Saturday, December 24, 2011

Harry Reasoner on Christmas

At a Christmas Eve service we attended, the pastor shared this writing by Harry Reasoner (of 60 Minutes) from 1973. In it, Reasoner suggested three possible ways of approaching Christmas:
One is cynically—as a time to make money or endorse the making of it.

Another is graciously—the appropriate attitude for non-Christians who wish their fellow citizens all the joys to which their beliefs entitle them.

The third is reverently. If this is the anniversary of the appearance of the Lord of the universe in the form of a helpless babe, it is a very important day. It's a startling idea of course. My guess is that the whole story—that a virgin was selected by God to bear his Son as a way of showing his love and concern for man—in spite of all the lip service given to it, is not an idea that has been popular with theologians.

It's a somewhat illogical idea, and theologians like logic almost as much as they like God. It's so revolutionary a thought that it probably could only come from a God that is beyond logic and beyond theology.

It has a magnificent appeal. Almost nobody has seen God, and almost nobody has any real idea of what he is like. The truth is that among men the idea of seeing God suddenly and standing in a very bright light is not necessarily a completely comforting and appealing idea. But everyone has seen babies and most people like them. If God wanted to be loved as well as feared, he moved correctly. If he wanted to know his people as well as rule them, he moved correctly, for a baby growing up learns all about people. And if God wanted to be intimately a part of man he moved correctly here, too, for the experience of birth and family-hood is our most intimate and precious experience.

So it comes beyond logic. It is either all falsehood or it is the truest thing in the world. It is the story of the great innocence of God, the baby. God in the person of man has such a dramatic shock toward the heart, that if it is not true, for Christians nothing is true.
For all my readers who know firsthand that the Christmas story is true, have a Very Merry Christmas. And for those readers not yet certain, hang in there, and do your best to seek the truth in the year ahead.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Hell Unfair? (Part 3)

I've been offering a Christian response to the claim that eternity in Hell seems an unfair penalty for the sins committed in 70 or 80 years in this life. In two previous posts, I supported each of the following:

1) There may be a category fallacy involved in the claim, since time is a part of this universe whereas Heaven and Hell are not.

2) In our own imperfect judicial systems, there is almost never a direct link or correlation between the time involved in committing the crime and the duration of appropriate punishment.

3) A factor that does matter (even in our judicial systems) is the person or authority against whom the crime is committed. Where the issue is eternal punishment in Hell, the authority against whom the crime has been committed is the supreme Authority--the Creator of all things, the all-powerful, Holy God who gives life in the first place. He is also the only Authority who can (and does) offer a pardon.

4) The claim of unfairness seems to imply that what gets people condemned to Hell are little sins, the breaking of somewhat arbitrary rules that God set up to keep people from having fun. Actually, according to the Bible, what gets people sent to Hell is utter and wholesale rejection of their Creator and of His loving authority in their lives.

5) The claim also seems to assume that the person who so rejects God will wish--once he finds himself in Hell--that he could change his mind. I find no reason--and certainly no evidence in Scripture--that this is the case. Rejection or acceptance of God in this life is done with eyes wide open, and is a decision foundational to who we are. The person who hates God in this life will rather remain in Hell for eternity than choose to love and worship Him after death.

This brings us to the last point I want to make (though there are undoubtedly other problems with the claim that Hell is unfair). For this one, I want to address a particular form of the claim, directly quoted from an email I received:
Eternal punishment seems a bit harsh for any sins committed in only 70-odd years on this confusing planet, especially the sin of disbelief.
This form surfaces two further, related misunderstandings shared by many who claim that the biblical doctrine of judgment is unfair.

In the first place, this claim mischaracterizes the crime as mere disbelief. This is not the Bible's portrayal. (Again, it's perfectly legitimate to allow the Bible to defend itself in this instance, since it is the biblical doctrine of Hell that is being argued against; it is the claimant who first brought the Bible into the discussion, not I.)

According to the Bible, eternal judgment comes because we reject our Creator and His authority over our lives, choosing instead to live according to our own inclinations (which choice leads to brokenness in all our relationships--with God, self, others, and creation), and then rejecting God's merciful, sacrificial offer of pardon. We hate God and run from Him, and Hell is simply the place reserved for those who want nothing to do with God.

Second, this claim depends upon pretending that there is insufficient evidence for believing in God. And while even we Christians sometimes act as though the evidence is worth quibbling about (with the professed atheist), the truth is far different.

According to the Bible (especially Romans 1:18-32), all men know there is a God. Further, the natural reaction of fallen humans is to suppress that knowledge, run from God, and delude ourselves into thinking we can pretend that He doesn't exist. In our day--where the fallacious rhetoric of the so-called New Atheists becomes best-selling books--we have an entire subculture of people who not only engage in such foolishness but communally approve and encourage such delusion in others.

To put it bluntly, the acquaintance who emailed me is not 'confused' about the evidence (as he claims); instead, he is in a state of open rebellion against God, which leads him to self-delusion about the evidence.

Throughout the history of human civilization--and certainly throughout western history for which we have the written records--as men have looked around them at the starry heavens, at other living things, at the planet on which they live, the logical conclusion to which they have come is that things are the way they are because they are designed. In our generation, the evidence available to us is exponentially greater than that available to previous generations. Our technology allows us to see the birth of gallaxies at the beginning of the universe some 13+ billion years ago. In the other direction (in terms of scale), we can now see the insides of cells and even of the molecules that make up cells. And as each scale of the universe becomes accessible to us, the overwhelming characteristic continues to be that of exquisite design, the evidence of an unimaginably powerful, wise, loving Designer behind it all.

In light of all this, the modern atheist/agnostic project is radically illogical. To see this exquisite design at every level and claim (as do Richard Dawkins, Francis Crick, and others in our day) that it is an illusion (only 'apparent') is absurd. To act as though the burden of proof ought to be on the people who (in keeping with the majority of people throughout history) see the design in the universe as real is bizarre. And to order one's life on the basis of this type of absurdity is mere self-delusion (of the type that Romans 1 describes).

The evidence for God is not confusing. The evidence for the careful design of this universe is not 50/50. The evidence for purpose and design is not even merely overwhelming. God's creation of this universe left no room for doubt. It is only our own stubborn, proud rejection of His authority in our lives that leads us to fool ourselves into thinking that we can feel justified in questioning His existence.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

If you're reading this post, the chances are very good that (despite the current economic downturn) you live at a higher level of prosperity than 99% of the people who have ever lived. Although we still face many of the physical frailties common to all humankind, we have access to health care unimaginable to previous generations. The variety and quality of food available to us is astounding, and most of us can, if we want, travel to the other side of the world to visit friends or loved ones, or just to see new sights.

Along with improvements in health and nutrition, scientific and technological advances have also served to make our lives more comfortable, safe, and entertaining. Perhaps more importantly, the advance of scientific knowledge--from all fields from cosmology to genomics--has provided our generation with overwhelming evidence not available to our parents and grandparents of the great love and care God had in preparing all these good things for us. As we celebrate Thanksgiving Day this year, our gratitude should likewise be greater than that of previous times, while we share with folks of all generations heartfelt thanks for the supreme gift of relationship with our Maker through His death on the Cross that gave us forgiveness and abundant, eternal life.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hell Unfair? (Part 2)

In the previous post I began a response to the claim that
It seems like an eternity spent in Hell is an unfair punishment for sins committed during 70 or 80 years in this life. The punishment doesn't seem to fit the crime.
In that post, I suggested that this claim involves several misunderstandings that render it fundamentally flawed, and identified three of those:

1) It may involve a category fallacy, since time is a created part of this universe, and eternity and Hell are portrayed as outside of this universe,

2) Even in our own judicial systems, we don't consider the time taken in committing a crime as having much to do with the appropriate duration of punishment, and

3) A factor that we do consider important is the authority or person against whom the crime is committed.

Regarding this third issue, we discussed the fact that the authority against whom our crimes are committed is the supreme Authority, the One who created all things (including the sinner himself) and the only One who could offer (and has offered) clemency. And this recognition surfaces another misunderstanding in the original claim...

4) The claim seems to imply that the crimes that send us to Hell are sins with a lower case 's,' minor indiscretions, in effect just having a little more fun than the next guy by breaking some rather arbitrary rules that God set up for unfathomable reasons of His own. That, of course, is a huge distortion of the Bible's portrayal.

[Note to reader: In many cases (when defending the Christian worldview) it is inappropriate to place much emphasis on what the Bible says. This is because the person to whom you're speaking likely doesn't consider the Bible to be authoritative. And because the Christian worldview is the uniquely accurate understanding of the universe in which we actually live, there will always be good reason and evidence available in its defense (and the Bible can be brought in later as corroborative evidence). In the case before us today (the unfairness of Hell), it is legitimate to bring in the Bible because the person against whom we're arguing did it first. That is, the idea of Hell that is being argued against comes from the Bible. It is the Christian and the biblical portrayal of Hell that the disputant finds unfair. And so it is perfectly justified for me to allow the Bible to defend itself, to demonstrate that the claim being made involves a misrepresentation of Scripture's full picture of eternal judgment.]

Instead, the biblical picture is that every human being is broken and fallen, that our crime is absolute rebellion against our Creator, and that this rebellion has led to our failing utterly to reflect His glory, the purpose for which He created us. We chronically reject His authority on our lives, we run from Him, we deny His existence, we do as we please, all of this with dire consequences for ourselves, for those around us, and for the rest of creation. Just as each individual lie that So-and-So offers is attributable to the fact that So-and-So is a chronic Liar, so our sins are attributable to the much larger fact that we are Sinners.

The crime for which people are condemned to eternity in Hell is not merely the collection of little-s sins that might bring a blush to their face if shared in public--instead, it is the bold, arrogant shaking-of-the-fist in God's face that says "I'll do it my own way; I neither thank you for creating me nor acknowledge your authority in my life!"

And this leads to the next misunderstanding...

5) The claim seems to imply that the person condemned to eternity in Hell will regret his decision, will wish he could change his mind, will himself find the punishment unfair. I see no reason or evidence--and certainly none in Scripture--that would suggest this to be the actual case.

All indications are that the person who rejects God in this life will continue to do so in the next. The person condemned by God to Hell will--despite the torments inherent there--rather remain there than to face an eternity of offering worship and praise to the God he detests.

God has already judged every human being, finding each guilty of treason and deserving of eternal punishment. But, in His great mercy, He has also offered a way of clemency, of forgiveness. He took upon Himself the punishment we deserve, and gave each of us--for all eternity--the opportunity to accept an everlasting pardon. We can either head to the eternal imprisonment we deserve, or we can walk away completely free, not to go 'back to the streets' as it were, but to a room in His house that He has specially prepared for us.

We either say to this merciful Judge "Thy will be done," and find ourselves eternally in Heaven, or He eventually says to us "Thy will be done," and we find ourselves eternally in Hell.

To put it simply, it's an everlasting fool who dares to shake his fist in the face of a Judge like that.

This brings us to a sixth, fatal misunderstanding associated with this claim that the eternality of Hell is unfair. But (since I'll have much to say about that one) I'll save it for another post.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Hell Unfair?

I recently came across a challenge I had heard before about the Christian doctrine of Hell. The challenge goes like this...
It seems like an eternity spent in Hell is an unfair punishment for sins committed in 70 or 80 years in this life. The punishment doesn't seem to fit the crime.
How should a Christian respond to this? I would respond by pointing out several misunderstandings inherent in this claim that make it fundamentally flawed. (And that's just what I'll do, beginning with this post and running through the next couple...)

First (and this is a relatively minor point), the claim may involve a category fallacy. That is, it seems to treat of eternity as involving the same sort of time as we experience in this universe (only lots more of it). This is, of course, understandable, since as creatures currently confined to this half dimension of time, we have great difficulty imagining other temporal realities. But time--along with matter, energy, and space--is a created part of this universe. And Christian belief (and the biblical portrayal) is that God is transcendent--outside of, unconfined by--the dimensions of this universe. This understanding is powerfully supported by modern cosmology and astrophysics. (Christians have variously understood God either as timeless or time-full, having multiple dimensions of time at His disposal.) Additionally, Christian belief entails Heaven and Hell likewise existing outside the dimensionality of this universe.

So the temporal reality of Heaven and Hell may be completely unlike the time experienced in this life.

Second--and more practically--in our own judicial systems we do not tend to base the time associated with punishment upon the time associated with the crime.

I may go to my job as a cashier at the candy shop, and every other day for two entire years steal $1.00 worth of candy. At the end of that time (a long period of deliberate lawbreaking), I would be guilty only of a misdemeanor, and the punishment would include absolutely no jail time. By contrast, I could conceive of and carry out a heinous double murder in the space of ten minutes; if convicted of these crimes, I might face two consecutive life terms in prison, or worse.

So the claim seems to hinge upon a correlation between the temporality of crime and punishment, a correlation that doesn't even hold in our own imperfect judicial systems.

Third, a factor that does matter in our own systems is the person or authority against whom the crime is committed. If I betray a confidence entrusted to me by my wife, it may have ramifications for my marriage and our relationship; but I will not be convicted of any crime, nor will I serve any prison time. If, however, I betray a confidence entrusted to me by my federal government, the charge is treason and the punishment has historically been execution.

In the case before us--the issue of Hell--the authority against whom the crime is committed is the highest Authority possible, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, the transcendent Lawgiver (the Source of the absolute moral code), and the Creator of the one sinning against Him. That same Authority is not only the one against whom the crime is committed but--as the supreme Authority--the only one who can offer (and has so offered) clemency.

Let's say I am lying on the soccer field. An opponent offers me a hand up, and I reject it. This is no big deal; maybe I believe he fouled me in the first place, there are plenty of other players who could help me up, and frankly, I can get up under my own power. But in the case at issue (in the claim we're addressing), I have fallen without hope; I am completely unable to save myself, and there is no one else who can help me... except the very Authority against whom I've sinned and who in His great mercy has offered me a single way of salvation. If I reject His gracious offer of a hand up, the consequences of that rejection are understandably severe.

In the next post, I'll identify additional ways in which this claim--that the eternality of Hell is unfair--is fundamentally flawed.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Evidence from Astronomy

I handled the Q & A service at my home church, Antioch, last week. After several questions about biological evolution, someone asked me about the latest astronomical and cosmological research. Here's my answer...

Is there astronomical or astrophysical evidence for evolution? from :redux on Vimeo.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Problems with Scientism

In the Critical Thinking class I'm teaching at Kilns College, we've discussed some bad epistemologies (flawed theories about truth and knowledge). One such bad idea--held by many in our culture--is scientism, the view that the only things we can really know are those things that have been shown to be true through scientific testing.

I come across this view frequently, especially in newspaper articles about science. (There seems to be a whole subculture within journalists of those who--while not scientists themselves--are sophisticated enough to agree wholeheartedly with everything scientists tell us.) The following articulation of scientism comes from an article in the L.A. Times, in which journalist Lori Kozlowski interviews Chris Mooney, coauthor of "Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future." The context and implication of the entire article is that whenever the public disbelieves or is skeptical of what scientists say, the public is wrong...
Q: What about the vaccine skeptic movement?

A: It bubbled up originally for legitimate reasons. The mercury preservative thimerosal probably shouldn't have been in vaccines. [Blogger's note: Ya think?] It was taken out for precautionary reasons. Since then, science has come in and we can't detect the correlation between a rise in autism diagnoses and use of childhood vaccines...

So, at some point you have to let go. But that hasn't happened. Instead, there's a conspiracy theory and people have appointed themselves as experts on this.

The people who try to avoid vaccination, who believe this, are not stupid. They're not disadvantaged... So the distrust of science--this is not something a better high school education would have saved them from. (ellipses in original article]
In other words, science tells us that there is no link between autism and childhood vaccinations, and that's the end of the story. People--that is parents--who don't believe science on this one are wrong (though not necessarily stupid). Even those parents who have personal, firsthand experience of their normal child suddenly displaying the behaviors of autism following their being vaccinated are wrong. Because, you see, on the view of scientism, no amount of eyewitness testimony can be brought to bear against science.

Mooney's view here is, of course, absurd, and I'll just give two reasons for now.

The first is that it is self-refuting. The claim "we can only know that which has been tested scientifically" is itself a knowledge claim, and one for which there is no scientific test. It's not a scientific claim at all, but a philosophical claim, and it falsifies itself. It is self-referentially absurd, and necessarily false. No amount of further discovery will make the claim of scientism true. (The people who make this claim--like Chris Mooney--are not stupid; they just don't think very clearly in certain areas. A better high school education--one that taught introductory logic, for example--might have saved them from this basic mistake.)

The second reason for rejecting scientism involves basic common sense. Just think about it--you know many, many things the evidence and reasons for which are not at all scientific. This includes a host of things for which you have firsthand (or even unique) knowledge; you were there and saw it happen. It includes many other things for which your justification for believing it (knowledge is "justified true belief") is sound. Do you know that George Washington was the first president of the United States, that we fought a war in VietNam, that the Romanian revolution took place in 1989? There's nothing scientific about any of that; so history involves a great deal of knowledge that refutes scientism. But so does geography, mathematics, your knowldege of current events. Indeed, unless you happen to be a scientist, most of the things you know how to do at work and at play you learned without scientific testing. Indeed, though there is increasingly DNA testing or other forensic science involved in criminal cases, most trials are decided primarily on eyewitness testimony and other non-scientific evidence and reasoning. I could go on and on, but have probably already belabored the point.

So Mooney's epistemology is demonstrably flawed, and it is this illogical epistemology that is at the heart of his conclusions about vaccination and autism. In other words, those parents who are skeptical of science's claim that there is no link are not involved in making conspiracy theories. Instead they are thinking more clearly about the issue--and with more at stake, since it's their kids' health on the line--than the scientists who have gotten involved. Though these parents may not consciously recognize the self-refutation involved in the scientist's claim, they are right to recognize that negative results from scientific testing do not serve to negate the abundant counter evidence from firsthand experience.

It is our right and duty as parents to carefully scrutinize the claims of science. This is especially true when the scientists involved betray their own failures in thinking clearly, as whenever they articulate the view described in this post as scientism.

(A version of this post originally appeared on this site on September 16, 2009.)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Good Day at the Butte

The breeze was westerly, and just enough to bring the hawks down the western edge of Surveyor's Ridge. I was at the southern end of that 35-mile-long ridge, at Bonney Butte, a place that concentrates southbound hawks, falcons, eagles, ospreys and vultures in fall. Hiding in a ridgetop blind that melded with the trees, I tried to capture as many of those migrating raptors as I could, banding and taking measurements of each before sending them back on their way.

I captured 17 hawks yesterday, including 9 Sharp-shinned Hawks, 5 Cooper's Hawks, and 2 Red-tailed Hawks. Many of them came in waves, and this kept me hopping, balancing the banding/measuring with trying to capture more at the same time.

The best bird of the day was the female Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) pictured above. She was a second-year bird with orange eyes (in her year of hatch she had yellow eyes, and as a full adult she'll have deep red ones). Her annual molt was nearly complete, with a few brown wing and tail feathers not yet replaced by the striking gray feathers that she'll sport for the remainder of her life. I was glad that Vince and Sarah, a couple from Portland, were there to watch the capture and to see at close hand and to briefly hold this beautiful wild creature.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Response to E____

(Thought I'd share--because of its apologetic content that ought to be of general interest--an email I just sent to a young atheist with whom I share a mutual friend...)

Hi E____

I'm writing you at the request of K_____. She indicates that you consider yourself an atheist, either because you see no reason to believe in God, because in your experience God is a crutch for people with a need to believe in Him, or both. The perspective I will share with you is that of a biologist who is also a philosopher and historian of science.

As I see it, my need is not to believe in God, but to align my beliefs with reality. This is, of course, what is meant by truth--when things really are the way we believe them to be. Were there any reason to disbelieve in God (or to believe in some other god or gods), were there any evidence on the side of atheism or polytheism (or Buddhism, Hinduism, or Islam), I would pursue such reasons and evidence in search of the truth.

There is no question in my mind that the Christian worldview uniquely matches the reality of the universe in which we live. While I could take the time to identify fatal logical, scientific, or historical flaws in any of a number of other worldviews, I'll make the case that Christianity much better matches reality than does scientific naturalism/atheism. And I'll do this for two reasons, first because I suspect the latter is the view that you espouse (rather than, say, Hinduism), and second because it's the alternate worldview I've researched the most. It is, after all, the great cosmogenic myth of our time (though, despite its present popularity, its tenure among the great ideas is astonishingly short) and what was uncritically offered as indoctrination throughout much of my formal educational experience.

To repeat, as a scientist and philosopher of science, I see Christianity as the accurate understanding of the world in which we live, and far superior in its explanatory power to scientific naturalism. The issue is not at all close. That is, whereas you ask "How can any well-educated scientist believe in God?" I have exactly the opposite query: "How can any but the most superficially educated scientist embrace the belief that there is no God?"

In other words, while the content of our beliefs--yours and mine--are exactly opposite on this issue, the strength of our respective beliefs is equally great. The difference is that I have spent a lifetime (and much longer than your lifetime) examing the evidence for both sides of the argument. I have been intentional in reading the works of atheists (ancient and modern), and have critically examined the reasoning and evidence offered by them. Have you done the same for Christianity? Have you read, for example, The Case for a Creator (Strobel) or Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis), The Creator and the Cosmos (Hugh Ross) or The Design of Life (Dembski and Wells)? I have read The God Delusion and The Greatest Show on Earth (both by Richard Dawkins), A Letter to a Christian Nation (Sam Harris), etc. (So flawed are some of the arguments therein that they provide abundant examples of both formal and informal fallacies for the college course I teach in Critical Thinking.) The point is, if you really want to understand a different worldview or belief system, read, comprehend, and wrestle with the very best books by proponents of that system.

Although I see a plethora of problems with scientific naturalism and the failed evolutionary theory that (for many) makes it plausible, I will have to limit my remarks to a few. (I'll be happy to interact with you, take questions or comments, and keep a dialogue going, but for an opening salvo I'll try not to be too lengthy. For one thing, the more I write, the more I run the danger of addressing a belief you don't actually hold. I'll address some misconceptions very common in our culture today, and you'll have to forgive me if you don't share some of these misconceptions.)

Most scientists spend all of their time studying phenomena within the ongoing processes of our world, and can happily do so without reference to God. But no matter how well we come to understand the movements of the starry heavens, the behavior of quarks, or the ecological relationships of a particular biome, there are bigger, more fundamental questions the answers to which science (if properly understood) can contribute. Of some 9 or 10 of these that come immediately to mind, let me briefly discuss two: the existence of the universe and the design of the universe for advanced life. (Other big questions include the existence of order in the universe, the origin of life, the diversity of life, the origin of the information in the genetic code, the origin of irreducibly complex biological systems, the existence of human consciousness...)

Note at the outset that theism (and particularly Christian theism) has been the default understanding--the view with adequate explanatory power--for each and all of these big questions throughout the history of Western thought. Note also that the very modern idea that atheism/scientific naturalism is somehow reaonable arose because Darwin offered a naturalistic explanation for just one of these big questions--the diversity of life. To put it another way, scientific naturalism has singularly failed to offer adequate explanations for these other big questions (and its attempts to do so lead to naturalism's most embarrassing errors in reasoning, ignoring of evidence, and such).

When we come to explaining the existence of the universe, we arrive at big problems both for naturalism generally and for evolutionary theory in particular. Darwin proposed his theory--which, according to Richard Dawkins, made it possible to be "an intellectually fulfilled atheist"--under the assumption that the universe itself was eternal (thus offering natural selection a nearly infinite amount of time to work its wonders). We now know this necessary assumption to be wrong; the universe had a beginning a mere 13.6 billion years ago, and the Cause of that beginning is outside the matter, energy, space, and time of the universe.

For statisticians and mathematicians, the realization that the universe had such a recent beginning is fatal not only for neo-Darwinism but for any naturalistic explanation for life's diversity. But more fundamentally, this 20th-century discovery represents powerful support for the Cosmological Argument for God's existence (that is, in philosophical terms, that the universe is contingent and its cause a necessary, eternal Being) and for the claims of Judeo-Christian scriptures written 3500 years ago. Indeed, general relativity and big bang cosmology are the most rigorously tested ideas in physics precisely because physicists and astronomers recognized (and found distastful) their theological implications and sought to refute them (through steady-state, oscillating-universe, and other alternate theories).

The past several decades have also yielded (primarily among physicists and astronomers) the discovery that the universe itself and our location in it are incredibly fine-tuned to allow for the existence of life and of intelligent life. This recognition has been dubbed the "Anthropic Principle," and rarely does a week go by without there being discovered yet another parameter of the entire universe or of a more local aspect of it whose value is set in the extremely narrow range (among the broad range of possible values) that makes human life possible. Ignoring for the time being the separate (huge) question of how life originated, the probability of even one life-support planet in the universe (even given the existence of 100 billion trillion stars and the possibility that there are planets associated with many of them) is zero. Astrophysicists Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinge put it this way:
The speculations of The Origin of Species turned out to be wrong... It is ironic that the scientific facts throw Darwin out but leave William Paley, a figure of fun to the scientific world for more than a century, still in the tournament with a chance of being the ultimate winner.
In the words of Stephen Hawking,
It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way, except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us.
The currently popular way of trying to get around the clearly theistic implications of big bang cosmology and the anthropic principle is to postulate an infinite number of other universes, each with different parameter values, such that we just happened to have won the lottery to end all lotteries. Besides there being absolutely no evidence (and no possibility of there ever being evidence) for such a situation, this metaphysical view does not do away with the need for a Creator, but only pushes that problem up a level. Moreover, while such a view might address the fundamental anthropic parameters (those that apply to our universe as a whole), it does nothing to explain the much greater number of local fine-tuned parameters (the crafting of our galaxy and solar system for life support).

Again, I could address each of the other big questions of metaphysics in turn, and we would see that all of the latest scientific discoveries powerfully support the Christian worldview and leave the naturalistic worldview without explanations. But there are more basic--logical--problems for scientific naturalism.

Modern science--the continuous, progressive endeavor that has cured many diseases, landed humans on the moon, and mapped the human genome--arose only once in human history, and that from within a Christian worldview. And this is not merely an historical oddity. Rather, Christian theism provides the logical grounding that makes science a worthwhile endeavor. Scientific naturalism does not. To be sure, today's well-trained (but poorly-educated) atheist scientist can engage in scientific research, but he cannot logically justify it. Among some two dozen assumptions that logically ground science (which come from Judeo-Christianity and for which atheism cannot account), two of the most important are that the physical universe is orderly and that our senses and reasoning are reliable in discerning that order. Christian men of the 16th and 17th centuries found in Scripture that the universe is the product of the mind of the caring, transcendent Creator, and so expected that the universe would be ordered, reflecting God's intelligence and rationality. Similarly, they discovered in the Bible that we humans are created in God's image, which they took to include sharing at least in part in His rationality.

The naturalist scientist depends upon there being order in the universe, but can only accept it as a fortunate brute fact--he cannot offer an explanation for it. As for the reliability of human senses and reasoning (in discerning that order), the situation is even worse. If--as on the evolutionary view--the human brain is simply the end-product of a designless, purposeless evolutionary process, there is no reason to expect its beliefs to be reliable in discerning reality. As astronomer and popular science writer Paul Davies has it,
People take it for granted that the physical world is both ordered and intelligible. The underlying order in nature--the laws of physics--are simply accepted as given, as brute facts. Nobody asks where they came from; at least not in polite company. However, even the most atheistic scientist accepts as an act of faith that the universe is not absurd, that there is a rational basis to physical existence manifested as law-like order in nature that is at least partly comprehensible to us. So science can proceed only if the scientist adopts an essentially theological worldview.
The early evolutionist J.B.S. Haldane also saw the problem:
If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of the atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true... and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.
Philosopher Alvin Plantinga sums it up thus,
Modern science was conceived, and born, and flourished in the matrix of Christian theism. Only liberal doses of self-deception and double-think, I believe, will permit it to flourish in the context of Darwinian naturalism.
C.S. Lewis made the analogy to dreaming and waking. While awake, we can account for our dreaming, but while dreaming, we cannot fit in the waking world.
The waking world is judged more real because it can thus contain the dreaming world. The dreaming world is judged less real because it cannot contain the waking one. For the same reason I am certain that in passing from the scientific points of view to the theological, I have passed from dream to waking. Christian theology can fit in science, art, morality, and the sub-Christian religions. The scientific point of view [here he has specifically in mind the evolutionary-based naturalism of the past several decades] cannot fit in any of these things, not even science itself. I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
Why, as a scientist, do I believe in the God of Christianity? I have so far given only a very partial answer, but one I hope that addresses some of your most central issues. In part, I am a Christian because all of the scientific evidence (regarding the big-picture questions) falls squarely on the side of Christianity and is opposite the evidences required for the success of a naturalistic project. More basically, Christianity makes science a worthwhile endeavor, by providing the necessary logical grounding; naturalism can neither logically justify nor defend the scientific enterprise.*

My hope, E______, is that you are really open to the truth on this central question of human existence (otherwise I've wasted a good deal of my valuable time already). I realize that there is powerful motivation for seeking to deny the existence of God, since the idea of a transcendent, all-powerful, all-knowing, and holy God who might concern himself with our human affairs and behavior can be terrifying. But reality is impervious to our wishes, and so (at least for me) finding the truth trumps my desires.

If you are open to continued dialogue, I could share (in separate emails) any or all of the following:

How the scientific evidence supports the Christian worldview regarding the other big questions (that I alluded to earlier),

Why neo-Darwinian evolution is a dying theory that will no longer be defended by anyone once tenured dinosaurs like Richard Dawkins pass away, (how the fossil record, genetic evidence, etc. support the idea of creative interventions and refute evolutionary claims),

How Christianity grounds--and naturalism fails to logically justify--morality,

How archaeology vindicates the historical reliability of the Old and New Testaments,

How fulfilled prophecy points to the supernatural character of the Bible,

How the history of Western civilization and all of the available evidence powerfully support the historicity of the rising of Jesus of Nazareth from the grave,


Let me know...

Rick Gerhardt
Biologist and Christ-follower

* Two of the really ludicrous notions that in our day get much popular press out of the scientific community are 1) that scientists are the experts in defing science, and 2) that the definition of science involves an exclusive appeal to physical or natural laws and phenomenon. In truth, we scientists--unless we have embarked on intentional separate study--receive no education in the history and philosophy of science. It is, therefore, not scientists, but philosophers of science who are the experts in what science is. And philosophers of science are unanimous in declaring that no one has successfully defended the claim that science is restricted to material, physical, or natural explanations. To put it another way, to the extent that scientists artificially limit themselves to studying only natural phenomena, they have disqualified themselves from making any larger metaphysical claims (as about the non-existence of immaterial or supernatural things). So in yet another way, scientific naturalism can be seen as a grand effort in fallacious self-delusion.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

New Semester

A new semester starts this week at Kilns College (in Bend, Oregon), and the course I'll be teaching starts this evening. That course is Critical Thinking, and it's apparently full.

In Critical Thinking, I hope to be able to accomplish several things.

For one, we'll consider the biblical foundation for nurturing the life of the mind, and examine the historical union of Christian theology and the promotion of literacy, Christianity's founding of schools and universities and of modern science, and it's traditional role at the forefront of political and social discourse. We'll touch upon the less positive situation of the last 100 years, where evangelicalism largely abandoned its tradition of recognizing the importance of cultivating the mind.

We'll take a little time to talk about how to get the most out of reading.

And then the remainder of the course will serve as an introductory logic class, in which we'll discuss what constitutes a sound argument and how to recognize an unsound one. As we examine formal and informal logical fallacies, we'll use as our examples actual fallacious arguments that impinge upon issues that ought to be meaningful to anyone seeking to know the truth about the world in which we live.

While it's too late to get into this class, there are ten other courses being offered at Kilns this semester, and most of them still have room. But don't wait--it's already the last minute to sign up and start attending. Go here to check those classes out.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Stewards of the King

Here's a Vimeo of the sermon I delivered at Antioch this past Sunday:

Rick Gerhardt :: Stewards of the King from Antioch Church on Vimeo.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Time Flying

Our week here in Nicaragua is flying by. We've spent most of our time at the House of Hope. There we've played baseball with the kids, put on workshops for the ladies and another for the staff, sorted beads, created new card designs, made jewelry, finished tiling the cafeteria, played with the young kids, built shelving, and heard powerful stories of how God has worked and is working to transform lives. It's been a great privilege to encourage some of the dedicated and courageous people working here, and to come alongside (if only for awhile) the women and girls who have experienced so much personal tragedy and trauma.

Yesterday, we took a trip up into the mountains to Matagalpa. The purpose was two-fold--to see the ground where the next Nicaragua Christian School is to be built, and to visit the Nicaraguan Young Life camp and the coffee plantation that helps support it.

Tomorrow, my daughters and I will have the opportunity to visit the young girl we sponsor through Compassion International, something to which we've been looking forward ever since we decided to visit Nicaragua.

The only bummer has been that Jackie, our good friend and one of our hostesses here in Managua, was admitted to hospital with an infection in her leg; it required surgery and will continue to require intravenous antibiotics until after we've left on Saturday. So we have greatly missed Jackie and her mother, Marilyn, for the latter half of our stay.

It's been a fantastic experience, and I am so grateful for the wonderful team that God put together for this trip. We've worked together, cried together, played together, and laughed together. I know it's been life-changing for each of us, and that we will leave a part of our hearts here when we leave.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Lunes Nica Update

We've had a couple of great days at the House of Hope. Sunday, after worshipping at the International Christian Fellowship (where our team led the church in an Antioch worship song, Our God Reigns by Justin Lavik), we went to the House of Hope where we played baseball with the kids and then had a pizza party.

Today we did a number of things there, bead sorting (for tomorrow's jewelry making), designing new greeting cards, and tiling the floor of the cafeteria. In the afternoon, part of the team led a workshop with the women and girls that live there, while others played with the little kids, children or grandchildren of some of the residents.

We saw an iguana in the yard this morning, enjoyed a warm rain shower in the afternoon, and are watching an awesome lightning storm (as well as rising lightning bugs) from the veranda this evening.

Eating well, working hard, loving life. Wish you were here.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

In Managua

Safe and uneventful trip for our team of eleven from Antioch. While waiting in line for Immigrations at the Managua Airport, all the lights went out. None of the locals seemed much concerned, and power was restored before too long. 80 degrees here at 9:00 in the evening, and not raining (as it has been off and on).

We're very comfortably billeted at the lovely home of the Loftsgard family, once hailing from Bend but now 13 years in Nicaragua. Looking forward tomorrow to a church service, tour of Managua (with mini history lesson), and a tour of House of Hope followed by a pickup baseball game and a pizza party there.

I'll blog about it here, but you can also follow this trip and the Antioch team in Cambodia by going to the Antioch Missions blog.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Regreso a Managua

I'm headed back to Nicaragua manana. Going back (a year later) to visit my friends the Loftsgards and some of the ministries with which they're involved. This time I'm taking both my daughters, and looking forward to a great time. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Genetic Similarity

Today I want to point out another problem with the appeal to genetics as support for evolution. This part of the claim...
DNA profiles show evolutionary relationships among species.
involves circular reasoning. Genetic similarity is offered as proof for evolution, but only because the claimant assumes that any similarity must be due to evolution. This is, of course, fallacious.

The evidence, stated without bias, is that all living things share varying degrees of similarity, both in their biochemical composition and in their genetic make-up. The degree of similarity tends to increase within recognizable hierarchies, such that mammals are more similar to one another than any mammal is to birds, and primates are more similar to one another than any primate is to bats or whales. That this is true at the morphological level has been known for a long time. The ancient Greeks understood it (and, I dare say, so did most ancient peoples). It certainly was well-known prior to Darwin, as by his time comparative anatomy was a well-developed discipline.

As I shared in the last post, Darwinists expected this similarity NOT to be true at the molecular (biochemical level), and they were wrong. We now know that this hierarchy of similarity extends (generally) to the genetic level.

But again, this recognition utterly fails to distinguish among competing theories for the diversity of life. Specifically, the alternate view that has been held for the vast majority of the history of Western civilization--that there is a single Creator/Designer responsible for life--finds at least equal support from these findings from the latest genetic research. Indeed, the great similarity (on the levels of morphology and physiology, biochemistry, and genetics) between living things actually presents problems for Darwin's theory. This includes the highly-publicized finding that chimps and humans share 95% or more of the same genetic material.

You see, Darwin's theory was not an attempt to explain the similarities between living things. Rather, it was an attempt to explain the differences. Gradualistic evolution--with its vast number of hypothetical (and yet-undiscovered) transitional forms--was meant to explain how the differences (as between chimps and humans) came to be. And that explanation involved strictly material causes and effects. That is, if evolution is an accurate explanation for the diversity of life, we will discover differences (at some level, whether biochemical, genetic, embryological, or whatever) that represent sufficient causes for the morphological, physiological, and other obvious differences.

Instead, at each material level (first biochemistry, then genetics, now evo-devo) evolutionary scientists are surprised at how similar different organisms (like chimps and humans) are. In other words, we still cannot say--on strictly materialist terms--what accounts for the vast differences (especially on characteristics like intelligence, reasoning, imagination, and such) between us and chimps. The genetic evidence doesn't account for these differences--and so, far from supporting evolution (as is frequently claimed), that evidence further undermines naturalistic evolution as an adequate explanation.

To believe otherwise is simply to argue in a circle.

(This post first appeared here on 7 June 2008, but remains relevant today.)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

As I've Been Saying...

Check out this column: Darwinism is dead by Paul Benedict.

Regular readers of this blog will recognize in this column some of what I've been saying for the last few years. The column is well worth reading in its entirety, but here's a summary statement:
Although they can rally against Creationism in one voice and riot against colleagues who advocate Intelligent Design with an outrage worthy of religionists, the weird little secret is that science knows Darwinism is dead.
This fact about scientific consensus leads (for those aware of it) to a real frustration with the educational systems that continue to teach as certain a theory that was largely rejected by the science community decades ago.

Apologetically, it highlights two ironies, 1) that a new generation of nasty young atheists are being emboldened in that atheism by writers like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett who remain blissfully unaware that the theory that supports their metaphysics is now recognized as naive and simplistic, and unsupported by all the available evidence, and 2) that numerous evangelical leaders are even now jumping on evolution's bandwagon at a time when it is no longer believed in by the critical members of this generation of scientists.

We live in interesting times.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Lifer Snake

I recorded a 'lifer' snake last week, a species I'd never caught in my life before. It was a striped whipsnake that my son Nathan and I caught on a backroad in Wasco County.

I'd seen several before, both in the bush and on the road. But besides being the fastest snake in the area, they are both wary and elusive. In my experience, they were generally gone before I'd stopped the car or before the image had registered on my mind. Then, too, their habitat preferences are somewhat specialized, and they are one of the less common snakes around. This species had become sort of a nemesis for me, and I'd begun to wonder whether I'd ever catch one.

This landmark capture came toward the end of a good day all around, as we'd earlier successfully deployed a satellite transmitter on a nestling golden eagle, which is always a satisfying experience.

Here's a picture of the happy herpetologist. You can see the distinctive pink wash on the belly and tail (of the snake, not the herpetologist).

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Dinosaurs and the Age of the Earth

Here's another Vimeo from the Redux service at which I officiated a couple of weeks ago. The question was about what the Bible has to say about dinosaurs and the age of the Earth.

Dinosaurs and the Age of the Earth from :redux on Vimeo.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Redux Question on Prayer

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity again to be the one answering questions at Antioch's Redux service. Redux is our chance to ask questions and raise challenges to and doubts about the Bible and Christianity. (We at Antioch believe that since Christianity is the uniquely accurate understanding of the world in which we live it is big enough to handle our doubts and challenges.)

This particular answer was in response to an email question,
Is it appropriate to pray directly to Jesus?

Can we pray to Jesus and the Holy Spirit or only to God the Father? from :redux on Vimeo.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Real Difference

So, I'm a soccer nut. And last Saturday, I watched a big game in the fierce rivalry between the Portland Timbers and the Seattle Sounders. The two have played each other some 75 times, but this is the first time in many years that both have been in the highest league in the U.S. (with Portland just this year being promoted to MLS).

Portlanders and Seattleites have much in common in terms of lifestyle, values, and such, and these two soccer clubs both have rabid fans, who fill their respective stadia, standing, chanting, and singing throughout the game (as is the case in England and elsewhere, but not so much in other U.S. cities). I was intrigued by one fan who, with a simple sign, put his finger on the real difference between Oregonians and Washingtonians. As the television cameras scanned thousands of supporters of the homestanding Seattle team, I caught a single placard that read,
Real Men Pump Their Own Gas

(Though the Timbers had the better play most of the first half, a defensive lapse led to a Seattle goal early in the second. But a goal off of a set piece eventually earned a draw for the team from the state with the strange gas laws. The rivalry will be renewed later in the summer, this time in Portland, where the Timbers have won each of their four games thus far.)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Step of Trust

In reading the "new atheists" Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, it is easy to see that they wholeheartedly accept the false understanding that Christian faith is an illogical leap taken contrary to evidence and reason. It's hard to blame them, perhaps, because even many Christians fail to recognize that the biblical portrayal is just the opposite, to wit, that a step of trust (in Jesus Christ) is the uniquely reasonable response to a right understanding of the evidence from reality.

The traditional Christian understanding of saving faith involves three aspects, notitia, assensus, and fiducia. Notitia means accurate knowledge, which comes through our senses, our reasoning, and revelation. Included in notitia, of course, is a right understanding of the human condition--created in the image of God and yet fallen--and of the unique solution in the incarnation, death, and resurrection of the Son of God. Assensus is the necessary agreement with that accurate knowledge. And yet, having both of these components--accurate information and agreement with those facts--is not enough. The third aspect, fiducia, means making the only reasonable response, committing one's life to that eternal Creator and personal Savior, Jesus Christ. Rather than a blind, irrational leap of faith, Christianity represents a logical step of trust, the only sensible personal response to the sum of the evidence and reason about the reality of our universe and existence.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Reason for Belief

I'm pretty excited about a class I'm leading these days at my church, Antioch. It's a book study, in which we're using as a springboard the first seven chapters of Timothy Keller's book, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. In each of these chapters, Keller responds to one of the common objections to believing in God (as defined by the Christian scriptures). In the first week, we discussed the charge that Christianity's claims are too exclusive to be true. This coming Sunday, we'll tackle the so-called problem of evil and suffering. I get fired up on this subject, since the Christian understanding is the only one that really does justice to the issue.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Crux of History

This week, people the world over celebrated the single event that more than any other changed history, changed the world. For folks on every continent and in every nation, the crux or crossroads of history is the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ.

It is, of course, impossible to fully separate the incarnation (the coming of God in the flesh), the crucifixion (with all it accomplished and the multitude of theological ramifications), and the resurrection. And while each of these doctrines is central and necessary to the Christian faith, most of us (rightly) focus on the latter--resurrection--as we celebrate this week.

The bodily resurrection of Jesus was the incredible news that spread like wildfire through the first-century Roman Empire. It represented the vindication (on the part of God the Father) of Jesus' earthly teachings and of His claim of being one with the Father. It is what changed a ragtag group of uneducated Jewish outcasts--broken and demoralized by the humiliating execution of their leader--into a bold band of mission-minded evangelists, willing to spread their message of assured hope wherever they went and at whatever cost (including ignomious and excruciating martyrdom). His earliest disciples were quick to recognize that Jesus' bodily resurrection meant--because of His promises to that effect--that they too (and all for whom he died) would likewise be raised.

The evidences for the centrality (in human history) of the death and resurrection of Christ are many and varied. For now, let me just point out that much of our language testifies to that centrality. Words I have used in this short essay--'crux,' 'crossroads'--are used to describe centrality, to designate the heart of a matter. These words, of course, share their etymology--as does the word for horrible pain--'excruciating'--with the word for the method by which Jesus was killed, 'crucifixion.'

"Jesus lives!" The events referred to by those two simple words produced a fundamental, cataclysmic, unalterable change in the world. Two thousand years after those events, the power of the Resurrection of Jesus is still producing astonishing transformation in the lives of people, families, tribes, and nations.

For those first followers of Jesus and for millions of believers since, the events we celebrate this week were life-changing--indeed, world-changing. Whatever else may be going on, we now recognize that we live in a world visited by its creator, a world redeemed by his atoning sacrificial death, and a world in which death has been finally and ultimately conquered.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Creation Care and the Christian

(an Earth Day post from a few years back...)

As Christians, we are called to be true environmentalists. That is, the rational link between the Judeo-Christian worldview and the call to care about and for the planet and its component parts is straightforward and clear.

According to the Scriptures, the universe, the planet Earth, and all of its inhabitants were created by God. Psalm 24 begins this way,
The earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.
Moreover, God gave man (at the very beginning of human history and again later) dominion over the Earth and all of its other inhabitants. This "dominion mandate" is both descriptive and prescriptive. It accurately describes reality. Human beings, with their reasoning (an important aspect of the "image of God" with which they alone of all creatures are endowed by the Creator), do indeed have greater potential and actual impact on the global and local environment than does any other species. The biblical understanding is that this impact can be for good as well as for harm. (By contrast, some of today's most zealous environmentalists see the effect of humans on our planet as only harmful; they deny our potential for being good stewards or carrying out beneficial husbandry.)

The prescriptive aspect of the dominion mandate says that not only do humans have dominion over the planet but that they should take that dominion seriously. We are expected--and accountable to our Creator--to be good stewards of all that He has created.

While the Bible does not teach extensively on this issue (and is largely silent on the how of good stewardship), we can be certain that followers of the one true God are called by Him to care for the creation with which he has blessed us. And while being Christian does not automatically give one any expertise in environmental science, it nonetheless behooves us to be salt (a preserving influence) in our generation with regard to creation care. This means (among other things) being responsible with our individual and local resources (indeed, I would argue that we should be on the forefront of such responsibility) as well as educating ourselves so that we might offer and support reasonable, well-founded solutions to more widespread environmental issues.

There are at least three reasons that Christians need to be better (than we have been in recent generations) at creation care. The first is simply that we are to obey God in all things, and being good stewards is one of those things he has commanded us. Another is for the sake of the environment itself, for the future generations of humans and other creatures that will need its resources. Many of the decisions our generation faces have greater potential for long-term effects on the future livability of our planet than the decisions of any previous generation. (I am not here denying God's sovereignty over such things, but affirming that that sovereignty involves the free will of the humans he created.) Third, our failure to obey the dominion mandate--the fact that Christians have not maintained a position at the forefront of creation-care issues--represents, for many in our generation, a further barrier to their considering the claims of Christianity.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Stewardship of the Earth

Besides being Good Friday on the Christian calendar, April 22nd is Earth Day (and also the birthday of our oldest, Nathan). So here's an appropriate quote written by another Christian thinker, J.R.R. Tolkien.

In The Return of The King, the wizard Gandalf is talking with Denethor, Steward of Gondor, who is despairing in the face of overwhelming odds arrayed against all that he has loved. (Shortly after this dialogue, Denethor takes his own life.)

I take Gandalf's words here to reflect Tolkien's understanding of what every individual is called to--by God--with respect to our care of creation. It certainly expresses my understanding well. Gandalf said...
...the rule of no realm is mine, neither of Gondor nor any other, great or small. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, these are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail of my task, though Gondor should perish, if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I also am a steward.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Waste of Space?

The movie Contact was not subtle in expressing its main theme. At least four times in the movie, the question is posed, "Do you think there's any other intelligent life out there?" The unvarying response is, "If not, it sure seems like an awful waste of space." The movie, of course, was adapted from Carl Sagan's novel by the same name, and offered a clear portrayal of his worldview, including the Principle of Mediocrity. Sagan was convinced by the sheer magnitude of the universe that life--and even intelligent life--must be everywhere abundant in it. We live in a culture that easily resonates with Sagan's views, where portrayals of such life are indeed everywhere. (You might prefer the original Star Trek series, but your wife likes The Next Generation, your brother is a Battlestar Gallactica fan, and your kids prefer sci-fi video games, but we can all find common ground somewhere in the Star Wars movie series, right?) But Sagan's conclusions in this regard had little to do with empirical science, and have become outdated by the accumulating evidence.

The second king of ancient Israel, the shepherd and psalmist David, likewise wondered at the immensity of the heavens, even though he could only see about 6,000 stars (the number that can be observed with the naked human eye).
When I consider the heavens, what is man that You [O Lord] are mindful of him?
Indeed, the vastness of the universe presents a challenge to folks of all metaphysical stances today. Mormon doctrine has the faithful populating planets throughout the cosmos. In a similar vein, the last book by the late Henry Morris, a young-Earth creationist, postulated that Christians would be given dominion over other planets in the age to come. These speculations on his part were largely fueled, apparently, by his inability to otherwise explain why there are so many stars if life on Earth was a primary purpose of creation.

As it turns out, however, the number of stars (approximately 100 billion trillion) is one of those many characteristics (along with associated parameters like the mass density of the universe and the relative masses of the neutron and proton) that must be just right for life to exist anywhere at any time in the universe. Given the chemistry and physics of the universe, the vast number of stars that exist are precisely what is required for life. Moreover, when the probabilities of such fine-tuning are considered, it becomes astronomically improbable that even one life-support planet exists (apart from a Designer). The question of the origin and existence of life is a separate, equally difficult problem for the naturalist, but that can wait for another post.

In the meantime, here're a couple of other quotes from scientists studying the fine-tuning of the universe. First, British astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle...
...a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology.
Likewise, theoretical physicist Tony Rothman wrote...
The medieval theologian who gazed at the night sky through the eyes of Aristotle and saw angels moving the spheres in harmony has become the modern cosmologist who gazes at the same sky through the eyes of Einstein and sees the hand of God not in angels but in the constants of nature.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Electron to Proton Ratio

How about that for a snappy title? Makes you want to call all your friends into the room to check out this blog post, doesn't it?

In the last post, I began to talk about the anthropic principle, the recognition on the part of astronomers, physicists, and chemists that the universe is made with intelligent life as its goal. Today I want to help you begin to appreciate what proponents of this principle mean when they discuss "fine-tuning." The example I'll give you comes from astronomer Hugh Ross' book, The Creator and the Cosmos.

The number of electrons (in the universe) is equivalent to the number of protons to an accuracy of one part in 10 to the 37th power. If it were not so, galaxies, stars, and planets would never form (because electromagnetic forces would so overwhelm gravitational forces).

So what does one part in 10 to the 37th power look like? Ross asks us to imagine the entire North American continent covered in dimes, and that continent-wide pile of dimes reaching all the way to the moon. Now, consider a million such continent-wide, to-the-moon-high stacks of dimes, and among all those dimes a single one painted red. One part in 10 to the 37th power is like a blind-folded person successfully selecting that one red dime on the first try!

And the ratio of electrons to protons is just one of more than 93 characteristics of the universe (so far documented) that exhibit extreme fine-tuning for life. That's why the evidence for design in the universe has led so many astronomers and physicists to use theological language when discussing their results. Take astronomer George Greenspan, for example...
As we survey all the evidence, the thought insistently arises that some supernatural agency--or, rather, Agency--must be involved. Is it possible that suddenly, without intending to, we have stumbled upon scientific proof of the existence of a Supreme Being? Was it God who stepped in and so providentially crafted the cosmos for our benefit?

(A version of this post was originally published on this site on 18 March 2007.)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Copernican or Anthropic?

The Polish astronomer Copernicus (1473-1543) is generally credited with establishing that the center of the solar system is the sun and not the Earth.* Subsequent astronomical research has shown that our sun is not at the center of our galaxy nor is our galaxy at the center of the universe. Add to this the modern recognition that the universe contains on the order of 100 billion trillion stars, and the result is the idea that the Earth is nothing special, location-wise, ontologically, or in its characteristics. This notion, popularized by the late astronomer Carl Sagan, is often referred to as the "Copernican Principle." This is a misnomer, of course, as Copernicus didn't share Sagan's religious views, and didn't overstate the physical evidence to support an unwarranted metaphysical claim. A better name for this idea--still popular among moderns (especially sci-fi fans who, like Sagan, consider it reasonable to think that the Cosmos is replete with planets hosting intelligent life forms)--is the "principle of mediocrity."

Today, however, anyone affirming the principle of mediocrity would be guilty--as was Sagan in his later years--of committing the fallacy of supressed evidence. During Sagan's lifetime and since, overwhelming evidence contrary to Sagan's view has been accumulating. General relativity has by now become the most rigorously tested theory in all of physics, and its logical product--big bang cosmology--has proved fatal for Sagan's view that "The Cosmos is all there is, or ever was, or ever will be." Moreover, astronomers, chemists, and physicists are continually identifying characteristics of the universe that are extremely fine-tuned to provide for human life. The current understanding--the anthropic principle--has turned the "Copernican" Principle on its head, and we now know (for example) that our sun's place within the galaxy and our galaxy's place within the galaxy cluster are (while not central) exactly what they need to be for life on Earth to be possible. According to astrophysicist Paul Davies...
There is for me powerful evidence that there is something going on behind it all… It seems as though somebody has fine-tuned nature’s numbers to make the Universe… The impression of design is overwhelming.
Stephen Hawking likewise expressed the latest understanding,
It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way, except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us.
In days to come, I'll be sharing just a few of the 93+ fine-tuned characteristics of the universe itself (fundamental fine-tuning)and the 154+ characteristics of the galaxy, solar system, and Earth (environmental fine-tuning) that fall within extremely narrow (life-permitting) ranges. If you want to learn more about this yourself, I recommend Hugh Ross' The Creator and the Cosmos, The Privileged Planet by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards, and the Reasons To Believe website (where updated lists of these characteristics can be found).

*Copernicus' immediate successors, Bruno and Galileo, played important roles in getting this understanding out. Moreover, there is some indication that even Ptolemy recognized ours as a heliocentric system. His system of concentric rings (that is to us moderns Ptolemy's legacy and which brands him as geocentric) may have been his best bet for predicting the locations of the planets given the rather undeveloped geometry of his day.

(I originally posted a version of this post on 16 March 2007.)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

God of the Gaps

[Besides entering my busiest time of year work-wise, I'm teaching one class at the Kilns and another two classes on the internet. What suffers is my time to write new blog posts. So the following is taken from a discussion thread in my internet class, in which I clarify what I take to be the issue with the God-of-the-gaps charge.]

I guess I have a slightly different take on the God-of-the-gaps issue. As I see it, this is not so much something of which Christians generally (and much less practicing scientists who are Christians) are really guilty. Rather, it is an illegitimate charge made against Christians by naturalists. And when naturalists raise this charge, they are generally guilty of several logical fallacies...

1) They are guilty of creating a straw man. While there may be some who easily claim "because God did it" too early in the search for explanations, this is an extreme position and not the one taken by the vast majority of Christians engaged in scientific discussion. When one addresses only the absurd, extreme articulations of his opponents (setting up a straw man that is easily knocked down) instead of addressing the thoughtful, difficult objections made by more moderate opponents, one is being academically disingenuous and logically fallacious.

2) They are guilty of the ad futurum fallacy. (I actually wanted to make up my own name for a fallacy, the "log-in-your-own-eye fallacy," but will stick with a well-recognized name.) But what I mean is that the naturalist is equally guilty (moreso, actually) of engaging in naturalism-of-the-gaps. The claim is that while we don't currently know the natural explanation, give us 75 years and we will. This is a faulty appeal to the future. In good reasoning, one is expected to find the best explanation for all the currently available evidence, rather than appeal to hypothetical future evidence.

3) More fundamentally, the naturalist is guilty of equivocation, wrongly using two significantly different definitions of the 'gaps' being addressed.

The naturalist likes to identify epistemological gaps (gaps of knowledge), and show that historically such gaps have closed. But the more interesting gaps--and those raised by the old-Earth creationist and the proponent of Intelligent Design--are ontological gaps (gaps of existence or being). The naturalist serves his own cause by conflating these two definitions or by ignoring this crucial distinction.

We could discuss (for example) the gap between the existence of a universe and the non-existence of a universe, or the gap between the Edicarean life forms and those of the Cambrian. These are fundamentally gaps of being, not merely gaps in our knowledge. And while the actual gaps involved are unchanging, the epistemological gaps (as we better understand the breadth and suddenness of the Cambrian explosion) are getting larger, not smaller. Perhaps the best example is that of the origin of life. The gap between non-living chemistry and the simplest life is now understood to be much larger than any evolutionary naturalist ever conceived.

So, it is rather uninteresting to note that we ought not be guilty of appealing to the supernatural prematurely, when there is still every indication that a natural (process) explanation will be found (for whatever phenomenon is being studied). But when we are studying origins* questions (rather than process questions), there is every reason to use abductive reasoning, and explanations that involve a supernatural being can reasonably be offered in such cases. This is especially true since only a theistic worldview logically grounds the assumptions that make science worthwhile (as discussed in another thread).

* Failure to differentiate between empirical (process) research and historical (origins) research also serves the scientific naturalist's cause. Whether this represents mere imprecision/naivete or disingenuity on their part I'm never quite sure.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Peppered Moth Evidence

From the archives again, the post with which I followed up "Green Toothpicks" about 4 years ago...

[In the last post], I shared about an artificial (and rather poor) illustration of natural selection in action ("Green Toothpicks"). The most famous (and much-cited) example of natural selection in the wild is the changes in coloration of the Peppered Moth, changes that occurred as a result of industrialization in Great Britain. These changes were noticed throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, as Peppered Moth populations went from being mostly white (with a few melanistic individuals) to mostly dark (with a few light individuals). In the 1950's, Bernard Kettlewell, a British biologist and physician, began a series of experiments that led him to believe that this change could be explained as a result of natural selection. He concluded that the moths were eaten by birds (visually-oriented predators) as they rested on tree trunks during the day. Kettlewell reasoned that before industrialization, light-colored moths were more prevalent because they were better camouflaged on the light-colored (and lichen-covered) tree trunks. But with increasing pollution, tree trunks became darker (and lichens died), light-colored moths were less camouflaged than darker ones, and the phenotype of the population became predominantly that of the dark individuals. This elegant example from the wild remains to this day the classic textbook example of natural selection at work.

Subsequent research has cast a great deal of doubt on this entire scenario. It turns out that Peppered Moths don't normally rest on tree trunks but in the crown of the trees, that researchers (including Kettlewell) released moths by day (even though they are a nocturnal species), that many (not including Kettlewell) in fact pinned dead moths to trunks rather than use live ones in their capture-recapture experiments. In addition, neither the distribution of the various color morphs nor that of the lichens fit the patterns predicted by pollution rates, either during the industrialization or following emission controls (when white moths made a comeback in some regions). The problems unearthed have been so serious that what had been called "Darwin's missing evidence" has been deemed invalid even by evolutionary scientists. (For a summary of these problems, the reader is referred to chapter 7 of Jonathan Wells' Icons of Evolution.) Nonetheless, since evidence for the evolutionary paradigm is so scant, this invalidated tale is still a prominent feature in most modern textbooks (with no mention of its problems).

But again, suppose we ignore (for the sake of argument) the fact that subsequent research has shown that the Kettlewell scenario does not provide the evidence for which Darwinists hope. Let us be generous and grant that perhaps further research will discover a mechanism (consistent with natural selection) that explains the change in Peppered Moths. Then, as evidence for macroevolution, we have the same problem here as we had with the green toothpicks. We have--at the end of the experiment--merely a different frequency of the same phenotypes already present at the beginning. Phillip Johnson has stated the problem well (in Darwin on Trial)...
Why do other people, including experts whose intelligence and intellectual integrity I respect, think that evidence of local population fluctuations confirms the hypothesis that natural selection has the capacity to work engineering marvels, to construct wonders like the eye and the wing? Everyone who studies evolution knows that Kettlewell’s peppered moth experiment is the classic demonstration of the power of natural selection, and that Darwinists had to wait almost a century to see even this modest confirmation of their central doctrine. Everyone who studies the experiment knows that it has nothing to do with the origin of any species, or even any variety, because dark and white moths were present throughout the experiment. Only the ratios of one variety to the other changed. How could intelligent people have been so gullible as to imagine that the Kettlewell experiment in any way supported the ambitious claims of Darwinism?
At least two pitfalls (obstacles to objective truth) can be seen in the Peppered Moth story. First, moth researchers used invalid methods and jumped to wrong conclusions primarily because of an inordinant desire to provide evidence for a popular--but evidentially-impoverished--theory. Second, had their conclusions not been spurious, these same researchers (and their popularizers, including textbook editors still today) have been guilty of failing to see the scalar limitations of their results. Evidence of natural selection working at the level of a species quite simply is irrelevant as evidence for macroevolution.

As a scientist, I only hope that the Peppered Moth may serve as a reminder to avoid these pitfalls long after it has been finally discarded as a significant piece of evidence for Darwinian evolution.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Green Toothpicks

I'm pretty busy these days, catching eagles, writing reports, and doing quite a bit of teaching. So, with little time to blog, I've reached back into the archives for the following, originally posted 4 years ago today. It's called "Green Toothpicks."

I took an undergraduate biology class from Dr. "Mad Dog" Johnson, in which he tried to demonstrate natural selection in action. We went outside to a lush, uncut, well-fertilized portion of the campus lawn, where we strew a known number of toothpicks of different colors--red, yellow, blue, and green. We, the students, then acted as predators--the agents of natural selection--foraging through that patch of lawn, capturing as many toothpicks as we could find. As I recall, we found all of the yellow and red toothpicks, most of the blue ones, and almost none of the green, so well-camouflaged were they among the long blades of springtime grass. The lesson was that natural selection works just so on populations of living things.

There are at least a couple of serious problems with this experiment as an illustration of natural selection at work. If--as is claimed--natural selection acting on genetic variation is the mechanism by which evolutionary advance is made, what we demonstrated would seem to be just the opposite. Our toothpick population began with a much higher genetic diversity than it ended with. The population, which now consists almost entirely of green toothpicks, would seem to be much less able to adapt to a changing environment than when it contained the greater diversity of phenotypes. It has ever since seemed to me that we demonstrated that natural selection has a far greater capacity to tend toward extinction than to adaptation and advance.

Another problem with this illustration is just as important. Let us be unreasonably generous and grant that the resulting population of toothpicks is somehow better prepared to adapt to some future environmental change. That is, let us say--for the sake of argument--that what we witnessed was an instance of microevolution. Microevolution refers to the idea that species (and populations and such) are not static, but change over time in both their phenotype and genotype (their morphology and the genetic basis for their morphology, respectively). That microevolution occurs is a well-accepted, non-controversial idea. Let us say that the population of green toothpicks is a good example of something having undergone microevolution. The claim of neo-Darwinism is that it is this same mechanism--natural selection acting upon genetic variation (mutation)--that accounts for macroevolution. In other words, the diversity of all life is explainable by this sort of natural selection acting over vast time scales.

In the specific case of the toothpick illustration, we are to believe that if we waited long enough (as the toothpicks bred generation after generation) and continued preying on those toothpicks most easily spotted, eventually those toothpicks would give rise to species of dental floss, of toothbrushes, and even, eventually, of electric toothbrushes, all without the input of any sort of intelligence or designer.

That there have existed--over the course of Earth's history--different life forms is readily acknowledged. Macroevolutionary theory, as an explanation for how that record came to be, has yet to be substantiated by any evidence. Rare cases of microevolution have been documented, and then we are asked to make the unreasonable and unsupported extrapolation that such minor changes can be invoked to explain all of the advancing complexity witnessed in the fossil record. For me, Professor Johnson's toothpick demonstration has always served as a reminder of the absurdity of the grander claims of evolutionists.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Headin' to Ohio

Looking forward to a weekend back where I grew up, Cincinnati, Ohio. Especially excited about speaking on various apologetics topics to a group of men at a weekend retreat across the border in Indiana. Science and Christianity, Reliability of the New Testament, Historicity of the Resurrection are among the topics I'll tackle.

Jasper and I will also be able to have some Skyline Chili while we're there, and hope to breakfast on goetta once or twice. When in Rome...

Friday, February 4, 2011


Time to promote yet another great blog. This one from another brilliant friend of mine, Brandon Groza, who studied ancient near-eastern languages and thus has fascinating insight into Bible passages that I--and most--miss. Check it out at Hokma, and make it one of your favorites. I have.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Archaeology and the Bible

It is with great pleasure that I refer my readers to the web site of my friend Mike Caba, who researches and visits sites around the world where evidences that corroborate the Bible can be found. At this web site, you can find a host of archaeological discoveries that verify biblical accounts, from the New Testament all the way back to the time of David. Check it out here.

It was Mike who allowed me to tag along on his recent trip to Greece. Mike is also a professor and Dean of Faculty at Kilns College (where I teach). You can take his course in Archaeology and the Bible, or get him to come and give a lecture on a variety of related topics.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Justice Reprise

So here's the Vimeo of a follow-up to the issue I addressed in the last post, about God's call to His people to care about injustice in the world:

Christians and Justice from :redux on Vimeo.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Why Justice?

I had a chance again last week to answer questions at Redux, Antioch's Q & A service. Here's one of my answers, responding to the question of why Antioch (my church in Bend, Oregon) is so concerned about issues of justice.

Why the Justice Conference? from :redux on Vimeo.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Greek Peregrinations

With my buddy, amateur archaeologist and Kilns College Dean of Faculty, Mike Caba, I spent the first week of the new year wandering around Greece. This beautiful country is, of course, full of wonderful examples of ancient art and architecture, and we explored as much of that as we could in the 4 1/2 days we were there. But Greece is also full of New Testament history, and Mike dragged me all over the country to see first-hand some of the evidences that verify places, people, and dates in the life of the apostle Paul and others. We rode subways, taxis, and buses--as well as walking across Athens several times over--to get to Ancient Corinth, Delphi, Marathon, and Elefsina (home of an ancient mystery religion). From time to time, I'll post a bit more about this whirlwind trip and what we saw. Here's a pic of Mike and me at a rather impressive edifice they call the Parthenon.