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.)