Monday, November 19, 2012

Theology of Multiverse Theory

A friend recently emailed me to ask about multiverse theory. His question was whether there is anything to it at all or if it is simply an attempt to escape the clear theological implications of the 20th century recognition that the universe came into being a recent time ago and is amazingly designed to make possible life on Earth. Here's my response...

Dear D____:

The answer to your question is actually a bit complex, and getting it right involves identifying several aspects of the issue. As you are well aware, the discoveries in astrophysics and cosmology of the past several decades have provided stunning support for the claims of the Bible and of Judeo-Christianity. General relativity has become the most rigorously tested—and verified—idea in all of physics, which leads to the almost universal acceptance among scientists of so-called big bang cosmology and the space/time theorem, the recognition that the universe began, and powerful scientific support for the cosmological argument for God’s existence. Moreover, the teleological (design) argument for God’s existence has likewise found a great ally in modern science, with the development of the anthropic principle, the recognition that the universe is extremely fine-tuned for human life on Earth.

The astronomer or physicist today who would remain an atheist needs to explain away, then, in naturalistic terms, three things—the beginning of the universe, the fundamental fine-tuning of the universe (that is, the hundreds of characteristics of the universe itself that demonstrate design for life), and the environmental fine-tuning (the far greater number of identified characteristics of our more local environment—galaxy, solar system, and such).

Appealing to some form of multiverse theory is the claim of choice for many scientists who seek to deny the Creator. And (as you suggest) some forms of multiverse theory are completely speculative (and even absurd), with no evidential or theoretical support, beyond the possibility of testing, and likely offered only in hopes of denying the theological implications of the available evidence from the actual universe. Into this category are those bizarre theories referred to (by Max Tegmark, a physicist at MIT) as Level III and Level IV multiverse models. There is really no need to describe or discuss these.

But the same cannot be said of Level I and Level II models. Both sets enjoy at least some theoretical support, and some form of Level I multiverse is almost certainly true. While some advocates of these models may be motivated by a desire to explain away the beginning and design of the universe, the models themselves are worth describing, so that we can discuss their actual theological implications.

It is somewhat of a misnomer to call Level I models ‘multiverse’ models. What is meant by a Level I multiverse is just a single huge universe, one much larger than the portion of it that is observable from our position in it. It is pretty well accepted among astrophysicists that there is more to the universe than what we can see. This is because all of the available evidence indicates that there was a brief period of hyper-inflation early in the universe’s history. (To put it another way, the evidence has led scientists to focus their research on a very narrow suite of big-bang models that remain viable, and these are all inflationary models.) Inflation solves three problems of more basic big bang models (the flatness problem, the horizon problem, and the monopole problem.)

It is important to point out that a Level I multiverse does not explain away the beginning of the universe—its origin is still the big bang singularity of 13.7 billion years ago. Likewise, it does not explain away the fundamental fine-tuning of the universe, as the same laws of physics would apply to all corners of such a multiverse. Moreover, the environmental fine-tuning would be explained away only if the Level I multiverse were nearly infinitely large. All of the available evidence (relating to the ‘geometry’ of the universe) argues against such an infinitely large multiverse. For all these reasons (and others), the existence of a Level I multiverse does not offer any hope for the person intent on denying God’s existence.

Level II models involve the existence of a vast number of ‘bubble’ universes, each with different laws of physics. In most such models, inflation occurs before the forming of our (or any other) universe. The theoretical support for some form of Level II multiverse comes from certain very specific variations of string theory, but there is almost no actual evidence supporting these models. Indeed, the available evidence supports inflation’s occurring within (not prior to) our universe. While the existence—against all evidence—of an infinite number of other bubble universes would help explain away the fundamental fine-tuning of our universe, it would not do away with the problem of the environmental fine-tuning.

Nor would it explain away the beginning of our universe or undermine the cosmological argument for God’s existence. This is the direct conclusion from the relatively-recent BVG theorem. (This proof was developed by Arvind Borde, Alexander Vilenkin, and Alan Guth, and takes its name from the first letter of their last names.) According to the BVG, any universe that expands on average—as does an inflationary multiverse—must have a beginning in the finite past. In other words, rather than undermining the cosmological argument, Level II multiverse models make this argument more robust.

I’m all for continued research in these areas, which will undoubtedly result in a better understanding of the creation in which we live. The scientists involved likely have a variety of motives, some of them good and some of them less so. Those seeking to find intellectual support for their denial of God are more to be pitied than censored, though, since the universe in which we all live really is the one accurately described by the Bible, the exquisitely-designed creation of an all-powerful, loving Creator.

Thanks for the question.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Creation, Church, and Community

My wife and I had the great privilege recently to enjoy a weekend retreat (in Texas’ hill country) during which we interacted with the topic of creation care in the life of the church. The theme of the weekend was “Creation, Church, and Community,” and the speakers were Eugene Peterson (well-known pastor, theologian, and translator/editor of The Message) and Peter and Miranda Harris, founders of A Rocha, a Christian conservation organization working in 19 countries. We were invited by Tom Rowley, A Rocha’s U.S. Director, who moved to Bend a bit over a year ago.

It was a real treat to be among passionate, like-minded folks, dedicated Christ-followers who rightly understand God’s love for His creation and His expectations of His people to join Him in caring for it.

Caring for creation is, of course, the first commandment of God to His people recorded in Scripture. This commandment was reiterated, and never rescinded. Jesus’ carried the theme through, repeatedly describing the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth—which His incarnation initiated—as vineyards and properties left by the master to the care of his stewards.

As one who has worked life-long in the field of conservation biology, I recognize (with the Harrises and others) the need to work together with those who don’t acknowledge the Creator. At the same time, I realize that it is those of us who know and worship Him who have the greatest justification for engaging in protection of this planet and the people and other living things that inhabit it. The secular naturalists with whom I often work offer reasons for caring about conservation, but those reasons are anthropocentric, short-term, and ultimately unsatisfying.

Care for the environment is, of course, a justice issue. And that is in at least two ways. First, the creation itself—the soils, water, atmosphere, and all living creatures—has great worth, and whenever we treat it with less respect than it warrants we commit an act (and betray an attitude) of injustice. Secondly, it is the marginalized and voiceless people of the majority world—those living in poverty—who directly experience the results of environmental degradation. (Whereas we have a mediated relationship with the environment—insulated by our air conditioning, gated communities, and other comforts—the global majority have an unmediated relationship with the environment.) So poor stewardship of the Earth leads directly to harm for the people God created and whose care He has entrusted to His followers.

But if God loves His whole creation, and expects His people to care for it, why has the church—particularly in America—abdicated its role of good stewardship? (Of the many countries in which A Rocha has attempted to establish Christian creation care centers or projects, it is in the U.S. that this biblical message has faced the most obstacles.) Harris shared that each nation’s church has its own barriers to effective conservation, and identified some of those specific to America and its churches. These include our characteristic materialism and consumerism (which is exacerbated by the mixed blessing of abundant natural resources and space), a business-model approach to church life, a growing skepticism toward science, and the politicization of environmental issues. I would add as factors a dubious eschatology and an equally erroneous modern understanding of the doctrines of creation and fall. More deeply, perhaps, there is (as a distinctive of American evangelicalism) a spiritualization of the gospel—a narrow focus on the saving of souls for the next life that disregards Jesus’ holistic message of the redemption of the entire creation through His in-breaking kingdom.

There is great hope though—embodied by folks like those that came together in Texas—that the church is returning to a right understanding of God’s call upon us to care for His creation. I’m excited about the work that A Rocha and others are initiating and by the increasing frequency of discussions within the church of this neglected issue. I am especially heartened by the passion of a younger generation of Christ-followers who seem to innately recognize that to claim to love God while at the same time disrespecting His creation is hypocrisy of the highest order.

Peter Harris will be a pre-conference speaker at the Justice Conference in Philadelphia in February. I also recommend his books, Under the Bright Wings (which recounts the early years of A Rocha in Portugal) and Kingfisher’s Fire, which carries the story of A Rocha to more recent times.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Faith and Apologetics

Last Sunday, I delivered the sermon at my home church of Antioch (in Bend, Oregon). It was the fourth of a five-week series on Faith. I chose to talk about how Christians have historically understood faith and how the concept has been mischaracterized (within the church as well as by unbelievers) in our day. Have a listen!

Rick Gerhardt :: Faith & Apologetics from Antioch Church on Vimeo

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Zonotrichia Trifecta

Even though there hasn't been a single fall weather front move through yet, there has been a real upsurge in avian activity in our yard. The Townsend's Solitaires have been staking out their winter territories for a couple of weeks now, and we've had Red-breasted Nuthatches and Mountain Chickadees looking like settling in. This week brought the first Juncos, a male Spotted Towhee and an unseen Varied Thrush. White-crowned Sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys) are here in numbers, but raising a mist net yesterday led to the discovery of one young each of the rarer congeners, Golden-crowned Sparrow (Z. atricapilla) and White-throated Sparrow (Z. albicollis). Golden-crowneds often pass through, staying for a week in the fall and another in the spring; it's only once every few years, however, that we hear or see a White-throated.*

Here's a photo of the young White-crowned Sparrow, the third member of our Zonotrichia trifecta...

*Well, actually, we hear one twice every day, as its song, "Poor old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody," is the ten-o'clock tone on the bird clock in our living room.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Denial Among Astrophysicists

There was an op-ed article in the NY Times yesterday titled "Alone in the Void." It was by Adam Frank, a well-credentialed professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester. In it, he articulated his (apparently recent) realization that we humans have no hope of ever getting outside our solar system (to escape our own planet or to seed any number of others). What Frank is coming to terms with is the (rather obvious) fact that the technologies that make crossing vast distances of space--in the plethora of television and movie series like Star Trek and Star Wars--are fiction and that the limitations to such travel are not technological or intellectual (and thus susceptible to overcoming) but established by the laws of physics (and thus intractable).

Then today in the local newspaper (The Bend Bulletin), expert solar observer and amateur astronomer Bill Logan writes an article entitled "Why we haven't heard back from Andromeda (or anywhere else)." He, too interacts with the straightforward, intractable physical limitations--this time with communications in mind--imposed by the vast distances between stars and galaxies. Logan's article also mentions such problems as the ephemeral nature of human language and the tendency of intelligent civilizations to self-destruct:
Languages rarely last more than 4,000 years on Earth, so will we understand their [the Andromedans'] message if they answer? Likewise, if we heard an intelligent signal from Andromeda, could we send a message back? Would the civilization in Andromeda still be there?
I should applaud each of these experts for their willingness to temper the fictional conclusions shared by many moderns about life elsewhere in the universe and our future ability to interact with such life. But my overarching reaction is continued amazement at the collective inability or unwillingness (even of astronomers and physicists) to acknowledge the simpler, straightforward explanation that has for decades now garnered all of the empirical support.

Attempting to travel to other parts of space is a futile enterprise, and listening for signals from extraterrestrial intelligent life is a waste of time, for the same, well-supported reason: Earth is likely the only place in the universe capable of supporting intelligent life.

One is likely to get little argument about the claim that the single most significant scientific discovery of the last hundred years is general relativity and the realization that all of the matter, energy, space, and time of the universe had a beginning a finite time ago. But for many, the next most significant advance of that century is the anthropic principle, the discovery that the universe itself (its laws and physical constants) and our more local environment (galaxy system, galaxy, solar system, sun, Earth, moon, other planets, etc.) exhibit hundreds of characteristics that fall within very narrow ranges with the apparent goal of providing for human life on Earth. Even the vastness of the universe--the existence of 100 million trillion stars--is, as it turns out, necessary for the existence of life on Earth (rather than the 'waste of space' postulated by the characters in Carl Sagan's Contact).

The following acknowledgements of the design of the universe for life are now quite dated, which makes me wonder all the more that so many folks opining today seem blissfully unaware of this discovery.
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. (Astrophysicist Paul Davies, 1988)

One would have to conclude either that the features of the universe invoked in support of the Anthropic Principle are only coincidences or that the universe was indeed tailor-made for life. I will leave it to the theologians to ascertain the identity of the tailor. (Cosmologist Bernard Carr, 1979)

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. (Stephen Hawking, 1988)

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? (Astronomer George Greenstein, 1988)

Astronomy leads to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing, one with the very delicate balance needed to provide exactly the conditions required to permit life, and one which has an underlying (one might say "supernatural") plan. (Nobel Prize-winning physicist Arno Penzias, 1992)
Now, while these men danced around the theological implications of these discoveries (and some, like Hawking, dedicated the rest of their careers to seeking explanations that would avoid those implications), what they each acknowledged unambiguously is that the evidence suggests that the universe itself and the Earth in particular exhibit characteristics for life support that are unimaginably improbable.

Today, attempts to get around the theological implications of the anthropic principle focus on postulating an infinite number of other universes (each with different physical laws and constants), with the inhabitants of our universe having won the cosmic (actually, trans-cosmic) lottery. But even these explanations do not address the environmental anthropic parameters--the characteristics of our galaxy, solar system, etc. that make life on Earth possible.

While I understand the a-theological motivation to explain away the implications of the anthropic principle, what I can't understand is how so many physicists and astronomers can carry on as though the anthropic discovery had never been made.

Monday, July 9, 2012

What to make of the Higgs Boson

[I've had more than one person ask me what they should make of the news (from last week) about the discovery of the Higgs boson. Here's my response to one of them.]

Hi J_____:

Well, yes, this is pretty exciting stuff. Ever since physicists realized that there were particles smaller--and more fundamental--than protons, neutrons, and electrons, the race has been on to identify the different kinds of these particles. The discovery of them is largely theoretical (they cannot be directly seen), but predictions are made that can be tested in huge particle accelerators (like the Large Hadron Collider, which figures prominently in the recent discoveries).

Successful predictions and classification of a number of these fundamental particles has led to a working model (usually referred to as the standard particle theory), and this model predicts (indeed, seems to depend upon) the existence of a superparticle called the Higgs boson (boson being a class of such particles and Peter Higgs being a leading theoretical physicist who first predicted this particle's existence). It is 'super' because it plays a central role in determining the mass and other characteristics of many of the other particles. The Higgs boson is predicted to be free of either electrical or color charge, and its mass has previously been narrowed down to a relatively small range. It is within this range that the recent particle-bombardment tests have been occurring.

I believe that a news release with a research update was all along scheduled for July 4 (irrespective of what the update would be). As that date neared, rumors flew that the announcement would be that evidence for the HB had been found. (Remember, up until now, its existence was only theoretical.) Evidence would have been very positive, but physicists were doubtful that discovery would be claimed (discovery requiring a greater level of conformity to predictions). However, both sets of researchers obtained the necessary level of conformity to predictions, and the announcement was, in fact, of the tentative discovery of the HB.

All this means is that the standard particle model has gained a much greater level of support. Had the HB eluded physicists (had predictive tests not yielded positive results), then eventually a different model would have been required. Yesterday's news means that physicists have probably been on the right track all along.

Theologically/metaphysically, this discovery doesn't really have much bearing. The Higgs boson--like all of the other fundamental particles, like all matter, energy, time, and space--is a created part of this universe, and functions according to physical laws put in place by the Creator. One nickname for the HB--the 'God particle'--is potentially misleading (giving naturalists/atheists the misunderstanding that discovery of this particle might somehow explain away the need for God). The HB is indeed of central importance (according to the standard model) to the workings of the other fundamental particles, and thus--like God--lies behind everything else. Additionally--again, like God--the HB is difficult to detect; it had (rightfully) attained a sort of 'holy grail' status, its discovery being the virtual proof of the accuracy of the model. But where God is necessary and uncreated, the HB is definitely contingent and created; indeed its contingency is part of its elusiveness.

So again, pretty heady stuff, but without much implication for the larger conclusions of the past 100 years of astronomy/physics... that the universe is the creation of a good, personal, necessary, self-existent, transcendent, superintelligent, superpowerful Creator. With the discovery of the Higgs boson and the further validation of standard particle theory, the cosmological and teleological arguments for God's existence are as strong as ever.

Hope you're well.


Saturday, June 9, 2012

Justice and the Environment

So here's the Vimeo of the presentation I gave on "Justice and the Environment" at the Justice Conference in Portland, Oregon this last February. I had a very interesting and attractive powerpoint presentation showing on the screen behind me, but the cameraman chose to keep the camera on me. Apologies for that.

Rick Gerhardt: “Justice and the Environment – A Worldview Perspective.” from The Justice Conference on Vimeo.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Ancient Cuttlefish Ink

Follow this link to a summary of exciting recent research in which the ink of a 160-million-year-old fossil cephalapod was found to be intact. Here's the important bit:
The finding -- in an extremely rare case of being able to study organic material that is hundreds of millions of years old -- suggests that the ink-screen escape mechanism of cephalopods -- cuttlefish, squid and octopuses -- has not evolved since the Jurassic period, and that melanin could be preserved intact in the fossils of a range of organisms.
Of course, my take on this discovery is slightly different than that of most of the folks involved in it. I share their excitement at the truly astonishing half of this--it is wonderful that this pigment could be so well-preserved from so long ago as to be susceptible to analysis. This analysis has already led to valuable insights, and the success in this particular case offers hope that other compounds may be preserved and open to testing from organisms that have long ceased to walk the Earth (er, swim the planet's seas).

The other aspect of this is the recognition that this inky compound is identical to that of modern cuttlefish, that, as the study's coauthor John Simon has it,
It's close enough that I would argue that the pigmentation in this class of animals has not evolved in 160 million years. The whole machinery apparently has been locked in time and passed down through succeeding generations of cuttlefish. It's a very optimized system for this animal and has been optimized for a long time.
This seems to be an unexpected result to the evolutionists involved, but it is, frankly, completely in line with all other relevant evidence and thus no surprise to those who have not been misled to embrace evolutionism.

Truly, this system (not only the inky compound but the entire set of related anatomy, physiology, and behavior) is--and always has been--optimized. Indeed, it would be more accurate to say that having such a system is--and always has been--a part of what it means to belong to this group of organisms. To put it in empirical terms, there is no evidence that there ever existed squids with partial ink-screen systems; nor is there any evidence that any cephalod species ever lost its ink-screen system. The really interesting question is this: why would any rational person expect to find any evolution in such a system (as the researchers quoted clearly did)? And the answer is that they have been indoctrinated with a world-view--evolutionism--that has no basis in evidence or reason.

Today's squid--just like the squid of Jurassic times--arose fully-formed, fully-adapted for its time on Earth and its role in the ecology of which it is--or was--a part. The default understanding (throughout human history, and certainly throughout Western history for which we have the record) of such adaptation is a teleological one, one of design. It is only within the last 160 years that it has become popular to deny design and purpose as the explanation for such optimization and adaptation. And the price for such denial is great: it involves both the need to ignore the actual evidence of the fossil record in favor of a mischaracterization thereof, and it involves ignoring the top-down approach to studying organisms that makes anatomy, physiology, taxonomy (and virtually every other discipline) reasonable.

Simply put, the only reason these researchers could be surprised that an optimized system is found both in ancient cephalapods and modern ones is because they have been taught to view science in a design- and purpose-less way (that is, through a neo-Darwinian lens) that flies in the face both of evidence and reason.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Houston RTB

I spent this past weekend in Houston, Texas. I was there as the guest of Larry Karasevich, president of the Houston chapter of Reasons To Believe. I took in an Astros game Friday eve (they beat the reigning world champion St. Louis Cards 5-4). On Saturday morning, I spoke to about 35 folks at the monthly meeting of RTB, taking them through all of the arguments and evidence offered in favor of macroevolution, showing them the fallacies of the arguments and abundance of contrary evidence. It was an ambitious task, but a sharp group (I'll share the audio here when I receive it). Saturday evening, I spoke about apologetics issues and tactics at a dinner meeting of some of the chapter leadership (and spouses) at The Black Labrador (an English pub, chosen to avoid the crowds at other Cinco de Mayo venues). Sunday morning, I preached--at the Fellowship of Champions--on the Resurrection and the role of evidence and reason in the Christian faith. After the service, I did a Q & A for a good number of folks who stayed. A whirlwind trip, but well worth my while.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Multiple Adams and Eves?

[I've posted below the response I gave to an email question about the claim--made by theistic evolutionists at the BioLogos site--that the human species did not begin as a single pair but as a population.]

Dear R______:

Your question was whether science had proved as impossible the claim--made by Christians, Jews, and Muslims--that mankind descended from two original humans, Adam and Eve. In particular, you implied that three methods of assessing genetic diversity (as related in a BioLogos post) prove that humans alive today exhibit too much genetic diversity to trace to a single couple.

First of all, let me point out that there is no question of 'proof' here, in either direction. Science doesn't work that way, though the BioLogos folks may not understand such issues. (I, too, am a biologist, and never during my scientific training did I receive any instruction in the philosophy of science, even a basic understanding of what science is, what it can and cannot do. I believe that my experience is the norm today, and so Venema and Falk can be excused for a naive understanding on this issue.)

On large issues in the historical sciences (such as this one), there will generally be a wealth of evidence available and a variety of methods for assessing this evidence. In addition, there will be a wealth of relevant evidence as yet undiscovered. On such questions, science uses abductive reasoning, arguing to the best explanation of all the relevant available evidence. Where that task is difficult--often because the available evidence leads to contradictory conclusions--the good scientist seeks more, better, and clearer evidence and/or methods. And in such cases (even more than usual), the good scientist remains humble, seeking truth rather than trying to prove a theory he holds a priori. When a scientist takes a strong position despite such contradictory evidence, that dogmatism is usually an indication that he lacks the objectivity that accompanies scientific discovery. This sort of dogmatism is apparent in Venema and Falk's article.

At present, there are two lines of evidence that rather clearly point to this... that all humans alive today can be traced to a single female ancestor (through their mitochondrial DNA) and that all males alive today can be traced to a single male ancestor (through the DNA in their y-chromosomes).

Venema and Falk highlight three methods (of analyzing the genetic diversity of living humans) that temper the conclusion of the two studies above.

What are we to make of this? Each of these sets of evidence and the methods used involve assumptions. And each of these assumptions is itself open to scrutiny, testable (to some degree), and (unfortunately) often held with a degree of unexamined faith by its proponents.

I could stop there, leaving it as an entirely open question as to whether the Bible is believable or reliable on this issue. But more needs to be argued on the side of an historical Adam and Eve.*

For one thing, it seems pretty clear that the assumptions associated with the BioLogos claims are less certain and less well-supported than those associated with the y-chromosome and mDNA evidence. As just one example, a study of the genetics of a population of mouflon sheep refutes some of the assumptions of Venema and Falk's methods (method 1 in particular, but all three generally). In this study, a single pair of sheep was introduced to Haute Island (in 1957), and the descendent population grew to 700 and has subsequently fluctuated between 250 and 700. Mathematical models use to predict the present population's heterozygosity (based on the known heterozygosity of the original pair) underestimated it by a factor of four. Had the models been used as in Venema and Falk's argument--to estimate the number of founding individuals by measuring the diversity of the present population--they would have grossly overestimated. That is, this test case shows that genetic diversity increases (at least in sheep, and over a mere 50 years) in ways currently not understood by the relevant experts. Venema and Falk may simply be unaware of such problems with the methods they espouse; nonetheless, their dogmatism is unwarranted.

Secondly, given the vehemence and certainty with which evolutionists claim the truth of their macro-theory, it is rather odd that when such tests finally became available, the evidence led to a conclusion so similar to the Bible's proclamation. Although theists might argue about the details (one pair or a few thousand), there is no one left still arguing for the competing view of human origins, the multi-regional hypothesis (which claimed that Asian, Caucasian, and African peoples descended from different hominid species in different parts of the world). What is agreed upon by nearly all today is that the genetic evidence shows that all humans alive today are descended from a very small population (which may have even been a single pair) living in or near eastern Africa some 40-60,000 years ago. The scientific evidence leaves Genesis 1 and 2 as viable portrayals of the true situation. And where apparently contradictory evidence exists, the assumptions associated with it turn out to be problematic.

There is no scientific evidence that can prove the Bible to be true and reliable about the descendence of humanity from a single pair. Nor is there any scientific evidence that disproves it. As a scientist, though, I have found overwhelming evidence for the truth and reliability of the Bible with many of its other claims, and that evidence has come both from science and history. More importantly, however, I know from personal experience the truth of its central claim, that the holy Creator of the universe so loved His creatures that He sent His eternal Son to make a way for me, a far-from-holy creature, to have a relationship wit Him. In your continued search for truth, I hope you will seek and find this most important truth.

* The humans to which the y-chromosome and mDNA evidence points would not be Adam and Eve but (more likely) Noah and Eve. Biblically, the bottleneck for males was more recent, since all the males on the ark were related to Noah, whereas the four females on the ark were from different families. Interestingly, this aligns with the genetic data as well. The date for mDNA 'Eve' is earlier than the date for y-chromosome 'Adam' (Noah).

Friday, April 6, 2012

Radio Spot

I had the chance today to do a radio spot on the resurrection of Jesus, its place in church history and in human history. I shared the 'minimal facts' argument (of Gary Habermas) for the historicity of Christ's bodily rising from the dead, and discussed the variance (through history) of the degree to which the church engaged in such an annual commemoration. I was able to squeeze in some theology, some history, and even some philosophy.

This interview (which will serve as the mandatory public service announcement for these stations) is due to be aired Sunday morning on five radio stations in Bend (Oregon). On the four FM stations (95.1, 104.1, 105.7, and 96.9), it will be heard from 7:30 to 8:00, and on the AM station (1340) it will air from 9:00 to 9:30.

Check it out (as you're getting ready to go to church to celebrate this most significant event in cosmic history and to worship its Author).

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Creation Care Summit

I'm excited about an upcoming gathering in Portland that will bring together Christians committed to following their Lord in His mandates to be good stewards of His creation. It's called the Creation Care Summit, and will take place on Saturday, April 21 at the Tigard (Oregon) campus of George Fox Evangelical Seminary. Here's a blurb from the Summit's webpage...
Wilderness International, Inc. and George Fox Evangelical Seminary are partnering to provide a forum for evangelical Christians interested in environmental stewardship to explore our Biblical call to care for Creation. Come join us for a time of learning, sharing, and encouragement. Hear from local authors, experts and practitioners on the current issues related to the care of God’s creation from a Christian worldview. Network to build partnerships. Visit the resource table area to gain additional information. Find out how you can get involved in existing Creation Care efforts or be inspired to initiate your own!
You can go here to learn more and to register. I'll be there; I hope you'll join us!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Crux of Cosmic History

I spoke at my home church, Antioch (of Bend, Oregon) this past Sunday. It's a brief sermon (about 25 minutes) on the centrality of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth not only in human history but in all of cosmic history. Have a watch/listen!

Rick Gerhardt :: The Crux of Cosmic History from Antioch Church on Vimeo.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Justice Conference

Here's a new promo vimeo for the upcoming (2nd annual) Justice Conference in Portland, Oregon, February 24-25. I'll be speaking at the pre-conference on Friday on the topic "Justice and the Environment: A Worldview Perspective."

What is Justice? from The Justice Conference on Vimeo.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Response to Dinosaur Comments

A few months ago, I posted here and on VIMEO a response to a question at church (during our Redux service) about the Bible and dinosaurs. On the Redux VIMEO page, I received two comments (from a Nate Tinner). Here's the first:
I should think that adding up the years of Bible characters (given the extensive genealogies provided in Scripture) would give a moderately accurate creation date. Sounds pretty explicit to me. The dinosaur issue is really a no-brainer, if dinosaurs are indeed animals created with the all the others...
In a previous post here, I tackled in depth the misconception among modern Christians about the Hebrew genealogies, and explained why Nate's claim here is naive and demonstrably false.

As for the "dinosaurs are indeed animals created with all the others," he seems to be misreading (he would say reading literally whereas I would say reading superficially) the relevant creation accounts. Genesis 1 does not portray all animals created at once (in a Narnian fashion) but rather carefully details a chronology of creative events. Moreover, that chronology--while specifically mentioning groups of modern animals--does not tell us even the chronology much less the timing of the creation of dinosaurs, and that for good reason. But perhaps here would be a good place to insert Nate's other comment:
And the Leviathan mentioned in the OT is quite simply a dinosaur (in the sense of "terrible lizard"), given its descriptions in Job (?and elsewhere?)...

I didn't really see that this guy even answered the question. He simply said the Bible doesn't teach about it (no scriptural support given, and his only argument implies that he is an evolutionist and the Bible can't speak to such a modern issue), despite the fact that a literal Genesis interpretation (I don't know or care who his 14 "scholars" are, Judaism has always aligned with a Young-Earth view as far as I know) speaks to the contrary on all points.

That leviathan is "quite simply a dinosaur" is news to me, and to virtually every other Bible commentator today or at any time in church (or Jewish) history. The interpretation of leviathan as referring to dinosaurs is a very modern form of eisegesis, a reading into the Bible a meaning that is not found there. And the reason no Bible reader (prior to the late 1800's) would have been guilty of this hermeneutic faux pas is because prior to that time no reader would have even had a notion of 'dinosaur' to wrongly insert here. Of the 35 centuries since the Hebrew word for leviathan first appeared in what we call the book of Job, only people living in the last two of those centuries (and not even all people living in those two centuries) were aware of the existence of such creatures. Because (and I hate to tear down Nate's little fantasy world here, but) dinosaurs and humans never coexisted; all that humans know of dinosaurs is of their fossil remains.

So readers of Job throughout roughly 93% of the time since Job was written would have had a couple of legitimate options... either leviathan is a largely symbolic creature (the literalness of its description, after all, breaks down at some point) or it refers to the crocodile, an animal that terrorized the people of Old Testament times (as it does to this day). I prefer the latter option, but am not dogmatic about this. What ought to be clear, however, is that the reason that no Bible commentator until recently interpreted leviathan as simplistically as does Nate is because dinosaurs were neither an explicit part of the creation account nor a part of the reality of Job's intended readership.

Nate's other comments are easily addressed. He clearly didn't listen well. I did not refer to 14 'scholars,' but rather to 14 interpretations of Genesis 1 that are held or have been held by Christians committed to the authority and inspiration of Scripture. Nate's young-earth creationism is just one of these 14 views, and one of only two views that lead to a young creation. All of the other 12 allow for or mandate an understanding in line with the evidence from creation itself (of a universe and Earth billions of years old).

I am not an evolutionist at all. Having studied biology all my life, it is plain that evolution is not supported by the evidence. Indeed, I would go so far as saying that the only thing evolutionism has going for it is the straw man option that Nate seems to believe. That is, if the only other option (for explaining the diversity of life on Earth) is the idea that God created everything essentially as it is a few thousands years ago and over the course of a six-day period, then suddenly evolution's intractable evidential problems seem somewhat insignificant. Everything about this universe and Earth testifies to much greater age than a few thousand years, and there is not one half acre of this planet whose geology is explained by a global flood a few thousand years ago.

Fortunately, young-earth creationism of the sort to which Nate ascribes is not a part of true Christianity. This flawed interpretive scheme arose only in the 17th century, and should long ago have been discarded by any serious student of the Bible.

The reliable record of nature reveals a God so much bigger than the puny idol created by young-earth creationism. The true and living God who tells us that "The heavens [reliably] declare His glory" created a marvelous universe that has been unfolding and being prepared for His crowning creation--human beings--for billions of years. He has throughout that time (though not Himself confined by time of any sort) been interacting with that creation, creating new life forms millions of times, even fashioning many of them to participate in the forming of Earth as a suitable place for humankind, which He created as a single pair, Adam and Eve, about 40-60,000 years ago. The Bible is miraculously accurate in its description of creation, even anticipating by millenia the scientific discoveries of the 20th century--including the basic fundamentals of big-bang cosmology, the transcendent beginning (out of nothing) and ongoing expansion of the universe and the discoveries of modern genetics (that all living humans are descended from a single male and a single female from the region of the Middle East).

The great thing about biblical Christianity is that it provides the uniquely accurate portrayal of the world in which we actually live. It is not merely a cultural myth or an evidence-and-reason-free belief system. It is the true understanding of reality, and passes every test of reason and evidence.

Unfortunately, many like Nate are being taught a lot of nonsense about how to interpret the early pages of Scripture. And far too many young people have confused young-earth creationism with what the Bible really teaches. When they come face to face with the varied, independent, and overwhelming evidence and reasons contrary to a thousands-of-years-old universe and a global flood, many of them throw out Christianity rather than merely discarding these modern caricatures of Christianity.

And hence the need for blogs like this one and VIMEOs like the one to which Nate responded.

I Thessalonians 5:21.