Lambda – Theological Questions for Yuksel

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She first contacted me via email in 19th of January 2012. She was not using her Chinese name, but her pen-name: Lambda. Below you will see the first few email correspondence and the followed by a great philosophical investigation by a young Chinese undergraduate junior student at UCLA.

Lambda, while a high school student in China, started communicating with me in January 19, 2012. She had, somehow had obtained Quran: a Reformist Translation and had decided to convert from atheism to rational monotheism. Soon she surprised me by informing that she wanted to translate the Quran into Chinese. She was still a high school student in China and was volunteering for such a task that many professional academics in the field could not dare. I did not discourage her. She did not know Arabic, but a translation of translation that is not distorted by Sunni and Shiite hadith and jurisprudence, would still be much accurate and closer to the message of the Quran. We also could find another Chinese monotheist who knew Arabic to read and edit her translation. She surprised me again, by actually starting her translation.

Here is her first email and the following correspondence:

Dongyi Lu

About your translation and explanation of Quran

Lambda Dongyi-Lu

19 January 2012

Peace be upon you. I’m a high school student in China, and I converted Sunni in 2010. In October 2011, thank God, I started the reform. Now, I have read most of your translation of Quran, and I found some errors in the end notes, hope you would consider.

First of all, about the speed of light in the end note of 32:5. From one crescent to the next crescent, what we count is the synodic period of Moon, which is about 29.5 days. The Hijri is using the synodic period instead of the sidereal period; the medieval Arabs might not know the sidereal period. And I calculated with the 27.3 period as you suggested. Since I don’t know how to calculate an ellipse’s perimeter, I assume the orbit of Moon is a circle with radius 385000km. I calculated the speed of Moon by calculating the perimeter of the orbit first, then, I multiplied the speed by 12*1000*27.321661, I get 335976km/s. I just wonder how you calculated. Is the measurement of light speed not accurate? or the verse is talking about something else? or this is the speed of gamma ray? I don’t beg the answers immediately, but I think this end note should be affirmed.

Secondly, it’s about 65:12. I don’t repeat what the end note says. Just after reading this end note, I searched about element 118, Uuo. Surprisingly, it exists! Though just artificially synthesised 4 atoms. It was said that the limit of atomic number was 137 or 173, perhaps the model wasn’t accurate, but the end note should be considered.

Now I’m suggesting another understanding of 27:88. My first interpretation of this was the drift of continents. Also 55:17, would it be a double star system? And 21:30, If it’s understood as Big Bang, I found the scene Day of Judgement ambiguous. I don’t think Day of Judgement is the end of the universe; it must be just the end of human race. Thus, I suggest that 21:30 might be talking about how Earth’s atmosphere was created. Furthermore, I’m a bit dubious about Big Bang. Because matters traveled at a speed faster than that of light just after Big Bang, this contradicts the relativity. However, it was the relativity deducing the Big Bang! It’s a paradox.

I found a phenomenon recently. Some Sunni net friends force Quran verses into some scientific facts without considering the reliability of the facts (I used to be one of them), so non-Muslims like my parents think the Quran is following modern science.

In China, there’re Sunnis believing in 19 theorem, but they just took a slice of it so it doesn’t contradict Hadith. Furthermore, the government has blocked many religious websites just like it blocks Facebook. I don’t know much Arabic, but anyone I know that is good at Arabic in China are hyper radical Sunnis. Therefore, I wish I could translate your translation of Quran into Chinese (a bit dangerous in China), if God wills, during holidays when I’m in university. The mosque and halal restaurants in Shenzhen, China are extremely dirty and messy, with groups of super radical Sunni old men and women who know nothing but Hadith, Sharia and stuff similar. Let’s pray to the True Lord, Jehovah, for the salvation of the corner of city!

**
*

19 January 2012

Dear Lambda (your real name),

You are one of the most impressive high school students I have ever met. I am very grateful for your criticism of my work, and I will read it closely when I have chance.

I would indeed be delighted if you translate Quran into Chinese language using my translation. We need to talk about it later, God willing. You sholud not be afraid since we are one the most peaceful people on Earth. It is already has been translated into Turkish and currently it is been translated to Itailan and Russian. Chinese would be very important. But, we need someon who have basic knowledge of Arabic besides you so that the translation would not get far from the original.

I would like to send you the copy of NINETEEN: God’s Signature in Nature and Scripture if you wish. Or if you prefer, I may give you access to download it from my google DOCUMENTS. For that, I believe you need to get Gmail address.

My younger son has been studying Chinese for five years. He has been in Changsha (Khunan province) twice as an exchange student. I accompanied him during his first trip. I wrote my observation and I am attaching it so that you may see China from my eyes 🙂
My son will be visiting China (Changsha, I assume) this coming June for the third time… If you are close to the area, I would like you to meet and get to know each other.

If you wish, we may communicate via Skype. My name at Skype is edipyuksel

PS: I am sharing this with two close friends of mine who occasionally visit China…

**
*

20 January 2012

Thank God that your son is a superstudent. Also, sorry for having a messy habit.  Thanks for publishing your books for free, may God reward you. It would be messier for me to have another e-mail, so would you mind sending the book to this e-mail? I’m not sure whether I can go to Changsha in June. I’m going to volunteer in northwest China in June, and I have just sent the registration form. If I fail the registration, then I might go to Changsha.

I spend most of my time in Shenzhen, a city just next to Hong Kong. On weekends, I’m usually in Dongguan, a city to the north of Shenzhen. Also, I often visit Shanghai, and I’m quite familiar with it. My hometown is in somewhere to the north of Shanghai across Yangzi River. Changsha is the capital of Hunan Province, which is quite far from Shenzhen. At present, I’m studying in Shenzhen College of International Education, and I’m dealing with SATs and TOEFL. It could be more convenient for me to go to US, since I’m going to US for college, departing in early 2013, God willing. Which college? Undecided.

About Arabic, besides those Hui people, I have some Qatari net friends in medical schools that I got to know in Cornell Summer College last year. They were also radical Sunnis; their college imported bodies from US for dissection because Sunnis oppose destroying the dead bodies of Sunnis.

I suggest calling Quran its meaning, i.e. to read or to recite, instead of transliteration; the names “Islam”, “Muslim” and “Quran” are often associated with terrorism and sexism by Christians. “Bible” simply means book doesn’t it? The names really affect the atitude of the readers. I can’t clear the stereotypes of Muslims off my mind though I’m a Muslim and I don’t fit the stereotype. Thus, when I’m reading Quran, I feel a bit indignant when it’s talking about marriage, because I automatically associate it with sexism as Christians do. When I’m reading Bible, when I see more sexist rulings, I automatically ignore them, because the Christian stereotype is free and creative. If the name “Old Testament” is changed into “Torah”, I would take every sentence seriously, whatever it is, and execute every rule, without being indignant, because Jews are not notorious for sexism.

Wonder who I am? Lambda is my pseudonym, my real name is ….. You can search this name in Facebook. Unfortunately, my hotspot shield doesn’t work at home; I’m not accessible to Facebook until the school starts. You’ll know what I look like. God willing, I’m happy to work with your organization in my free time after going to USA.

Lu, peace!

**
*

20 January 2012

If I do not respond this email, it may join the hundreds of emails that I could not respond. So, I will be short; I am getting ready for a three-hour class: Symbolic Logic…

I understand your inclination to use the translation of the word Quran or another substitute among its numerous descriptive names, such as The Book, The Message, The Proof, etc. In fact, my Turkish translation’s title is this: “MESAJ: Kuran Çevirisi”, which you can easily infer its meaning.

My son, Matine is also studying SAT and he will be taking the first test within about ten days. The only school he is interested is Harvard. I hope he can make to one of the top schools. With excellent work ethic and diligence, he is indeed one of top students in the USA… I am glad to learn that you are planning to come to the USA for your college education. Looking forward meeting you here.

It seems that there is a picture within your email, but somehow it does not show… You may send me a friendship request at my Facebook account Edip Yuksel, but you should hurry up, since my contact list is fast approaching to its maximum allowed limit.

What do you wish (plan?) to study?

Peace,
Edip

PS in 2015: Matine is now third year student at Princeton University.

Some Theological Questions for Yuksel

8 October 2015

23s component of large subunit of E. coli ribosome. Pepidyl transfere (amino acid polymerizing) activity resides in domain V of this component.

23s component of large subunit of E. coli ribosome. Pepidyl transfere (amino acid polymerizing) activity resides in domain V of this component. From: http://rna.ucsc.edu/rnacenter/images/figs/ecoli_23s.jpg

Dear Yuksel,

Salam! Long time no see. First of all, I read the Philosopher’s Way textbook you sent me this summer, and it helped a lot. I like the “reading critically” box in the book as it prompts me to read more critically than I used to. But I really wish that there’s a chapter about aesthetics. Thank you very much! Now I’m reading the Introduction to Philosophy anthology, but I only have time on weekend thanks to my double major and work in lab. I can return the books upon demand; I understand that books are really expensive in the US. Here I have some theological questions to discuss with you. I may not be entitled to your response, since I’m not enrolled in your class and you’re busy with your work and trips around the world. If you don’t have time, then it’s fine if you respond pater.

I have to apologize a few things to begin with. First, I really think I need to do a lot of research before I consult Bruin Alliance of Skeptics and Secularists again (they didn’t reply last time I contacted them). I apologize for delays caused by the research. Why research? I wasn’t a thinker until I became a Quranist; I converted Islam from atheism because it was cool, and I didn’t even care about theology at that time. Meanwhile, I was an atheist just because I was taught to be so, so I still need to do research on the strongest arguments for atheism, which I wasn’t aware of while I was an atheist (abiogenesis and problem of evil don’t convince me). Now I kind of suspect that the so called skeptics is really a group of people who share a certain ideology, not indeed truth seekers, when I saw how they cited a few examples of acupuncture failures while ignoring the accident rate of conventional medicine that is hundreds of times higher and they never question their own philosophy. So I’ll need to do research about philosophy of science as well as ideology of skeptics and New Atheism to see whether my suspicion is well-founded. As I have so many other extra-major research topics ahead of me, I’m frustrated about which to do first provided equal priority. Secondly, I apologize for mentioning you in some stupid Facebook posts. Now I’ve deleted my fb account as it wasted me so much time. Third, again, I apologize for stalling in translating your work; I’m just not confident enough about my understanding of the Quran and again, I have to learn more. I don’t want people to be misguided because of me.

OK, now let me begin my theological questions. First, while the universe is deterministic, there’s something called probability. Many processes are stochastic. God obviously knows what’s 100% certain in the future, and I accept that some but not all events are predetermined, such as life events of Joseph. In some situations, there’s a certain probability that one option occurs, and certain probability that another option occurs. Some outcomes will certainly arise from a stochastic process, such as the production of antibodies; we don’t know which particular amino acid sequence for the recognition region of the antibody will be produced as genes are matched randomly, but we’re sure that something that will bind to the antigen will be produced[1]. But I’m not asking about outcomes here; I’m asking about the random process that leads to the outcome. In this case, does God know which option on the way to the outcome will occur?

I also read a very interesting series of articles about how random doesn’t mean mindless in my search of potential answers to my question: https://biologos.org/blogs/archive/randomness-and-god’s-governance-part-1. It’s still interesting though it didn’t really answer my question.

Second, please critique my reasoning in the following. This quarter, I’m taking a class about molecular evolution. I took it because I’m interested in evolution of genomes, gene regulation, and molecular networks, but it turns out to be more about origin of life. The professor (whose email is cbrunk@ucla.edu; the email is available publicly anyway, so I’m not violating his privacy) is agnostic and is strongly against intelligent design. He made fun of intelligent design when he said such important enzyme as ribosome (which produces protein according to RNA code) (and other biological processes) is so inefficient. But I found a flaw in his argument – “efficient” is context-dependent and relative.

I’ll begin with the context-dependent aspect. Efficient means to perform a certain function well; there has to be a purpose for function to make sense. For instance, a technology that manufactures cars is efficient because it makes better and more cars than other technology also designed to manufacture cars. When we say it’s efficient, we already assume that we’re talking about its purpose, which is making cars, not something else. A machine that manufactures cars can’t be said to be efficient to package food; when such a machine is used to package food, then it’s not efficient. The purpose of ribosome is to polymerize amino acids, and if it’s fast, then it’s tempting to say that it does its job well, or that it’s efficient. But what’s the purpose of polymerizing amino acids? To make proteins, which are to perform various functions in the cell. What’s the purpose of those functions? To sustain the life of the cell, to make the cell perform functions in the tissue, which performs its function in the organ, which performs its function in the organism, which… For a cell to perform its function well, protein synthesis has to be regulated; it’s not the case that faster means better. What do I mean that a cell performs its function well? The cell, by cooperating with other cells, makes the tissue perform its function well. A tissue performs its function well when it, with other tissues in the organ, makes the organ perform its function well. An organ performs its function well when it, with other organs, makes the whole organism perform its function well. An organism performs its function well when it can better survive and reproduce, in evolutionary context. What does it mean to better survive and reproduce? At least when resources are limited, the organism has to outcompete other organisms, and whether it can outcompete depends on the ability of other organisms to compete. Since the current ribosomes and other seemingly “inefficient” biological processes did allow organisms to better survive and reproduce, they are efficient.

Now I’ll talk about “efficient” as a relative concept, just like “big” and “small”, continuing from the last paragraph. A species can outcompete other species when it does something better. But the “better” can be just a little better than something very poor compared to some other scale. If according to that scale, everyone species performs something poorly and one does it slightly better than others (though still poor according to that scale), this species has outcompeted other species and can better survive and reproduce. But why that scale, while it’s not relevant to the organisms at stake? A number, without something to compare to, can’t be said to be large or small.

Is a cumbersome pathway that defies Occam’s razor inefficient? Not necessarily. The whole pathway has to be considered; what seems cumbersome can intersect with many other pathways and allow better regulation. Unfortunately, few biology classes are that holistic (not just for the purpose of this argument, but for a more accurate description of nature), and that’s why I added systems biology as my second major.  Still related to the ideology of the skeptics, I wonder why while there’re many possible metaphors about evolution, such as the engineer in this article[2] (http://www.sciencemag.org/content/301/5641/1866.long), the metaphor of blind watchmaker got way more popular and is what’s taught in most biology classes. I also bought the book “Music of Life” by Denis Noble, a perspective very different from that of Dawkins though Noble didn’t favor theism according to the final chapter of that book, Dawkins is way more popular.

What about intelligent design? My understanding of a popular theory called intelligent design is that the presence of an intelligent designer is a hypothesis, and in some cases (especially when it points to the inadequacy of evolution), it’s more rational to accept this hypothesis than to propose some more convoluted naturalistic explanations. I can’t comment that much on this, as I’m also a bit critical of intelligent design as it’s still ultimately God-of-the-gaps, which is incongruent with how we should interact with God according to the Quran (I think I’m influenced by Oxford biophysicist Ard Louis, Oxford theologian Alister McGrath, and MIT physicist Ian Hutchinson (not the motorcyclist with the same name) here, and it seems that your version of intelligent design is a bit different from the popular one). At least since I just showed that the “inefficient” processes are not really inefficient, the argument against God from inefficiency is mostly refuted. But there’s a problem. Is the purpose of our lives to better survive and reproduce? Perhaps for animals in evolutionary settings, yes, but probably not for us humans. Were we created with a purpose? If we are the purpose of evolution, then evolution is not efficient, but not necessarily; what’s the purpose of the wind about way of our creation? Whenever it comes to a cumbersome way, I can’t say that it’s inefficient just because it’s cumbersome, since the cumbersome way itself may have a purpose that I don’t know about. I can list many other related questions, some even related to the transhumanism debate.

Third, what do you think of C.S. Lewis’s famous quote “I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it, I see everything else”? There’s a section about it in the beginning of theologian Alister McGrath’s talk https://biologos.org/blogs/archive/big-picture-or-big-gaps-why-natural-theology-is-better-than-intelligent-design. I think this kind of makes sense, since as already said, I’m interested in thinking thanks to the Quranic worldview centered on pure Monotheism to begin with; to me, it’s more the case that I think because I believe in God than that I believe in God because I think. This talk inspired me to make the following argument that I would like you to critique: Why do we consider art art? For instance, there’s really nothing apparently special to the photos in the exhibition Light, Paper, Process at Getty Center, but as I considered the lives and thoughts of the photographers and how they reflected on the nature of photography, their works suddenly became art to me. In other words, the art work as a whole consists not only of the very work itself, but also the thoughts behind the work. Some of the “photos” are just plays with chemistry, but if a chemistry student produced the same thing accidentally, it’s not considered art. It is art because of the thoughts of the artist behind it while the chemistry student gave it no thought; we won’t understand it as art unless we understand the artist. If we do some “objective” measurement on an art work, say by Lichtenstein, not even thinking about the artist, and from the measurements, we find patterns and use the patterns to predict further measurements, we may never ever consider what we measure art and never ever think what we’re measuring would have any purpose. But the purpose behind the art work is real, so the “objective” measurement is not an accurate description of reality. Though people can interpret the same art work in different ways, the way the artist intended is the correct way.

No wonder scientific materialism would like to say the universe is pointless; they’re ignoring something I just said. So it would be better to know the Creator before appreciating the creation, and the worldview that better makes sense of the world is the better worldview. I mean by “better make sense” building a coherent picture involving all aspects of life beyond natural science. Now saying which religion is truer is like a clinical trial. Patients take drugs rather than analyze them and the one that better cures or manages the disease is the better drug, and patients of chronic diseases may conclude from their experiences from different drugs which work better. A problem is, most people live in the worldview they’re born into and don’t bother to make sense of the world. I don’t know for others; for me, God made me to bother to begin with. Also, the universe is different from a painting of Picasso since the methods we analyze the art work are not part of the art work, but concerning the universe, while we do base our analysis on theories based on previous observations, all conclusions based on observations are based on some “self-evident” laws such as laws of logic, math, and cause and effect. If God is the Absolute, then those laws must have been created. But since we can only think in terms of laws, we can only think about God in terms of those laws. But “God is Absolute” is itself a law; if God transcends laws, then God must also transcend that, but “God transcends laws” is itself a law. Perhaps I shouldn’t define “law” this way, or when we talk about God, we’re really talking about the consistency of a worldview, and we can’t begin to imagine God’s essence. As we live in this universe, if we want to be in harmony with God, we must abide by laws decreed to this universe.

Thanks again for your patience reading this long letter. Hopefully we can inspire each other. Of course some of my thoughts are potentially problematic as I may have ignored something, otherwise I wouldn’t write this letter to begin with.

Lambda

**

12 October 2015

Attached is the updated version of the email we just talked about [see: above]. I added references, clarified what I mean by “intelligent design” (and probably what the general public means) as well as my understanding of the nature of art and corrected some spelling and grammatical mistakes. Perhaps we should talk about our understandings of art sometime. I’m really a big fan of art; if I recommend somewhere to visit in LA, the top of my list is all art museums, followed by beaches.

Another flaw of my professor’s (and most people who believe in the blind watchmaker model) opinion, which is about nothing buttery: He cited another biochemist that life is nothing but electrons looking for a place to rest. Well, it’s true that respiration, from which we get our energy and which makes all other life processes possible, is ultimately based on electrons looking for a place to rest, but saying that life is nothing but this ignores lots of other aspects about life. This is just like the familiar saying “you are what you eat.” It’s true that our bodies are composed of what we eat, but this doesn’t address other more important aspects of life such as what we love, what we aspire, and etc. The “other aspects” I just mentioned only pertains to life of an intelligent being. But the nothing buttery also applies to intelligent human lives. I understand that the brain is a carrier of the mind and the mind and body interact with each other, but this doesn’t mean that the mind can’t exist without the body.

We characterize an entity by its essential feature. For instance, there’re cups that look like camera lenses in gift shops sold for nerds. They’re cups, not lenses, though they can be easily mistaken for lenses, since they’re made to function as cups, not lenses; the function is their essential feature, not the appearance. The essential feature is not always that easy to be found, though.

Nothing buttery assumes that the essential feature of our lives is the material basis of our body. Though currently, substance is supporting the existence of our thoughts and emotions, we all know that the true value of our lives doesn’t lie in the material basis of the body, but in something more intellectual and noble, in the mind, which can possibly exist without the body (we believe that mind can definitely exist without body as we believe in hereafter). The life of a person who would risk his life for the truth is more admirable than the life of a person only indulging in bodily desires. Here, the persuit of truth is more essential than the material basis to life. 20th century Chinese author Lu Xun has a famous quote that can be summarized here: Some people are alive, but in other people’s hearts, they’re dead, while some people are dead, yet in other people’s hearts, they’re alive.

If nothing buttery becomes a worldview, like evolutionism, then we can imagine how degrading it can be. Just like metaphors about evolution, what’s fundamental to the material basis of the body must be rephrased so it doesn’t miss the point while not leading to such a detrimental worldview. At least the ambiguous term “life” should be avoided or clarified in this case. I admit that I shifted the definition of “life” from a biochemical entity that makes copies of itself to something else, or that I shifted from one dimension to another dimension of life. I never meant that life is exclusively bodily (like nothing buttery does) or exclusively intellectual; life is both, as a whole, with the different dimensions interacting and functioning with each other. Similarly, the shape as a lens is important to the lens-shaped cup, since the shape makes it unique and distinguishes it from an ordinary white ceramic cylinder with a handle. Perhaps the biochemist whom my professor quoted didn’t intend such a worldview. But the general public can easily derive such a worldview when the quote is quoted this way.

I don’t think my philosophical dissent with my professor will adversely affect my learning in this course, since I learn the science, not the non-scientific interpretation of the science. Well, I can also learn the interpretation only to refute it and to analyze the academic culture. I agree that abiogenesis and life’s origin from alkaline hydrothermal vents are strongly supported by evidence, but this doesn’t necessarily lead to those interpretations. Yet our interpretation and that of BioLogos.org (which greatly influenced me) aren’t popular, thanks to the culture that I think originated from Lucretius’s poems about atomism in ancient Greece, Isaac Newton’s bad theology (he doesn’t believe in Trinity, yet I consider him a bad theologian), the Deism movement, Andrew Dixon White’s book, and perhaps more.

 

[1] https://biologos.org/blogs/dennis-venema-letters-to-the-duchess/evolution-basics-evolution-and-the-christian-part-1-is-evolution-a-purposeless-mechanism

[2]See https://biologos.org/uploads/projects/louis_white_paper.pdf, pages 9-13

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