Monday, July 20, 2009

Pre-birth babies found to have memories

They weigh less than 3 pounds, usually, and are perhaps 15 inches long. But they can remember. The unborn have memories, according to medical researchers who used sound and vibration stimulation, combined with sonography, to reveal that the human fetus displays short-term memory from at least 30 weeks gestation - or about two months before they are born. "In addition, results indicated that 34-week-old fetuses are able to store information and retrieve it four weeks later," said the research, which was released Wednesday.

Scientists from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Maastricht University Medical Centre and the University Medical Centre St. Radboud, both in the Netherlands, based their findings on a study of 100 healthy pregnant women and their fetuses with the help of some gentle but precise sensory stimulation.

On five occasions during the last eight weeks of their pregnancies, the women received a series of one-second buzzes on their bellies with a "fetal vibroacoustic stimulator," a hand-held diagnostic device used to gauge an unborn baby's heart rate and general well-being.

The baby's responses - primarily eye, mouth and body movements - were closely monitored over the weeks with ultrasound imaging to gauge "fetal learning" patterns. The researchers found that the babies acclimated themselves to the sounds and vibrations to the point that they no longer bothered to respond - a process known as "habituation." "The stimulus is then accepted as 'safe' " by the babies, the study said.

The team also found that the tiny test subjects actually improved these skills as they grew older, with those who were 34- or 36-weeks old clearly showing that they had become familiar with the hum outside the womb. "The fetus 'remembers' the stimulus and the number of stimuli needed for the fetus to habituate is then much smaller," the study said.

"It seems like every day we find out marvelous new things about the development of unborn children. We hope that this latest information helps people realize more clearly that the unborn are members of the human family with amazing capabilities and capacities like these built in from the moment of conception," said Randall K. O'Bannon, director of education and research for the National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund.

A call to NARAL Pro-Choice America for comment on the implications of the research were not returned.

The Dutch medical team, meanwhile, said its findings could help obstetricians track the healthy development of unborn babies during pregnancy. The research was published in Child Development, a medical journal.

Scientists have been curious about fetal responses to sound for decades. The first real study of "habituation" occurred in 1925 when researchers discovered that fetuses moved less when exposed to a beeping car horn. Since then, door buzzers and even electric toothbrushes have been used to help researchers understand the fetal environment - and the response of the unborn to such influences.

Beeps and buzzes were not always the tools of choice. In 2003, psychologists and obstetricians at Queen's University in Canada found a profound mother-baby link. In a study of 60 pregnant women, they found that the unborn babies preferred the voices of their own mothers - both before and after birth.

The heart rates of fetuses sped up when they heard their mother reading a poem, and slowed down when they heard a stranger's voice - evidence of "sustained attention, memory and learning by the fetus," said Barbara Kisilevsky, a professor of nursing who led the research.

The Queen's group has also investigated fetal response to the father's voice, concluding that if men try a little pre-natal vocalizing to their offspring, the newborn will later recognize the father's voice.


The Bible proved right again

The revelation came to Professor Andrew Parker during a visit to Rome. He was in the Sistine Chapel, gazing up at Michelangelo's awesome ceiling paintings, when a realisation struck him with dizzying force. 'A Biblical enigma exists that is on the one hand so cryptic it has remained camouflaged for millennia, and on the other so obvious one cannot miss it.' The enigma is that the order of Creation as described in the Book of Genesis, and so powerfully depicted in the Sistine Chapel by the greatest artist of the Renaissance, has been precisely, eerily confirmed by modern evolutionary science.

Such was the starting point of Parker's jaw-dropping new book, The Genesis Enigma: an astounding work which seeks to prove that the ancient Hebrew writers of the Book of Genesis knew all about evolution - 3,000 years before Darwin. It takes a journey back through aeons of geological time, and also into the minds and imaginations of the ancient Israelites.

Andrew Parker is a leading scientist in his field: a research fellow at Oxford University, research leader at the Natural History Museum, and as if that weren't enough, a professor at Shanghai's Jiao Tong university. As a scientist he never paid much heed to the Book of Genesis, assuming, like most of his colleagues, that such primitive mythology - which is believed to have been compiled from several sources between 950 and 500 BC - has long since been 'disproved' by hard scientific fact. But after his Sistine Chapel moment, he went back to look at Genesis in more detail. And what he read astonished him. It was even, he says, 'slightly scary'.

Somehow - God alone knew how - the writer or writers of that ancient text had described how the evolution of life on earth took place in precise detail and perfect order.

It is always disturbing and haunting to encounter an ancient wisdom that seems to anticipate or even exceed our own. More fanciful writers immediately start to theorise wildly: that those who built the pyramids, or Stonehenge, must have been guided by super-intelligent aliens, that sort of thing.

Andrew Parker, a scientist and proud of it, has no time for such twaddle. But he does gradually come to understand, in the course of his investigations, that our ancestors of thousands of years ago, though they may not have had iPods and plasma-screen televisions, nevertheless possessed a wisdom that was, quite literally, timeless: as true now as it was then.

In the Book of Genesis, God first and most famously creates heaven and earth, but 'without form', and commands: 'Let there be light.' A perfect description of the Big Bang, that founding moment of our universe some 13 billion years ago, an unimaginable explosion of pure energy and matter 'without form' out of nothing - the primordial Biblical 'void'.

He then creates the dry land out of the waters, but it is the water that comes first. As Parker points out, scientists today understand very similarly that water is indeed crucial for life. When 'astrobiologists' look into space for signs of life on other planets, the first thing they look for is the possible presence of water.

On the third day, we are told: 'God said, "Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so."' Now factually speaking, grass didn't evolve until much later. In the Triassic and Jurassic epochs, the dinosaurs knew only plants such as giant conifers and tree ferns. But since grass did not in fact evolve until much later, a sternly literal-minded scientist would declare the Bible wrong, and consign it to the nearest wheelie bin.

But wait a minute, says Parker. If you take 'grass, herb and tree' to mean photosynthesising life in general, then this is, once again, spot on. The very life forms on earth were single-celled bacteria, but the first truly viable bacteria were the 'cyanobacteria' - those that had learned to photosynthesise. As a result, they began to expire oxygen, creating an atmosphere that could go on to support more and more life. They were the key to life on earth.

Naturally, says Parker, 'the ancient Israelites would have been oblivious to any single-celled life form, let alone cyanobacteria', but 'grass' as a loose description of life forms that photosynthesise?

On the fourth day, Genesis famously becomes confusing. On the first day, remember, God has already created light, and made Day and Night. But it isn't until day four that he makes the lights in heaven, the greater light to rule the day and the lesser the night. Hang on - so he made 'Day' three days before he made the Sun? Houston, I think we have a problem.

Yet the writers of Genesis were just as well aware as us, surely, that the sunrise causes the day. You don't need a degree in astronomy to work that one out. What on earth did they mean? Here, The Genesis Enigma comes up with a stunningly ingenious answer. For Parker argues that day four refers to the evolution of vision. Until the first creatures on earth evolved eyes, in a sense, the sun and moon didn't exist. There was no creature on earth to see them, nor the light they cast. When Genesis says: 'Let there be lights... To divide the day from the night,' it is talking about eyes.

'The very first eye on earth effectively turned on the lights for animal behaviour,' writes Professor Parker, 'and consequently for further rapid evolution.' Almost overnight, life suddenly grew vastly more complex. Predators were able to hunt far more efficiently, and so prey had to evolve fast too - or get eaten. The moment that there were 'lights', or eyes, then life exploded into all its infinite variety.

And yet again, that's what Genesis says happened, and in the correct environment too. In the sea. For on the very next day of Creation, the fifth day: 'God said, "Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life."' That is exactly what happened. Life that had hitherto been lived in the dark, by simple, slow-moving, worm-like creatures, erupted into dazzling diversity. We know all about it from the world famous Burgess Shale fossils. They were discovered in the summer of 1909 by one Charles Doolittle Walcott, on holiday with his family in the Canadian Rockies. Walcott began to chip away at the shale with his geological hammer, and quite by chance stumbled upon one of the greatest finds in all science.

For the shale records what happened on our planet around 508 million years ago, long before the first dinosaurs: the 'Cambrian expolosion,' which most scientists now think was indeed the direct result of the evolution of vision. The life-forms discovered look like nothing else: fabulous, phantasmagoric, alien beings. One had five eyes, and a long wavy snout with jaws on the end. Another looked like an octopus with its head stuck in a beaker, and another can only be described as 'a swimming pea with a pair of beady eyes, bull's horns, a pair of "hands" and a fish's tail.' Others resemble balls of spines, vase-shaped pin-cushions, or badminton shuttlecocks with chameleon-like tongues. Anyone who doubts the power of evolution by natural selection only has to look at the Burgess Shale fossils.

How does Genesis describe the teeming aquatic life of the Cambrian explosion? 'And God said, "Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life." ' Immediately following the creation of vision.

How did the writer/writers know that life suddenly diversified into this rich and staggering variety, under the oceans, not on land? Why would a very much land-based people, pastoralists and shepherds, even think like this?

After the Cambrian come the Ordovician, Silurian and Devonian periods - or the appearance of 'great whales', as Genesis succinctly puts it. How better to describe those epochs which gave us such monsters of the deep as Dunkleosteus, a carnivorous armoured fish whose appearance, says Parker, was 'simply terrifying'. Some 35ft long, 'the size of a small coach', with massive, bone-crunching jaws, even its eyes were armoured.

And after the sea monsters come the birds, the animals, cattle, and finally, homo sapiens. All present and correct, and all still in the right order. Once again, 'In describing how the planet and life around us came to be, the writer of the Genesis narrative got it disturbingly right'....


Science: Theists Need Not Apply

Religious bigotry is alive and well in the scientific community, as evidenced by its response to President Obama's decision to appoint Dr. Francis Collins as the head of the National Institutes of Health. Though renowned for leading the team of scientists that successfully mapped the human genome, Dr. Collins is making headlines for something else: his faith. In spite of his professional qualifications and accomplishments, many in the scientific community are less than enthusiastic about the President's decision to appoint a self-described evangelical Christian to lead the world's leading organization for scientific research.

This skepticism results from a prejudice against a theistic worldview that has become entrenched in the scientific community—an irrational attitude born of historical ignorance and intellectual myopathy that is increasingly dismissive of moral questions and ethical concerns.

The idea that a tension exists between science and theism is relatively new. The most brilliant philosophical minds of the western intellectual tradition—dating all the way back to the time of Plato and Aristotle—operated on the assumption that our existence came into being through the actions of a divine creator, described as the First Cause or Unmoved Mover. For centuries after, theology reigned as queen of the sciences, and scientific inquiry was animated by the belief that human reason was a gift imparted by God so that man might gain knowledge about Him, His attributes, and the laws which govern His creation.

Without this belief that the physical world is the result of an intentional design governed by fixed laws—laws which we discover through reason and experience—there would have been little cause to engage in scientific pursuits. Faith in the goodness of God's creation and the intelligibility of its design inspired history's great minds to forge ahead into new worlds of knowledge and discovery.

Indeed, many of the great heroes of science pioneered their discoveries under the auspices of this inspiration. Groundbreaking advances in astronomy, chemistry, physics, mathematics, genetics, and other fields of knowledge were made by men dedicated to systematically investigating God's creation—men like Copernicus, Kepler, Pascal, Boyle, Kelvin, Mendel, and Faraday.

Over time, however, the scientific community came to question whether the advancement of human knowledge might be better served by separating itself from ethical constraints arising out of religious beliefs. The idea that man should be guided by transcendent moral principles in his quest for answers to life's mysteries, the idea that some boundaries should not be crossed, was an intolerable thought. Scientists wanted to answer the question "can I?" without having to ask "should I?"

Hence today, when a man who professes faith in the Risen Christ is given the reigns of America's preeminent scientific organization, eyebrows raise in skepticism. Prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins go on late-night TV talk shows to denounce the ridiculous notion that any intelligent person, let alone a scientist, could actually embrace the fantastic teachings of the Bible. Believing that the world is the result of an intentional act of creation on the part of a benevolent and loving God is likened to believing in unicorns or the tooth fairy—Peter Pan fantasies embraced by those too young or too dumb to cope with the cold hard facts of reality.

Regardless of the specifics of Dr. Collins's Christian identity, the idea that his faith impedes his fitness to serve as the head of the NIH operates on the absurd premise that only atheists and agnostics are capable of being good scientists. One might argue the precise opposite of this. If, as previously stated, the origin of scientific inquiry was based upon the belief that the physical world operates according to fixed and intelligible laws, one might ask what kind of foundation underlies a scientific worldview which denies an intelligent design or an ultimate purpose? If there's no designer, no fixed laws, no first principles, then there is no real meaning—no context in which to evaluate the value and significance of newly acquired knowledge. When there is no acknowledged moral source to draw a clear line between the permissible and the forbidden, then human curiosity and ambition are left as the only arbiters of science's use.

Those who profess a commitment to science while rejecting a belief in God want to expand the breadth of scientific inquiry without being subject to ethical constraints. Inevitably, this kind of thinking leads to manipulating or destroying the weaker among us in order to empower the stronger. This is the philosophy that has animated some of our history's most gruesome acts of scientific "experimentation," and it is espoused today by none other than President Obama's "science czar," John Holdren, who has advocated forced abortion and mass sterilization in the name of environmental responsibility.

If this is the kind of ideology that results when the age-old relationship between faith and science is destroyed, then Dr. Collins's "embrace" of religion is the least of America's troubles.


British Muslim imposes his religion on others

Muslim care home owner bans oldsters from eating bacon sandwiches. But publicity forces a backdown, as usual

A Muslim care home owner has been branded 'a disgrace' after banning his pensioner residents from eating bacon. The 40 pensioners - none of them Muslim - were shocked when all pork products were cut off the menu by owner Dr Zulfikar Ali Khan. He stopped deliveries from the butcher who supplied the home for years and instead ordered halal-meat only from another firm.

It meant that the elderly residents at the 40-bed Queen's Care Centre in the pit village of Maltby, near Rotherham, missed out on traditional favourites like bacon sandwiches, sausage and mash, ham sandwiches and sausage rolls.

But the move has brought a furious reaction from the 37-strong staff - and the families of residents. Said a relative of an elderly resident : 'This is a disgrace. The old people who are in the home and in their final years an deserve better. 'They are paying customers who are making profits for this man. The least he can do is give them their favourite food. 'Bacon butties and bangers and mash is traditional English food and that's what these people want, it's shocking that they should be deprived of the food they like on the whim of this man.'

Said one member of staff , who asked not to be named: 'Only halal meat was delivered to the home and all pork products such as bacon, ham sandwiches, pork pies, sausages and even lard were stopped. 'He did not consult the residents or seek their approval. Bacon sandwiches are a favourite here. 'It's also quite wrong that someone should impose their religious and cultural beliefs on others like this.

'For many years meat has been supplied by Crawshaws, a Rotherham family butcher but that contract ended two weeks ago and since then only halal meat has been delivered along with other products with brand names you would not recognise. 'We were told that if people wanted pork products we could go out and get them, but in reality this has not worked. 'We only have halal meat on the premises and so this is all we had to serve to residents because there is no other meat in the building.'

When asked about the decision, Dr Khan, who has owned the home since 1994, suggested that the halal meat had been brought in for Muslim staff - but he is believed to be the only one the only in the building. He said staff had misconceptions about the situation and added : 'As soon as we realised residents were not getting what they wanted it was resolved at a senior staff meeting a week ago. 'We will be ordering all types of meat . It is complete nonsense. The residents are free to have whatever they want.

'Regarding meat we are moving from Crawshaws to Browns Meat Supplies - a British company which supplies all kinds of meat. 'There has been one delivery of halal meat and people have misunderstood the concept. As soon as I realised this I held a senior staff meeting which was minuted and I made it abundantly clear that residents could have any meat product or food they wished. 'I agree it would be quite wrong for someone to impose their religious or cultural beliefs on others, but this is not the case.'

Said a former member of staff who still has connections with the home: 'I believe Dr Khan intended to serve only halal meat at the home but has had to think again because of the row. 'The staff have been very unhappy and the manager has just left, one of several to go in the last few years.'



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


No comments: