molecules to enter. The container must also allow these molecules to multiply. Scientists must next create a genetic system capable of guiding and controlling the functions of the new cell. This system must direct and allow reproduction within the cell and regulate sufficient mutation to adapt to environmental changes. Finally scientists must create a metabolism capable of allowing raw materials to be extracted from the surrounding environment so they can be processed as food and converted into energy. These are lofty goals but necessary for life to exist at a minimal level. Even the most primitive single cell organism must be structurally sound, capable of metabolizing and able to reproduce. Scientists may indeed be very close to achieving creating such a synthetic organism, and if they do, their work will demonstrate the level of design and intelligent interaction necessary for life to emerge in the universe.
“Wet Artificial Life” projects require a high degree of intelligent human interaction. Scientists must repeatedly create, catalyze, engage or protect aspects of the design process in order to successfully guide the development of the cell. Their interaction demonstrates the critical need for a powerful Creator:
They’re Controlling the Creative Environment Before scientists can begin to organize and configure the chemical elements required to build the protocell, they’ve got to create a specific environment friendly to the process of creation. This environment does not reflect the harsh nature of the early earth. As a result, these experiments will not provide answers to the question of life’s origin. In controlling the environment in this way, scientists are acting creatively even before the work begins.
They’re Relying on Pre-Existing “Scratch” Scientists might claim they are creating life from “scratch” but, in reality, they can’t account for how these “scratch” chemicals and nucleotides entered into existence in the first place. We can’t bake without flour, sugar or basic cooking ingredients. The same is true in these experiments. But, how did these cooking ingredients get in the kitchen to begin with? Scientists draw from a well-stocked pantry without questioning the source of these pantry items.
They’re Using Fatty Acids Most scientists in this field use fatty acids to shape and create the membrane wall for the artificial cell. When scientists use these building blocks (acids), they are already jumping well ahead of the alleged “evolutionary” curve by employing a relatively complex set of biological components. When employing fatty acids in this way, scientists are no longer building life from base chemicals. They are jumping much farther along in the process, and using building blocks that are themselves incredibly difficult to form naturally. The evolutionary process has the burden of having to account for the initial formation of acids such as these in the first place, and these acids are incredibly difficult to account for, given their chance improbabilities.
They’re Controlling the Probabilities Controlling this numerical probability appears to be a key strategy for these scientists. Many attempt to “kick start” the process necessary for the creation of a genetic system by adding nucleotides in their proper proportions. But this requires a high degree of intelligent interaction. Philosophical naturalists have to imagine a scenario in which a vast number of nucleotides can combine without any outside intervention, and statistical probability models for this are staggeringly prohibitive. There isn’t enough time in the history of the planet for this to occur randomly. Outside of the controlled laboratory environment, unguided naturalism cannot account for the vast assemblage of highly organized genetic material.
They’re Controlling the Proportions In addition to this, a creative force is required to provide the proper proportions. Even if scientists could create new genetic bases, these bases would still have to be properly arranged if they are ever to amount to anything. The order of bases must eventually provide information. The arrangement is critical and specific; it requires an intelligent, creative mechanism. Naturalism would require tens of thousands of nucleotides to come together in a prescribed order to have enough genetic information to form even the simplest living cell. The mathematical probability is astronomical.
They’re Controlling the Resulting Environment Finally, scientists admit the resulting protocell is far too fragile to exist in the natural environment of the early earth. In fact, scientists suspect the cell will be weak and unlikely to survive more than an hour in the protection of the lab. The iconic “last universal common ancestor” (LUCA), at the base of the evolutionary tree, appears to be fragile and fleeting.
Artificial life projects repeatedly demonstrate the need for consistent, diligent and aggressive interaction on the part of intelligent agents. These projects fail to replicate the conditions of the early earth or rely upon natural forces alone to accomplish the complex and ambitious biological constructions necessary for primitive life. Wet Artificial Life projects demonstrate the need for a powerful, Divine Creator.
Somehow I managed to get through high school and college without taking chemistry, so I never heard of Robert Boyle or "Boyle's Law." Here's what students learn about him:
Robert Boyle (1627–1691) was born at Lismore Castle, Munster, Ireland, the 14th child of the Earl of Cork. As a young man of means, he was tutored at home and on the Continent. He spent the later years of the English Civil Wars at Oxford, reading and experimenting with his assistants and colleagues. This group was committed to the New Philosophy, which valued observation and experiment at least as much as logical thinking in formulating accurate scientific understanding. At the time of the restoration of the British monarchy in 1660, Boyle played a key role in founding the Royal Society to nurture this new view of science.
Although Boyle’s chief scientific interest was chemistry, his first published scientific work, New Experiments Physico-Mechanicall, Touching the Spring of the Air and Its Effects (1660), concerned the physical nature of air, as displayed in a brilliant series of experiments in which he used an air pump to create a vacuum. The second edition of this work, published in 1662, delineated the quantitative relationship that Boyle derived from experimental values, later known as “Boyle’s law”: that the volume of a gas varies inversely with pressure.
What is absent from this image is the deeply religious man who wrote as much about God as he did about the nature of air; the man who considered himself a "priest" in the "temple" of nature; the man who paid for translations of the Bible into Gaelic and into the language of the Indians in Massachusetts.
Boyle had doubts, but he saw them as the corollary of faith. His doubts moved him to think deeply about Christianity and gave him more confidence. He believed the study of God's design in nature encouraged greater faith and confidence:
Noting that the Old Testament contained no "word that properly signifies Nature, in the sense we take it," Boyle argued for what he called the "mechanical philosophy," which explains natural phenomena from the purely mechanical properties and powers given to unintelligent matter by God at the creation. Such an approach, he believed, more clearly underscored the sovereignty of God and located purpose where it properly belonged: in the creator's mind, not in some imaginary "Nature."
Boyle also advocated the argument for the existence of God from signs of design in nature. Indeed, he had a strong interest in apologetics generally, reflecting his lifelong conversation with his own religious doubts. He wrote extensively on apologetic themes and in his will established a lectureship for "proveing the Christian Religion...."
As he wrote in Disquisition about the Final Causes of Natural Things, Boyle wanted his readers not to "barely observe the Wisdom of God," but to be emotionally convinced of it. And what better to instill "wonder and veneration" in people than to show them the "Admirable Contrivance of the Particular Productions of [His] Immense Wisdom"? He had in mind especially the exquisitely fashioned parts of animals. Thereby, Boyle believed, "Men may be brought, upon the same account, … to acknowledge God, to admire Him, and to thank Him.
For centuries, Christian convictions motivated scientists to pursue understanding. Christianity was not in conflict with scientific inquiry and it wasn't a "science stopper," as many suggest these days. That's because modern science is dominated by the philosophy of materialism, which rejects God. It's not science itself that is in conflict with Christianity; it's the philosophy that is a prior conviction of the majority of scientists today.
One 16th century scientist was motivated by his Christian convictions, and his studies led him to glorify God all the more. Andreas Vesalius is the founder of modern anatomy. He studied medicine at the University of Paris between 1533 and 1536. He dissected animals, which was the common practice of the time, but also participated in some of the first human dissections. He wrote a book on human anatomy that was groundbreaking at the time since the leading book in the field at the time actually drew conclusions from animal dissection, rather than human. His book provided a "more extensive and accurate description of the human body than any put forward by his predecessors." Most church leaders raised no objections to his work. Vesalius eventually became the emperor's physician and later for the Madrid Court.
When we read Fabric, we begin to understand this favor of the church. In the first chapter, Vesalius exults over the created wonder of bones: "God, the supreme Architect, in his wisdom formed material of this temperament, placing it beneath the surface as a foundation for the whole body." In Book II, he urges his reader to "sing hymns to the Creator of the world, who produced from such a tiny space [the jaw muscle] in charge of such an important task." In Book VI, he passes over the question of why so much water flowed from the side of the crucified Jesus, "for I must not in the slightest degree upset the complete veracity of the authentic Gospel of John."
Vesalius's theologically informed approach to anatomy was not unusual in his time. Many sixteenth-century researchers studied the body to gain insight into the soul. Indeed, anatomy entered the curriculum of Lutheran Protestant schools not through medical schools but as part of the study of philosophy. And the man who introduced anatomy to the University of Wittenberg's curriculum in 1535 was a theologian—Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560).
Bill Pratt responds to atheists who claim that the sub-optimal design of biological organisms argues against the existence of the Christian God:
I am an electrical engineer who has been designing integrated circuits (IC) for 20 years, either personally or through managing other engineers. I am extremely familiar with IC design. Over the years, I have often heard young engineers, who did not design a particular IC, criticize the design of that IC by saying it is sub-optimal, that they could do a better job. I have then seen these same engineers eat crow when they finally talk to the original designer and discover the constraints that original engineer was under when he designed the IC and the purposes for which he designed the IC.
It is impossible to judge a design as optimal or sub-optimal without knowing the purposes of the designer and without knowing the constraints the designer faced during the design. Young engineers just assume that they know both when they look at somebody else’s design. After being embarrassed a few times, they usually drop this approach and gain some humility.
I see the atheist who uses the argument from poor design in the same light. Biological organisms are incredibly complex and they operate in an environment that is massively complex. Our current knowledge of biological organisms and of all the earth’s diverse ecosystems is in its infancy….
Here is the problem for the atheist. Like the young IC designer, they are in a very poor position to judge whether biological organisms are optimally designed or not. Each year, scientists discover new purposes, or functions, for biological organisms, and each year scientists discover more constraints within which biological organisms must function.
Read more from Pratt about why this move by atheists is really just “atheism of the gaps.”
Darwinists will sometimes point to the high percentage of genes that humans and chimpanzees share as evidence of common descent. But it's not simply the similarities that matter, it's the qualitative differences in what the genes do that offers contrary evidence. Dr. Fazale Rana reports on a recent study from the Salk Institute that indicates that the similarities in genes humans and chimpanzees share is very significant because of other differences in how genes are expressed.
In spite of all the hoopla surrounding human-chimpanzee genetic similarities, many biologists don’t think that a simple comparison of DNA sequences is all that meaningful. The emerging consensus views gene regulation (or gene expression) as the basis for the biological differences and cognitive gap between humans and chimpanzees.
In other words, there are meaningful genetic differences between humans and chimpanzees. These differences have little to do with the set of genes found in the genomes (which for all intents and purposes is the same for humans and chimpanzees) or the close correspondence of the DNA sequences. Instead, the most biologically meaningful comparisons focus on how the genes are used—in other words, the patterns of gene expression.
[Scientists] have learned how to reprogram adult cells so that they can do many things an embryonic cell can do. No human embryos are destroyed in the process. Along the way, embryonic stem cells—just a decade ago hailed as the future of medicine—have largely been bypassed. Some researchers still use them, but for now, the future belongs to adult stem cells and iPS cells, which are adult cells genetically reprogrammed to express specific genes.
Every year for the past 10 years, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has funded more adult stem cell research compared with embryonic research. For 2012, NIH grants totaled $146.5 million for embryonic stem cell research, but $504 million for adult stem cell research—a difference of $357.5 million. And the belief that adult stem cells are more promising than embryonic stem cells for therapies is now largely mainstream.