Sunrise, Sunset–Circadian Rhythms and a Nobel Prize

Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly flow the days
Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers
Blossoming even as we gaze

Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears”
“Sunrise, Sunset”, Fiddler on the Roof.

A well-deserved Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology was awarded today (October 3rd, 2017) to Jeffrey Hall, Michael Roshbash and Michael Young for their research on how our biological clock works—how we know to go to sleep and to rise with a new day.

Their research was conducted on fruit flies—easily accessible, but with enough common to all animal life that generalizations could be made. (I recall my undergraduate days at Caltech in the genetics lab, retrieving etherized fruit-flies to determine their dominant and recessive characteristics.) They found that there was a gene present that encoded a protein, a protein that accumulates during sleep and degrades during the day, thus acting as a clock to establish the “circadian rhythm” for all animal life on this planet.

Rather than giving a detailed account of their research (see the press release announcing the award) I would like to use this as a springboard to comment on God’s Providence and evolution. One of the anthropic coincidences, the unlikely events that enable carbon based life to exist, is the rotation of the earth, the alternation of night and day that enables climate, a life supporting temperature to be present. And to accommodate to that, there is a cycle for life.

Could life exist and not follow that cycle? There’s a wonderful science fiction trilogy by Nancy Kress, Beggars in Spain, about genetically modified humans who don’t need to sleep and become supermen. But is that possible? Isn’t sleep, “that knits up the raveled sleave of care”, a gift from God? I’ve wondered, do angels sleep, will we sleep in heaven, or will the fact of time be swept away by eternity, so that sleep and circadian rhythms become irrelevant?

Well, I hope I will  find the answer to that question in heaven.


Who speaks for science?

“We should not have people in office who do not believe in facts and truths and modern science…”–Leonard DiCaprio, Address at Yale University.

I have a better idea.   Rather than actors (who didn’t graduate high school, but did get a GED) pontificate about science, let’s require tests in basic science– the history of science, philosophy of science, and what science is all about–for all celebrities and politicians who choose to speak about science.   If they don’t pass, they shut up.

What say you, dear reader?


Hello, my name is Bob, and I’m a climate change denier.

Pope Francis, in an interview to the press (9/11/17) opined that “Humanity will ‘go down’ if it does not address climate change”.   Now, despite the title of this post, I don’t deny that climate changes.   It has changed and will change.  There was the Medieval Warm Period, when the Viking colonized Greenland, and there have been glacial and inter-glacial changes.    I will deny that man-made production of CO2 has much to do with such climate change, and I’ve justified that in a number of blog posts (see here, for example), as have other scientists.

What concerns me is that the Church, in the person of the Vicar of Christ,  takes a  position on unsettled science;  and, despite some of Pope Francis’s statements–the verdict, in terms of model predictions being empirically justified, is not proven at all.

Let me go to a different case, where the science was more established.   Abbe LeMaitre (and the Russian mathematician Friedmann) had shown that Einstein’s General Relativity Field equation yielded  a time dependent solution with a singularity at the beginning of time, t=0, an expanding universe.  And lo, and behold, the galactic red shift relations shown by Hubble were in accord with that expanding universe.    And thus we knew about the “Big Bang”.    Supposedly Pope Pius XII wanted to use this science as evidence for the doctrine,  Creatio ex Nihilo, but was dissuaded from doing so by Abbe LeMaitre, who argued that science changes but faith does not.  (The incident is discussed in much greater detail here.)

My point is that the Church is not competent to judge whether science is good or bad, and science can not say whether Doctrine or Dogma are true or false.  The Church can certainly weigh in on the morality of  applications of science–for example, Designer Babies, fetal cell research–but it can’t and shouldn’t make judgments on what science is true and what is not.