Category Archives: Science

Evolution and Cancer

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In order for a cell to become cancerous, it must overcome a great number of biological safeguards. One of the hallmarks of cancer cells is unrestricted cell growth. Cell growth is highly regulated through different growth control checkpoints. These checkpoints serve as gatekeepers that only allow healthy cells to grow. Early in cancer development cancer cells become unresponsive to these checkpoints facilitating unrestrictive cell growth. In addition to avoidance of cell control checkpoints, cancer cell must also acquire the ability to sustain their own growth, avoid cell death signals, overcome environmental challenges such as nutrient deprivation, lack of oxygen and evade the immune response. Driving this multi-step processes is evolution through natural selection.

Evolution through natural selection requires at least two components: first is the generation of “genetic diversity” and the second is the selection of those genetic variants that may confer an evolutionary advantage.

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In cancer cells, genetic diversity arises through the accumulation of mutations. Mutations are changes in the genetic code that may or may not alter the function of a protein. Most mutations are either deleterious or neutral. However, in some rare cases a mutation may give cells an advantage over other cells, allowing the mutation to overtake the population. This process is generally referred to as selection. Selection of a particular mutation is contingent upon the environmental context in which the mutation is present. Some mutations can be advantageous in a particular environment, whereas in other environments they can be disadvantageous.

It is thought that early in cancer development cells acquire what is called a “mutator phenotype”. This means that cancer cells develop the capacity to increase the number of mutations they acquired per generation. This directly increases the pool of new traits that can be selected enabling cancer formation, progression and metastasis. Intrinsically cancer is an evolutionary problem. Cancer treatments have to constantly be ahead of cancer’s ability to develop resistance to chemotherapeutic through natural evolutionary processes. This accentuates the necessity for better understanding of these processes and the concomitant development of therapies that avoid such evolutionary traps.

For Information about cancer:

http://www.cancer.org

When Does A Human Life Begin?

According to the CDC there ” a total of 730,322 abortions were  reported to CDC for 2011” in the US alone.  Thats about 2,000 babies aborted every day.  That is about 7X the number of death per day that American troops suffered during during WWII. Yet our society goes about daily life convinced that abortion is a right and not the death of a human being, oblivious of the fact that without the right to life there can’t be any other right.

Please let love win, choose life!

A fine-tuned Universe: The extreme improbability of an anthropic universe.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands”.

Psalm 19:1

The discovery of the Big Bang to be the beginning of our universe not only provides evidence to a point of creation, but also to the extreme improbability of an anthropic universe. That is a universe capable of sustaining life arising out of mere chance. The argument is based on at least two empirical findings: the probability of having a low entropy universe and the values of universal constants. Fairly recently physicists have empirically determined the value of a set of universal constants which govern all interactions in our universe. The range of the value of these universal constants that disallow for an anthropic universe is basically infinite, whereas the values that allow for an anthropic universe is very limited. This points to a fine-tuned universe that emerged out of the Big Bang about 13.7 billion years ago. These findings lead to the question how our universe was fine-tuned?

Low Entropy Universe

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Entropy is the measurement of disorder of a system. The second law of thermodynamics states that the entropy of an isolated system increases or remains constant. It is highly improbable for a system to spontaneously organize itself, just like a teenagers room it naturally tends towards disorganization. Our universe is fairly ordered with low entropy. Sir Roger Penrose, English physicist, estimated that the probability of a low entropy universe arising out of the Big Bang by chance is:

 1 in 10^10123

 That is 10 billion to the power of 123! This is an incredibly infinitesimally small probability that our universe emerged by chance with low entropy. Many apologists make the famous junkyard analogy that it is more reasonable to believe that a tornado assembled a 757 from a plane junkyard than to believe that a low entropy universe emerged out of chance.

Universal constants

Universal constants are fixed values that govern the law of physics in our universe. They are empirically determined. If any of their value were slightly different our universe would be a very different universe. The following are just three examples of universal constants that illustrate this point: 

1. The gravitational force constant (G= 6.67 x 10^-11)

If G the gravitational constant would differ from its actual value, (by even one part in 1050), the precise balance against A bare would be upset, and the structure of the universe would be drastically altered.

Davies 1982, as quoted from New Proof for the existence of God.

That is

1/100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

If G were greater than just 1/1050 of its value, then the universe would collapse into a single black hole.

If G were less than just 1/1050 of its value, then the universe would have expanded without the possibility of forming galaxies, solar systems or planets.

2. Strong Force Constant   gs = 15 (SI units)

The strong force is one of the four fundamental forces, it basically holds an atom together.

A 2% reduction from its current value will make the formation of elements heavier than Hydrogen impossible, i.e. no carbon.

That is if gs < 14.7 there would be no element heavier than hydrogen.

A 2% increase from its current value Hydrogen will be never be able to exist, making it impossible for water to exist and stars will have no long term fuel.

That is if the gs > 15.3 only elements heavier than Hydrogen could form.

Both of these deviations would have precluded life in our universe. Moreover, it’s far more likely to have values outside the range between 14.7 and 15.3 than fall between these values.

3. Weak Force Coupling Constant gw = 1.43 x 10-62 (SI units)

The weak force is responsible for both the radioactive decay and nuclear fusion of subatomic particle. If it deviates from its current value Carbon would not have been able to form bonds with each other making it impossible for the basic building block for life to occur.

Alternative explanations

The range of values that disallow an anthropic universe is far greater than the very narrow range of values that allows it. This strongly argues for a creator that fine-tuned our universe in order to allow life to develop. In order to avoid such conclusion, it is necessary to present alternative explanations/theories that invoke a practically infinite number of universes popping into existence. If the number of trials has now been infinite, then it is just a matter of time before one universe emerges with the right set of conditions that allows for life, independently how infinitesimally small those chances are.

As Fr. Spitzer points in his book “New Proof for the Existence of God”, the problem with these theories is threefold. First, they remain in the theoretical sphere of physics. At best they do not have any empirical data to support them or the ability to obtain empirical data in the near future is highly unlikely and at worst some are incongruent with the observable cosmology of our universe (Linde Chaotic Inflationary multiverse and the string theory landscape). Second, they violate the principle of parsimony that is they invoke borderline ridiculous number of universes in order to explain ours. Third, they failed to avoid the issue of fine-tuning (multiverse resembling those proposed by Linde and Susskind).

hoyle

Fred Hoyle, which moved out of atheism observed:

“… A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.”

Hoyle 1981, as quoted from New Proof for the existence of God.

Concluding thoughts

Why is there something rather than nothing?

Remains an inescapable question that any serious thinker should not avoid. For Christian and Jews the answer resides in the great I AM from the Exodus 3:14…however, it is understandable for many other people to inquire and explore such an exhilarating mystery that is to be alive. The point of these series of posts was to provide evidence that it is more reasonable to believe that there is a Creator rather than to think that the universe and life are the result of a great cosmic dance of chance. That reason can point towards a creator and thereby that Christian faith is reasonable. I hope that my amateurish efforts sparked your curiosity to explore this subject in far greater depth that my poor abilities allowed me to do on this page.

I cannot help but to quote St. Augustine, the great Catholic theologian of the fourth century and father of the Church, when looking at creation asked the question: who made you?

“And what is this? I asked the earth, and it answered me, “I am not He;” and whatsoever are in it confessed the same. I asked the sea and the deeps, and the living creeping things, and they answered, “We are not Thy God, seek above us.” I asked the moving air; and the whole air with his inhabitants answered, “Anaximenes was deceived, I am not God.” I asked the heavens, sun, moon, stars, “Nor (say they) are we the God whom thou seek.” And I replied unto all the things, which encompass the door of my flesh: “Ye have told me of my God, that ye are not He; tell me something of Him.” And they cried out with a loud voice, “He made us.”

St. Augustine of Hippo
Confessions Book X

He made us.

God Bless!

 Note: I owed the inspiration for this post to Fr. Benedict Groechel talk, God the Father, which until recently could be found at EWTN for free download. The scientific and philosophical arguments were mostly taken from Fr. Robert Spitzer book: New Proof for the Existence of God.

And there was light: evidence for the origin of our Universe

“Then God said, “Let there be light”, and there was light”.

Genesis 1:3

The concept of creation out of nothing was a completely radical idea in antiquity. It was the Jewish religion that first introduced such a radical concept. Most, if not all, creation myths in antiquity parted from the premise that there was something before the formation of the universe. It is very tempting to point that such radical idea most closely resembles what today’s scientist call the Big Bang.

WMAP_skymap

The Big Bang theory states that the observable universe is the result of a massive explosion that occurred about 13.7 billion years ago. It was as if the universe obeyed God’s command “Let there be light,” and there was the Big Bang. Although the Big Bang theory is agnostic whether or not anything existed before the Big Bang, it clearly argues that our observable universe had a beginning.

Unknown

The idea of the Big Bang was not immediately accepted. The Aristotelian view of an eternal and static universe was accepted scientific theory up to the 1930’s. It was a Jesuit priest named Fr. George Lemaitre that first proposed the idea of a “primeval atom”, which today we called the Big Bang theory. Fr. Lemaitre based his theory on Einstein’s theory of relativity that, states the expansion of space and the discovery that galaxies are accelerating away from each other by astronomers Hubble and Humason in 1929. He argued that if galaxies are moving away from each other, then it follows that the further you go back in time the closer those galaxies are going to be and if you go far enough there is going to be a point where the size of the universe is a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a sub-atomic particle: a “primeval atom”. Fr. Lemaitre succinctly explains his theory in the abstract for his 1931 publication in the science journal, Nature:

“SIR ARTHUR EDDINGTON states that, philosophically, the notion of a beginning of the present order of Nature is repugnant to him. I would rather be inclined to think that the present state of quantum theory suggests a beginning of the world very different from the present order of Nature. Thermodynamical principles from the point of view of quantum theory may be stated as follows : (1) Energy of constant total amount is distributed in discrete quanta. (2) The number of distinct quanta is ever increasing. If we go back in the course of time we must find fewer and fewer quanta, until we find all the energy of the universe packed in a few or even in a unique quantum”.

Nature 127, 706 (9 May 1931)

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Ironically, his theory was considered to be too religious by some since it pointed towards a beginning and in doing so it pointed to a creation. The Big Bang was confirmed by the finding of the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation by Nobel laureate recipients Penzias and Wilson in 1964 (Picture). Cosmologists Ralph Alpher and Robert Herman predicted this radiation in 1948 to be the remnant radiation of the Big Bang. Its temperature is exactly the temperature that physicists estimated it should be if it was from the Big Bang. Moreover the total amount of helium estimated to be present in the universe could only be accounted by the Big Bang because not enough time has passed for it to be produced by nuclear reactions inside of stars.

There is much speculation as to what happen before the Big Bang. At least two theories propose possible scenarios in which the Big Bang is not the beginning of the universe: eternal inflation and ekpyrotic models. It is not the scope of this post to explain in detail these purely mathematical theories other than to make readers aware that they are current working hypothesis. However, independently whether or not these theories are accurate an elegant mathematical theorem, developed by Borde, Vilenkin and Guth (BVG Theorem), demonstrates that any universe that has a Hubble expansion constant greater than zero has to have a beginning:

“We made no assumptions about the material content of the universe…The only assumption that we made was that the expansion rate of the universe never gets below some nonzero value, no matter how small. This assumption should certainly be satisfied in the inflating false vacuum. The conclusion is that past-eternal inflation without a beginning is impossible”.

Vilenki 2006, p 175 (Taken from “New Proof for the Existence of God”)

In other words, any universe or multi-verse has to have a beginning and since according to the principle of sufficient reason any beginning must have a cause, the question remains what caused the universe to begin?

In my next post, I will discuss, how science demonstrates the infinitesimally small probability that the observable universe was caused by random chance. Taken together the evidence from modern physics and philosophical/metaphysical arguments, it is reasonable to believe that God created the universe, out of nothing.

God Bless!

Please note:

I owed the inspiration of this post to Fr. Benedict Groechel talk, God the Father, which until recently could be found at EWTN for free download. The scientific and philosophical arguments were mostly taken from Fr. Robert Spitzer book: New Proof for the Existence of God.

I hope that I did not do any disservice to their work by my poor abilities to articulate it.

Also note, that there is a third hypothesis that states that the Big Bang is the result of an ongoing cycle of expansion and contractions, each one producing a new big bang and thereby a new universe. I did not include this hypothesis for the sake of brevity and the fact that it has been discredited by the observation that galaxy are moving irreversibly away from each other at an increasingly faster pace. Making it impossible for the predicted Big Crunch to happen. Moreover, evidence from the law of thermodynamics clearly indicates that even in this bouncing universe scenario, it must also have to have a beginning.

Why is there something rather than nothing?

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I remember, when I was a kid, I used to lie on my back and look at the night sky full of stars in awe and wonder. The vastness of it all has always captivated my imagination. Just thinking about it for a second. There are between 200 to 400 billion stars just in our galaxy and there are up to 200 billion galaxies in our universe. Some of these distant galaxies are so far away that it can take billions of years for their light to reach our eyes. And it the midst of it all there is our little blue planet dancing its way through space.

The vastness of the Universe begs the questions: why is there something rather than nothing? What caused the universe into existence? Why light instead of darkness? Why life instead of non-existence? I think these are profound questions that everyone should ask, especially those, who in all honesty, question the existence of God. These are important questions because their answers reveal much about who we are. Are we just a random cosmic accident manipulated by chemical reactions in our brains and doomed to non-existence when all is over? Or are we something more?

I believe that it is far more reasonable to believe that there is a Creator rather than to think that the Universe and life are the results of a “cosmic dance” of chance; that we were made for something more. We know from Aristotelian logic to Newtonian mechanics that for every effect there is a cause. Thus we also know that nothing cannot come out of nothing. It follows that every physical reality, most have a cause. The Universe could not have created itself out of nothing. So what caused the universe into existence? St. Thomas Aquinas, the great theologian of the Catholic Church, argued that it must be:

  1. Something that exists independent of space and time.
  2. Something that was not created, but is existence itself.

An uncaused cause, meaning something that is completely independent from any cause for its existence. Unlike our atoms that depend on the existence of protons, neutrons and electrons or space and time, which depends on the existence of matter and the rate upon which it changes, the uncaused cause simply exists. Alternative explanations must account for the creation of something out of nothing without invoking the principle of infinitive regression or violating the principle of parsimony.

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Fr. Robert Spitzer makes precisely this point in his book: New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contribution of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy. I highly recommend this well research and articulated book. He argues that evidence from contemporary physics points toward a universe that had a beginning and that was designed by a supreme being and discusses philosophical proofs for the existence of God. I hope to unpack some of those arguments that appear in his book in future posts.

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As Christians, we need to engage the culture through the vocation that God has given us. With the rise of new atheist and the aggressiveness that they pursue to change the culture, in their own image, we must be ready to do the best we can stand our ground. As St. Peter encourages in 1 Peter 3:15: “always be ready to give an answer to every man who ask you a reason for the hope that is in you”. This can seem daunting but it does not need to be. We really do not need a Ph.D. in physics or philosophy to make a defense of our belief, using science or philosophy against the arguments set forth by modern atheists but we cannot stand idle either and not do much to enrich our intellects. After all, the more we learn about the universe the more we learn about God.

God Bless!

5 things to know about cancer

I have been greatly touched by friends who have battled cancer over the years. Some are still fighting the good fight others have won it and sadly others lost it. In their memory I hope that this post serves as a general introduction to cancer origin and progression.

1. Cancer is not a single disease.

Cancer is a collection of diseases that are characterized by uncontrolled cell growth and invasion of other tissues. There are more than 100 types of cancer with different levels of aggression and responsiveness to treatment. Thereby there is not a single silver bullet to treat all cancers.

The American Cancer Society

2. Cancer is caused by accumulation of mutations.

The underlying cause of cancer is the accumulation of multiple changes to our genetic code (DNA) referred as mutations. The accumulation of these mutations causes cells to become unresponsive to cell growth-governing functions thus allowing for uncontrolled growth.   Uncontrolled cell growth, in turn, further facilitates the accumulation of other mutations that may cause cancer to develop into more aggressive forms. 

3. Family history and environmental factors can increase risk of cancer.

Family history of cancer and environmental factors such as smoking, heavy drinking and STDs can predispose/cause someone to develop cancer.

Family History

Family history of cancer may be due to a genetic predisposition.  Genetic predisposition refers to an inherited mutation(s) that may predispose someone to develop a disease.

Breast cancer is a classic example of genetic predisposition.  Studies show that in the general population about 12% of women will develop breast cancer at some point, however, it is estimated that between 45% to 65% of woman with a pre-existing mutation will develop breast cancer.  The culprits are the breast cancer related genes BRCA1 and BRCA2.  Both of these genes are involved in DNA damage repair. Mutations in these genes may adversely affect the normal function of these genes allowing for the accumulation of additional mutations that may lead to cancer. Men and woman with mutations in these genes have a greater risk of developing breast cancer.

For more information about BRCA1 and BRCA2 visit:

National Cancer Institude

Environment

Environmental factors may increase the risk of cancer.  Substances that cause mutation that may lead to cancer are called carcinogens.  Exposure to such substance can lead to cancer. A great example is cigarettes smoke. According to the CDC cigarette smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, 70 are carcinogens. Over time, the constant exposure to these carcinogens causes the accumulation of mutations that eventually will lead to lung cancer. That is why a smoker is 15 to 30 times more likely to develop lung cancer than a non-smoker.

4. Cancer formation is a multi-stage process that can take decades to develop.

Cancer develops in a multi-step process that can take decades to complete. Thereby most cancers affect people later in life. For example, in order for a cell to become cancerous, it must overcome biological safeguards such as growth control checkpoints and cell-death inducing signals that prevent cancer formation. In addition to these biological safeguards cancer cells must also cope with environmental challenges such as nutrient deprivation and lack of oxygen that restrict their growth and ability to invade other tissues. Moreover, cancer like infectious disease has to evade the immune response.

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Natural selection drives these processes. Natural selection is an evolutionary process in which the fittest individuals are selected; in the case of cancer individuals are cells. Thus, natural selection requires diversity of traits within a population and the selection of those traits that are beneficial. This diversity arises mostly through mutations. Most mutations are either bad or neutral. However, in some rare cases a mutation may give cells an advantage over other non-mutated cells. In cancer, a beneficial mutation translates into the ability to proliferate independently of cell growth inhibitors or the ability to secrete signals that will trigger angiogenesis (blood vessel formation) and allow cells to invade surrounding tissues.

It is thought that early in cancer development cells acquire what is called a “mutator phenotype”. This means that cancer cells acquire new mutations at a faster pace than healthy cells.  This increases the pool of new traits and the chances for a beneficial trait that can enable cancer progression.

5. Cancer treatments are different.

Given that there is not a single type of cancer. Cancers respond differently to cancer therapies. For example, a drug that may be effective treating prostate cancer may not necessarily be effective treating breast cancer or leukemia.

National Cancer Institude
American Cancer Society
MD Anderson Cancer Center

If you have a family history of cancer do not be afraid, talk to your physician. Early detention will greatly improve treatment success. Stop if you are engaging in cancer causing behaviors. Life is worth living to the fullest and cancer is not worth it! If you have been diagnosed with cancer and you are undergoing treatment, please remember the words of Christ:

“Everything is possible for one who believes.”
Mark 9:23

Trust in Jesus! He loves you more than anything in this world and keep the fight!

Please consider supporting cancer research and visit:

Johnny Kicks Cancer Foundation.

God Bless.

About the Big Bang and Fundamentalists

The recent debate between Bill Nye, the Science Guy, and Ken Ham, a young earth creationist supporter, reminded me of something that St. Thomas Aquinas said:

“First, the truth of Scripture must be held inviolable. Secondly, when there are different ways of explaining a Scriptural text, no particular explanation should be held so rigidly that, if convincing arguments show it to be false, anyone dares to insist that it still is the definitive sense of the text. Otherwise unbelievers will scorn Sacred Scripture, and the way to faith will be closed to them.”

-St. Thomas Aquinas

In other words, some fundamentalist interpretation of scripture contradicts our observation of the universe and their staunch literalistic interpretation of the Bible may be a stumbling block for unbelievers, closing faith to them.

God is truth and cannot be deceived or deceive. As Sir Francis Bacon said: “God wrote two books. One is Holy Scripture and the other is nature”. They cannot contradict each other. One reveals how God created the Universe and the other reveals why God created the Universe. They do not oppose each other, but complement each other in reviling the beauty and power of our Creator. It is amazing that not a hundred years ago, scientists like Fred Hoyle mocked the primordial atom theory, the Big Bang Theory, first proposed by Fr. George Lemeitre, a Jesuit priest, as nothing but religious propaganda.

Einstein thought that Fr. Lemeitre’s theory was the most beautiful explanation of creation once he looked at the evidence that support Fr. Lemeitre theory.

The key here is openness to evidence. On one had it seems to me that staunch atheists refuse to look beyond their biases about religion and look closer to the cosmological and philosophical evidence for the existence of God on the other hand
Fundamentalists who hold a literalistic interpretation of the Bible refuse to see irrefutable evidence about the age of the universe. Making their faith look un-reasonable to non-believers and in the process alienating people who are searching for truth.

The result of such public debate between these opposing views is that it foments a caricatured notion that there is no place for reason in faith and no place for faith in reason. The history of science as it was developed in the West begs to disagree with such ill informed notion.

“But you have disposed all things by measure and number and weight.”

Wisdom 11:20

This verse from the book of Wisdom, often quoted by St. Augustine in the third century, greatly influenced many thinkers during the early and late Middle Ages. It reveals something about creation. The act of creation was not arbitrary but carefully designed “by measure and number and weight” and thus allowed for the investigation of the world because it argues that the world was created by reason and thereby can be understood by reason. This line of thinking led to the creation of the universities, the scientific method and many scientific fields by the Catholic Church, which ultimately led to the scientific revolution.

Fundamentalist creationists staunch advocacy in favor of young earth creation can be a stumbling block for many because it refuses to accept the evidence and change its position. Perhaps St. Thomas anticipated young creationist postures when he caution about rigid Bible interpretation.

Faith properly understood is reasonable and beautiful because it brings us closer to the good, the beautiful and the true.