Sunday, December 30, 2007

Truth and Science Philosophy

The New Testament speaks of God's desire for man "to come to a knowledge of the truth." (I Tim. 2:4) This would include truth of the natural world revealed by science. In past posts I have spoken about the science/faith intersection and the support each lends to the other. Science philosophy drives the approach taken by scientists -- their methods, interpretations, and how they perceive the implications of their discoveries. Scientists are affected by the same influences which drive politicians, the clergy, historians, or social scientists. Should we say, then, that findings reported by scientists are subjective? Could we say that the term "exact science" is a misnomer? These questions trouble many, especially those suspicious of science to begin with.

One may ask about the well known "scientific method" used by scientists to discover truth. Isn't this a sure thing? The procedural steps of the scientific method vary somewhat depending on which descriptive sourcebook one reads. However, careful observing, proposing hypotheses, predicting, testing, verifying, and revising are some of the steps generally recognized by both experimental and historical scientists. Today there are some science philosophers who even deny there is such a thing as formal scientific method. We should recognize that working scientists do not perform their work as if they were following a cookbook recipe in the kitchen. In the early days of modern science, say, 200 years ago, science was more often seen as objective and consistent in its approach to the acquisition of knowledge.

Today, however, scientists more often bring their particular assumptions, inspiration, and observational biases to the table. Science philosopher William Whewell spoke of "invention, sagacity, and genius" required at every step of the scientific method. Scientists may be very selective in how they see data and what data they study and report. Personal, cultural, philosophical, even religious commitments significantly impact their work. There are positives and negatives with this scenario. Loss of objectivity may be one of the negatives. Once a group of scientists embraces a body of beliefs they may not willingly accept revisions because they are intensely loyal to their tradition and emotionally invested in their work. Notwithstanding, science is a powerful tool for the discovery of truth.

My conclusions about the origin of the universe, the cause of its fine-tuning, and the origin and development of life on this earth differ from the conclusions of many scientists. That does not mean I disrespect their personal passions, their honesty, or even the biases which may be driving their work. I may learn much from their practice and philosophy of science. Likewise, I hope they could learn from people who believe as I believe. The object of our science studies should be to search for "a knowledge of the truth." We must remember that truth is an absolute which overwhelms any personal bias, commitment, or worldview.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Natural Philosophy vs.Science

Several hundred years ago what is today known as "science" was called "natural philosophy." The methods of natural philosophers differed from those of later scientists such as Robert Boyle, Francis Bacon, and Galileo. Natural philosophers did not test their ideas in a practical way. They preferred a speculative, philosophical approach and relied heavily on tradition and authority while making their statements about the natural world.

In contrast, Boyle and others, beginning in the 17th century, advocated more systematic validations of their conclusions through experimentation and replication. Even though their new methodology was still included under the umbrella term of natural philosophy, the term science later came into formal use. These pioneers and others were really the earliest true scientists as we understand that term today. They used most of the techniques of what we understand today as the "scientific method," but that term did not come into common use until the 19th century. Theoretical Aristotelian philosophical speculations about ultimate purposes and principles in nature were dismissed. Natural philosophy yielded to modern science.

Today many people think of science as a precise method for proving things beyond any doubt. They feel a certain reverence for facts touted to be "scientifically proven." This view of science is deficient in many ways. It is true that the basic process of scientific method is mostly held in high regard by both scientists and the public as a superior vehicle for discovering knowledge of the natural world and how it works for man's advantage. But a study of even a small portion of the huge body of literature on the modern philosophy of science, especially in the last century, will show that the picture is not so simple. In future posts we will explore some of the surprising ways modern philosophy has impacted science both positively and negatively. Science philosophy influences the methods of gaining knowledge, the scope of the resulting knowledge, and the implications of the knowledge gained. The same could be said of the influence of philosophy on any other discipline, ranging from politics to religion.

It is reassuring that the scientific approach to knowledge and truth has deep roots in holy scripture. We are exhorted to "test everything" and to define our faith as confidence in established truth.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Changing for Better

In every field of human endeavor we strive, or should strive, to increase our knowledge and improve our performance. So it is with science. Scientists attempt to increase their knowledge of how the world functions. In turn, they try to apply that knowledge for man's benefit. Abuse of science knowledge could also work to man's detriment. But most accomplishments of scientists have improved our quality of life. Technology (applied science) has been used for the benefit of man for thousands of years, but the advances of the past two hundred years would seem like science fiction to our 18th century forebears.

If people of Old Testament times could see evidence of God in the natural world of their day and give glory to Him in their holy writings, how much more in the present day? In Psalm 8 David considered the beauty of the heavens, the moon, and the stars as evidence of God's glory and of His care and love for man. Psalm 121 expresses the inspiration to be gained from "the hills" and proclaims the Lord as "the Maker." Job 28 speaks of refining iron and copper, exploration of "roots of mountains" and "sources of the rivers," and a "path for the thunderstorm." Our 21st century knowledge of astronomy, geology, and meteorology, however, has increased a thousandfold.

We now comprehend the structure of our universe, galaxy, and solar system in intricate detail, as well as the chemical and physical activity in many different types of celestial bodies. We've gained a wealth of knowledge about geological processes such as the mineral recycling afforded by plate tectonics, the possibility of predicting earthquakes, and finding additional fossil fuel resources. We've studied and now understand weather phenomena and climatological statistics, much to the advantage of agriculturalists.

Some feel the proliferation of such knowledge glorifies the ability of man, leaving him with less need for God. A spiritually enlightened view, however, enables us to see more of God's glory in the physical realm through modern discoveries of science.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Changing Science?

Some people do not trust the conclusions of science, particularly when its findings do not agree with what they would like to hear. For example, who wants to hear that her favorite food is an artery clogger laden with calories? Or how about the couch potato who is told he must exercise to improve his health? On a more serious note, it is difficult for many folks to accept the wide ranging scientific evidence for a very old earth and universe when their theological tradition has taught them the earth is less than 10,000 years old. Many have defended the young earth paradigm by claiming science has changed many times in its conclusions about the earth's age, so why should we trust science now?

What is the appropriate response to suspicions about "changing science?" First, we must understand that the possibility of changing and revising conclusions is a strength of science, not a weakness. The best scientists welcome the opportunity to test a new hypothesis in the light of new and better evidence. If "changing science" is used as an excuse for rejecting findings with which we don't agree, we might ask our doubters to..."Please, be consistent!" Would they reject the many improvements in automotive technology in the past thirty years just because the science which produced the improvements has changed? Would they spurn improved fuel efficiency, amazing new entertainment and communications systems, enhanced aerodynamic design, or new safety features just because they are products of "changing science?"

There are many examples of science "getting it right" after many years of "getting it wrong." Centuries ago Copernican cosmology introduced the radical idea that the sun, not the earth, was the center of the solar system. Galileo, many years after Copernicus, empirically strengthened the concept with pioneering telescopic observations of Jupiter's moons and phases of the planet Venus. Church leaders, in particular, offered stiff opposition, proclaiming that such a belief was contrary to literal interpretations of scripture. Even today, some of the strongest objections to the findings of science come from religious people. This blog will continue to affirm that correct interpretations of science always harmonize with correctly interpreted scripture.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Who is the Author?

How did the laws of nature come to be? Who authored them? These questions are related to discussions about the "fine-tuning" of the universe, the constancy of physical laws governing the behavior of matter and energy, and the apparent design in nature. These are topics discussed widely by believers and skeptics alike. The laws which govern our cosmos appear to be changeless. They have operated from the first moments of creation until the present moment.

The speed of light, for instance, is finite (299.793 km/s) and changeless as it travels through the medium of space. Stars which formed at many different distances from us, and in many different time frames, could not have come into existence had the laws of physics, such as the constant speed of light, been variable. Because we know both the speed of light and the distances to far away stars, we can calculate their age with a simple formula. This helps us determine the age of the universe.

There are four fundamental forces in nature which not only have precise values, but are also changeless. These are the (1) electromagnetic, (2) gravitational, (3) strong nuclear, and (4) weak nuclear forces. Even slight variations in any of these forces, or a variation in light speed, would make life impossible. There are many other examples of physical constants which must have precise, changeless value, both in the past and present. Even skeptics and adherents of naturalism who deny the existence of the supernatural sometimes express awe at nature's orderliness and coherence. They enjoy the world of nature. However, they do not express any particular surprise at the precision and constancy of nature's physical laws. Worse, they cry "Unreasonable! Irrational! Illogical!" at those who believe effects have causes, that design points to a designer, or that order and beauty do not evolve from chaos. Who, then, has a better grip on reason, rationality, and logic?

The four fundamental forces permit elements and atoms to exist and hold together, and allow the formation of thousands of chemically bonded compounds. Every bit of matter we encounter every day of our lives holds together because of the existence and precise value of the four fundamental forces. Without these forces there would be nothing but a chaotic sea of particles. Perhaps the Apostle Paul was not a sophisticated scientist, but there was powerful insight in Colossians 1:16-17: For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (NIV)

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

A Conversation Starter

Are you looking for a good conversation starter? Try leading off with a discussion of the "second law of thermodynamics! " The "second law" is a fundamental characteristic of our created universe. It has been operating from the beginning, and still operates. Steven Hawking called it a manifestation of the "Arrow of Time," a way of telling the past from the future.

So what is this second law? It states that from the moment of the initial creation event (The Big Bang) the universe has been "running down" like a hand-wound grandfather clock. Some manifestations are the cooling off and the expansion of the universe from an initial condition of near infinite heat and density. Example: If we open an oven door the heat dissipates and becomes less useful as it spreads into the room. On a more practical level, over the passing of time the general condition of physical objects, such as our shiny new car, a cabin in the woods, or even living creatures, tends toward disorder and decay.

This sounds like a scenario which works to our ultimate disadvantage. On the contrary, it may be considered part of the exquisite fine-tuning of the cosmos by the Creator. For instance, the light and heavy elements comprising all living matter could not have formed unless the universe had cooled. The abundant early microbial life which suddenly appeared billions of years ago under harsh early earth conditions only to die massively in uncounted trillions, later formed the many mineral resources currently available. Modern man is the beficiary of this plentiful mineral wealth.

God set natural laws in place at the beginning. All conceivable processes and events operate according to these changeless, ordered natural laws. But God, who established the laws, is free to intervene at any point in the timeline of history. Belivers in naturalism (the idea that "nature is all there is") do not perceive the hand of a creator in any of these events -- not in the Big Bang, not in the fine tuning needed to form our cosmos as it now exists, not in the abrupt initial appearance of life from non-life, and not in the sudden, recent appearance of modern man with his advanced cognitive ability, imagination, craftsmanship, musical and artistic ability, and spiritual qualities. Who but an infinitely powerful Creator could enable these events in a second law of thermodynamics cosmos?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Acquiring True Beliefs

How do we acquire our scientific and theological beliefs? Do those beliefs depend more upon objective evidence or our own subjective choices? Do our beliefs depend upon truth (what is really real), or do they depend upon what we choose to believe, regardless of the reality of truth?

There are many examples of evidence, strong and weak, we could either accept or reject. Let's take just three examples -- evidence for the Big Bang (subject of our three previous posts), evidence for molecules to man evolution (strong Darwinism), and evidence for divine creation (sudden appearances of new species in the fossil record with no antecedents). Believing or disbelieving should not be merely a matter of selecting our preferences, like choosing among menu items at a restaurant. Have we ever observed people rejecting good, reasonable evidence to embrace, instead, a belief contrary to that evidence? On the other hand, sometimes folks choose to accept beliefs for which good, supporting evidence is weak or non-existent. Acquisition of our belief systems is driven by the manner in which we accept or reject evidence.

Big Bang cosmology has profound theological implications. The Big Bang concept is an example of a scientific proposal which has generated sharp disagreement among theologians and even some scientists. Convincing evidence for it was discovered in 1965 and it received a powerful evidential boost in 1992. Scientific support for it has been accelerating ever since. Most scientists now accept it as a true picture of cosmic history and reality, but a few continue to challenge the concept. Many theologians endorse it as exciting evidence that our universe had a beginning (Genesis 1:1) in a stunning, transcendent creation event, while others mock it as preposterous. Doubting scientists and theologians alike find their previous beliefs challenged and threatened.

Overshadowing our beliefs, whether they relate to the physical reality of our universe or to our theology, is the concept of truth. There are hundreds of references to truth in sacred scripture. Truth sometimes stands apart from what we choose to believe.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Fine Tuned Engineering

The "Big Bang" was a derisive term first used by astronomer Fred Hoyle to poke fun at the concept of a super hot, sudden expansion event bringing the universe into existence from an infinitesimally small point, and expanding ever since. Hoyle, the scientist whose Steady State universe (no beginning, no end) was replaced by a radically different concept, made fun of the new evidence by making it sound like a destructive explosion such as a dynamite blast.

In reality the Big Bang was not destructive, not chaos-producing at all. Rather, it was an event demanding "engineering" billions of times more precise than the most exacting engineering feats ever produced by man. Dozens of cosmic characteristics such as the strength of nuclear, gravitational, and electromagnetic forces, masses, and numbers of atomic particles, must have been exquisitely fine-tuned in order for life to be possible anywhere in the universe at some future time. In addition, many other fine tuning requirements are needed in our galaxy, our solar system, and on our planet earth in order to support life. The chance that such favorable conditions exist anywhere else in our universe is remote beyond comprehension. A universe exhibiting the characteristics necessary to support life is said to operate with the "anthropic principle." This term became popular several decades ago and is still in use.

Scientists had theorized that the Big Bang, if it occurred, should have produced detectable left-over radiation, like glowing embers from a died down campfire. Arno Penzias, with Robert Wilson, using equipment at Bell Labs in Holmdel, New Jersey, discovered this radiation in 1965. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1978 based on the significance of his discovery in establishing Big Bang cosmology. Many other discoveries since then have established the certainty of the Big Bang event beyond any reasonable doubt. Over the years Penzias has made many theological statements relating to the fine tuning of the universe and the Big Bang creation event. In 1992 he said "Astronomy leads us 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." Dr. Penzias is still alive. He has made many statements affirming Genesis 1:1: "In the beginning GOD CREATED....."

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The "Big Bang".....Various Viewpoints

The "Big Bang" calls to mind several different viewpoints. Let's discuss three very different opinions (not the only ones).

(1) Naturalistic scientists accept the validity of scientific research and discovery which has shown (a) that the Big Bang happened, without question, (b) how it happened, in great detail, and (c) when it happened, with surprising precision. The entire universe began as an infinitesimally small point, has been expanding ever since, and is still expanding. These scientists shrug off any consideration of a possible supernatural component to these astonishing events. To scientists immersed in philosophical naturalism, the events of the Big Bang "just happened," without apparent cause, but with plenty of effect. Atoms and molecules were now present which much later self-organized into complex, unique life forms, including man, according to their belief system. A BEGINNING, however, is a theological concept which troubles naturalists.

(2) Young earth creationists see the Big Bang as an absurd proposal. This event does not fit with their belief in a cosmos and multiple creatures fully formed and created within the last 10,000 years. According to them the great apparent age of the universe, as measured by light billions of years old arriving on earth only now after a journey of billions of light years, is merely an illusion, along with hundreds of other independent evidences signaling earth's enormous age. One writer emailed me wondering why we need such "atheistic science" when God's word is so plain.

(3) Theistic old earth creationists see the Big Bang as God's initial creation event in our realm, bringing time, space, matter, and energy into existence from nothing in one moment of time in the very distant past (13.73 billion years ago). They see a definite change in frame of reference between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2. Verse 1 speaks of the initial creation event. Verse 2 speaks of conditions on earth's surface roughly nine billion years later. The earth was then ready for additional creative acts such as the sudden appearance of plentiful microbial life followed by additional creation events of new life forms in future eons at widely spaced intervals as conditions became favorable. The fossil record clearly shows this sequence. The very sudden appearance of truly modern man in the middle east sometime in the last 100,000 years was the pinnacle event in the creation sequence. God could have accomplished all of this in one microsecond or in six days. But God is not bound by our time dimensions. He operates both within them and outside them.

Cosmic history beliefs of theistic old earth creationists described in (3) above conform with belief in a supernatural creator, the record of scripture, and the findings of science, but views (1) and (2) do not agree in all three. Let's strive for discernment in such matters, treating those who disagree with love and respect.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Before Time Began

In the beginning..... People are fascinated with beginnings, whether they are beginnings in our lives, beginnings of the human race, or beginnings of our universe. Since 1950 there have been two major scientific beliefs concerning our universe and whether it had a beginning.

The steady-state hypothesis, prevalent until the 1960s, held that the universe was basically changeless over time. In the steady-state view there was no beginning and no end of time. In other words, what we see always existed and always would exist. Fred Hoyle popularized this hypothesis around mid-century. During the 1960s, Big Bang cosmology replaced steady-state. With the Big Bang, there was a BEGINNING to our universe. Space and time, matter and energy, had a beginning ex nihilo, out of nothing. The creative agent, the uncaused cause, was God Himself. The Big Bang concept is in vibrant harmony with Genesis 1:1.

A quote from Astronomy magazine, October 2007, speaks of the overwhelming accumulated evidence that a Big Bang actually occurred. "Every instant of every day, evidence that the universe began in a cosmic fireball stares us in the face." Hundreds of independent scientific tests confirm the truth of the Big Bang, intricate details of what happened, and precise knowledge about when it occurred (13.73 billion years ago). These are not mere speculations. Skilled scientists have discovered details of the sequence of events and how elements first formed. The order of events and the strength of the forces acting in those first moments had to be fine tuned to an unimaginable degree, or else our universe could not have become the life-friendly place it is. If blind chance had been the agent there would have been no fine tuned cosmos, then, or now.

The New International Version of the Bible speaks of hidden wisdom (I Cor. 2:7), grace given (II Tim. 1:9) and hope promised (Tit 1:2), all before the beginning of time. These are startling verses, confirming the truth that the time and space dimensions of our universe were created by God transcendently -- from outside of our cosmos. He created, out of nothing, the time/space/matter/energy of our existence. Science has discovered many truths, and our Bible spoke about them long ago.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Evidence? Proof?.....Anyone?

Biblical faith is based on logic, reason, and evidence. It is not blind. If faith is an evidence-supported belief system, does science support faith? My answer is an enthusiastic "Yes." People searching for God, as well as those who doubt God's existence, frequently ask for proof or evidence. Proof which satisfies the searcher or the skeptic is an extremely difficult standard to meet. Perhaps it is an impossible standard. Evidence, on the other hand, is plentiful, especially if we agree there is a relationship between effects and causes in our universe.

Scientific knowledge of living things -- their unique beauty, their complexity, their operational systems -- supplies powerful evidence for the handiwork of a creator. Take, for example, the eleven major systems of the human body we study in biology classes. I'll mention only three, the circulatory, nervous, and immune systems. A description of the bodily mechanisms for the operation of any one of our systems fills multiple volumes. Not only must each system work properly, but it must integrate and coordinate with ten others.

When we feel pain or become ill, the cause may be a minor malfunction in just one area of just one system. It is small comfort that ten other systems are working properly. The pain or illness may signal our need to attend responsibly to proper care of our bodies.

My mother frequently quoted Psalm 139:14 to my brother and me from her King James version: "I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well." Is this proof to convince the skeptic? the atheist? No. Is this evidence to convince us that purposeless random chance and natural selection is the cause of our "fearfully and wonderfully made" bodies? I choose to embrace the evidence for a CAUSE, the God of Psalm 139 and all inspired scripture.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Rational or Irrational?

Atheist authors Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are currently having their time in the sun. Their books and live broadcast debates with Christians are very popular. These adherents of atheism enjoy calling believers in supernatural creation/design in our universe "irrational." Many believers in God and God's apparent actions are troubled when doubters wave the "irrational" banner, like cheerleaders at a pep rally, provoking applause from the audience. What's a believer to do?

A dictionary search connects rationality with reason. In turn, reason is defined as thinking in a connected, sensible, and logical manner. Belief in an omnipotent Creator (the CAUSE) more powerful than His creation (the EFFECT) should strike us as reasonable. Effects have causes. Design implies a designer. Both statements are logical. Belief in the existence of God who has acted to produce our universe from nothing is certainly not irrational.

In contrast, believers in God have reason to accuse atheists of being irrational when they ascribe the current order, constancy, and predictability of the universe to randomness and chance. Even the theistic evolutionary beliefs of some Christians who attribute evolutionary speciation to unknown or uncertain processes -- can those beliefs be said to be more rational than belief in supernatural creation? Atheists and agnostics claim there is no evidence of the existence of God. The evidence of the natural world, however, does not support their belief system, but rather, ours.

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Sense of Wonder

When I retired from the profession of science education, one of my most respected colleagues presented me with a book entitled "The Sense of Wonder." It was my hope that I had instilled the same "sense of wonder" in my students I had always felt while studying the world of nature. Whether it was the macro-cosmos visible through telescopes, the micro-cosmos seen through microscopes, or the vast array of wonders to be observed by our naked eye, I wanted my students to experience the wonder. In this post, let's share a few wonders together.

Have we considered the sharp color images our eyes, like an expensive camera, take of our surroundings each waking moment? Each image really consists of billions of "data points," all transmitted to our brains via electrical impulses through the optic nerve. Our brains then make sense of the billions of messages, integrating them into one meaningful image. How "wonder"-ful is that? Digital camera technology has nothing on the human body!

What about the hundreds of different electromagnetic wavelengths passing silently and harmlessly through our bodies at this very moment? We need receivers such as cell phones, TV sets, and wireless modems to detect and convert them to sounds and images, but billions of these waves are ever present in our environment. The human mind, of course, is the final interpreter of the messages transmitted.

Finally, the night sky, pinwheeling around Polaris (the North Star) each 24 hours, is a sort of reverse picture of the earth observer's 24-hour ride on rotating spaceship Earth. That ride is exceedingly quiet and smooth. It wasn't easy for folks prior to Copernicus in the 16th century to figure out what was really moving! Even now people must understand the effects of moving frames of reference whether riding in an automobile or on planet Earth. We'll save other wonders for a future post.

Let's close with "The Message" Bible translation of Romans 1:19-20: But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can't see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of His divine being.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Origins of Scientific Method

Most people do not know that Christianity played a major role in the development of modern science and in establishing respect for the "scientific method" which propelled the advances of science since mid-renaissance times. A list of well-known scientists of that era includes many devout Christians who were not ashamed to express their faith.

These early scientists perceived the rules governing the realm in which we live -- its matter, forces, energy, processes, and life forms -- as constant and harmonious. They observed the apparent order and beauty of the visible universe through systematic visual observations and through their instruments ranging from telescope to microscope. Their study of earth's myriad life forms revealed incredible beauty and interdependence. Judeo-Christian scripture in dozens of passages pointed to the distinctives of the universe, the earth, its life, and humanity. No other holy book remotely approaches this level of accuracy. Scientists of faith were propelled forward in their pursuits by the statements of scripture.

Genesis 1 reads like a primer in scientific method from its opening statement clearly identifying the frame of reference and initial earth conditions to the orderly description of a chronological sequence of events, final conditions, and conclusions. Other passages in the New Testament encourage us to test and study, certainly a hallmark of scientific method. Thomas Torrance, Scottish theologian, has written how Reformed theology, at about the time of the Protestant Reformation, played a vital role in helping early scientists develop some of the tenets of scientific method which laid the groundwork for advances in scientific knowledge. In the last few centuries and, in particular, in the last few decades, this knowledge has revolutionized our lives. Let's give thanks to God that He has permitted humanity to discover and apply HIS laws.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Blind Faith?

People of faith familiar with the discoveries and achievements of science enthusiastically affirm the value of science in affirming the existence of a loving, powerful God. This is not just wishful thinking on our part. The universe is governed by laws and principles which shout consistency and predictability. The laws are written in mathematical language and operate in an identical fashion everywhere in the universe. The Bible speaks in many passages that God created the universe and also set in place the laws by which it operates. This is true in both the physical universe (Proverbs 8:22-31, Isaiah 40:21-28) and the biological realm (Job 38-41, Psalm 139:13-16).

The cosmos and the biosphere "speak" (Psalm 19:1-4) in a clear voice. In our cosmic dimension of time, cause and effect phenomena occur. This means when we observe the effect of an orderly, physical universe operating according to regular, mathematically quantifiable laws, we may conclude the physical universe itself had a CAUSE. It also means when we observe complex living systems operating according to orderly, predictable principles, those living systems and their orderly operation had a CAUSE. Atheists and agnostics disbelieve or question the existence of such a CAUSE. They assert that order somehow formed from disorder, chance, and randomness. This belief demands a great deal of blind faith.

Christians are often accused of having blind faith. Quite the contrary, our faith (let's call it a "belief system" instead) is based on logic, reason, and evidence. Unbelievers frequently accuse Christians of being short on these qualities. Christians who put forth the effort to strengthen their belief system with careful, diligent study, however, should never be accused of having blind faith.

If you have questions about any point I raise in these posts, or questions about science and faith generally, just click on the email link to the right.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Constitutional Protection -- From What?

The science/religion interface sometimes gives Christians joy as a faith strengthener. In other cases it is a cause for sorrow and suspicion because science seems opposed to our Christian belief system. My purpose in these posts is not only to create enthusiasm for science's faith strengthener role, but also to instruct you on sources of difficulty and misunderstanding in our quest.

Much suspicion results from a string of court cases starting in the 1960s which ruled that the teaching or even any mention of supernatural creation in science classrooms is equivalent to teaching a particular religious view and is, therefore, "establishment of religion." Courts cite the constitutional principle that any arm of government, including public schools, may not promote any particular religious view, such as a particular view of supernatural creation. The concept of a recent creation, and even the idea of creation of new species at widely spaced time intervals along the timeline of earth's 4.5 billion year history, are clearly religious views. For centuries science and religion were intertwined, but only in the last two centuries have scientists begun to depart from the marriage which had been the rule. In the last fifty years the science community has perpetuated a full blown divorce.

Courts now side with litigants who insist origins explanations must be naturalistic because science has defined itself as a naturalistic enterprise exclusively. In history classes religious topics merit discussion, but in science classes they are out of bounds. One could only wonder what naturalistic history, music, or literature studies would be like. The Supreme Court has taken the "establishment of religion" clause to an extreme. There is no constitutional mandate against the teaching of bad science. Religion is OUT, questionable science is IN, and truth still begs for a hearing. We must never lose the desire to discover the truths about God's creation available to us through the gift of scientific discovery.

Monday, October 15, 2007

50 Years of Naturalism

Society's confidence in science (see Oct. 9 post) has helped birth the philosophy of naturalism: Nature is "all there is." This philosophy guides scientists known as metaphysical naturalists who say there is no God, as well as methodological naturalists who may believe in God, but in practice assign no relevance to God.

Scientific naturalism as a fully developed philosophy has been with us for roughly the past half-century. What has strengthened the movement toward scientific naturalism? Let's consider one highly significant factor. The decade of the 1960s was a watershed era in both biological discovery and in the teaching of biology. Armed with new discoveries in molecular biology, emphasis in the teaching of biology changed from specimen-based study to biochemistry and molecular biology. DNA had been pinpointed in the 1940s as the bearer of genetic information, its structure was discovered in 1953 by Watson and Crick, and the genetic code was cracked in the 1960s.

I recall advising high school freshmen and their parents in the 1960s concerning the new emphasis in course offerings in biology, explaining that biology no longer emphasized dissected specimen study. Rather, it stressed biochemistry and study of molecules carrying genetic information. This had been the basis of evolutionary Darwinism's transition to "Neo-Darwinism" in preceding years, based on advances in knowledge of genetics. Society's changes in the intervening years have occurred at a dizzying pace. Many factors contributed to these changes, but changes in the life sciences were highly significant.

The discovery of successful science methodology in the previous few centuries did not generally result in increased respect and awe for the author of nature's laws. Neither did discovery of the incredible complexity and power of genetics drive scientists or society toward reverence for the Creator God. Instead, most of our scientists have become more self-empowered. Naturalism has become their religion.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Scientific Self-confidence

Some people think naturalism has scientific implications only. In future posts we will examine its broad impact on our entire culture. But for now, let's look back a few hundred years.

Seventeenth century fathers of scientific method -- Bacon, Descartes, Galileo, Newton, Pascal, and Boyle to name a few -- were generally uninhibited in expressing the reality of the Creator of matter, energy, time, and space. They recognized God as the author of laws which mediated the behavior of all things in the cosmos. Their early study, description, and application of these laws set the world on a path toward what became known as the Scientific Revolution. Early fathers of the revolution would be astonished had they been able to visualize outcomes in the 19th, 20th, and now the 21st century.

In the 19th century scientists built on the foundations of the early fathers of scientific method. The momentum of scientific progress increased with the volume and pace of discovery. But there was a tragic downside. Many scientists began to place more and more faith in their own ability to discover and apply scientific laws, and less and less faith in the God who authored them.

Early scientists, therefore, began to revel in their newfound autonomy and self-reliance, just as a young child learning to walk excitedly strolls off only to encounter dangers he could not visualize. Should his parents prevent him from exploring, discovering, and learning to walk? No. We would no more wish to prevent our children from learning to walk than we would wish to change the history of the development of scientific inquiry and discovery.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Dawkins-Lennox Debate

Last night's live debate from the UAB campus between Richard Dawkins, well-known atheist and author of The God Delusion, and Dr. John Lennox, Christian apologist and scientist, both from Oxford University, was a mind stretcher. Christians would do well to critically evaluate atheist/agnostic viewpoints in order to sharpen their own apologetics skills.

Among their many points of discussion, I'll mention two. First, Dr. Dawkins made the point that faith is blind and science is evidence-based. Dr. Lennox countered that faith is clearly evidence-based and stated "It is the very nature of science that leads me to belief in God." Efforts to clarify the meaning of "faith" as an evidence supported belief system should be made by the Christian community.

Dawkins conceded "The origin of the universe is a genuinely difficult problem. Cosmology is waiting for its Darwin." In contrast, Lennox pointed to the uncreated God, producing a created cosmos which he described as exquisitely fine tuned. Then Lennox characterized as errant the idea promoted by atheistic naturalists, that incoherent, chaotic movement of particle matter has somehow self-organized into our fine tuned universe of ordered and information-rich biosystems. Logical coherence cannot result from logical incoherence, whether in physical systems or in our process of thought.

When the respectful debate was complete, it was obvious that contrasting worldviews separated the participants, not science. Once again, I encourage all Christians to pay attention to such exchanges in order to overcome misconceptions that the Christian faith is irrational and unscientific.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Scientific Naturalism and Court Decisions

"Let science be science, and let religion be religion." How often have we heard similar statements? One example of this firmly established naturalistic worldview in our society is the 2005 decision by U. S. District Court Judge John E. Jones III. He ruled that the Dover, PA board of education could not allow even the mention of the existence of alternate theories of biological origins to their students. Darwinist evolution must be the sole proposal -- no critical analysis, no discussion of its possible weaknesses permitted! Scientific method, which thrives on critical analysis of evidence, took a back seat to the science community's firm commitment to philosophical naturalism. Even in the face of plentiful evidence in the fossil record that new life forms appear quite suddenly, no one in the public school setting is permitted to offer anything but a naturalistic explanation, however weak that explanation may be. To do so is "establishment of religion" according to Judge Jones.

Naturalistic scientists and many others who feel such mention of an alternative to the theory of evolution would amount to "government establishment of religion," congratulated each other and pronounced creationism dead. But this titanic philosophical struggle may just be in its early stages. Good Christian science scholars such as Dr. Hugh Ross, astrophysicist and theologian, a frequent guest on The John Ankerberg Show, have proposed a scientific creation model matching the requirements of science - in particular, its ability to predict. Progress in this area will be slow. After all, the model of naturalism for the origin of the cosmos and its life forms has taken two centuries to become what it is today.

The philosophy of science and how science ought to operate has changed many times. Philosophies change, but we should be thankful that truth (what is really real) does not change. Our commitment to discover truth in origins history should be unswerving.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Suspicious of Science?

People occasionally express doubts about the findings of science. Let's examine why this is true. Some scientists are metaphysical naturalists. They neither believe in the supernatural nor do they believe in the existence of the God of the Bible. Their work of discovery and application is based on natural laws operating, according to them, in a totally natural world. Such scientists, practitioners of good science, have many wonderful achievements to their credit, expanding our knowledge and enriching our material lives. Their achievements do not depend on whether they embrace supernaturalism or naturalism.

Other scientists are methodological naturalists. They believe in the supernatural and the existence of God. However, the science methodology operating in today's community of scientists does not permit them to include any supernatural considerations in their explanations of reality. In brief, they practice their science AS IF God neither exists nor ever existed. Because God's natural laws operate regardless of our belief or disbelief in Him, we have all enjoyed much benefit from scientists' discoveries.

In the last two centuries science has gradually become more and naturalistic and secular. There are both positives and negatives associated with this trend. Many Christians have taken notice and some, unfortunately, have become antagonistic toward science. Christian faith and scientific discovery should be allies, not enemies. The discoveries and achievements of science are gifts lovingly enabled by the Creator of this universe, the author of all natural laws operating within it.

Monday, September 24, 2007

What about Naturalism?

Naturalism is the term given to a major worldview category. One form of naturalism is atheistic materialism. Because of confusion in terminology, naturalism is sometimes misunderstood. A word with a "nature" prefix has a positive connotation. After all, most people love nature. Some people prefer "natural" foods and may even pay a higher price for foods in the organic produce department. Who could fault such honest, healthy preferences?

Scientific naturalism is another story. This is the view of many scientists that nature (the physical world) is all that exists, and NOTHING supernatural exists. The science community is committed to making discoveries about the operation of our natural world from a naturalistic perspective. Science has raised our living standards using discoveries about how natural laws operate, most certainly something for which to be thankful. We've cured diseases, enhanced crop production, and produced labor saving and entertainment devices using advanced technology. What could be wrong, therefore, with naturalism?

The problem centers in its practical denial of any supernatural cause or effect -- a virtual denial of the existence of God. We must distinguish between methodological and metaphysical naturalism. All scientists, Christian or not, operate with a naturalistic methodology. From a worldview perspective, the ramifications of either form of naturalism operating are wide ranging.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Science Awareness

Some Christians are not aware of how science works, not to mention what science has discovered. Since roughly the 16th and 17th centuries, through the contributions of dozens of innovative science pioneering giants, a formal "scientific method" has developed as an effective means of discovering truths about the natural world. Before that, Aristotelian science ruled, mystical and speculative, supported more by the power of pure argument than by anything resembling the experimental discovery and formal process science we know today. In the last five hundred years, the development of scientific method has been one of man's foremost achievements. It has become known as the scientific revolution.

Scientific method is empirical. That is to say, it is based upon experience and experiment, observation, measurement, hypothesis, testing, and verification as a means of discovering truths about the workings of our sphere of existence. Some people have manipulated or distorted the discoveries of science in order to advance their special agenda. Others have diminished its legitimate findings for the same purpose. Still others have restricted or expanded the scope of legitimate scientific method to promote their particular worldview.

Practitioners of science are often agenda-driven. Philosophers of science often mold public opinion about what science is, and what its accomplishments are or should be. In future posts we will examine some of these trends and how they impact our Christian worldview.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The 2-D Discussion...Days

In the previous post we pointed out that denial of any physical death before Adam's fall permits YEC believers to preserve their concept of an earth just a few thousand years old. It is then easy for those believers to propose creation days of only 24 hours duration.

Hebrew "yom" (day) had three literal meanings in the ancient Hebrew language -- the daylight period (12 hours), the noon-to-noon period (24 hours), and a long, variable time period. Young earth Christians sincerely believe their 24- hour interpretation conforms to scripture. In many scriptural contexts they are correct. However, that interpretation is only one of three permissable interpretations of "yom." For the correct interpretation we must rely on other evidence. Old earth Christians recognize hundreds of reliable, independent scientific proofs to help them determine the creation timeline of our 13.7 billion-year-old cosmos and 4.5 billion-year-old planet Earth. Their interpretation of "yom" as a long period of time harmonizes with modern scientific discoveries.

When Christians interpret controversial questions such as those involving creation, they must make every effort to ensure their interpretations of scripture and science are correct. One cannot be wrong, and of course, both cannot be wrong. God's people are instructed to study in order to discover the truth of a matter (Prov.15:28, Rom. 12:2, I Thes. 5:21). Our truth search must be diligent.

Some Christians, myself included, might prefer to have more detailed scriptural accounts of creation events. In God's wisdom, we are given a rather brief account in Genesis. Why? Perhaps God is encouraging us to use the benefits of study and the power of the minds He has given us.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The 2-D Discussion...Death

Young earth creationist believers support their belief system by adhering to what I'll call the "2-Ds" -- death, and days. In this post we'll deal with the issue of death.

The expression "No death before the fall" is a capsule summary of this support pillar for belief in a young earth. Young earthers claim that in the "paradise" of the Garden of Eden there could have been nothing so unpleasant as death before Adam and Eve first sinned, not even the death of the tiniest insect or microbe, because death was an outcome of Adam's sin. Romans 5:12, speaking of sin, states " this way death came to all men..." The message of scripture is that the primary tragedy of Adam's sin is man's spiritual death and alienation from the loving Creator God. The later end of Adam's earthly life, along with all of his descendants, is a tragedy of secondary importance by comparison.

Earth's history expressed in the fossil record cries out of bountiful life followed by death on a massive scale. This death occurred countless trillions of times over several billion years. Past deaths of microbes, ocean plankton, and plant life now provide us with a plentiful treasure trove of natural resources -- mineral deposits and fossil fuels. Physical death, therefore, has its upside! Who can question God's divine wisdom?

By denying any death before Adam's fall, YEC adherents help preserve their concept of a very young earth. To acknowledge the deaths of trillions of creatures in earth's distant past one would have to recognize the earth is very old, as in billions of years. To deny that death and earth's enormous age are intertwined is to deny the truth of thousands of different types of scientific evidence. All of this scientific evidence points to the same conclusion.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Old Earth Creationists...Evolutionists?

Recently a young earth friend pronounced me an evolutionist because I believe life has existed on this earth for hundreds of millions of years on this 4.5 billion year old planet. He did not understand that for several decades, leading evolutionists have recognized and acknowledged a number of geologically sudden appearances of new forms of life at widely spaced intervals after long periods of little change. Generally, new forms of life on earth appear rather suddenly after major extinction events.

Leading evolutionists Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould gave this phenomenon a name several decades ago - punctuated equilibrium. The term is more descriptive than explanatory. Creative theories to account for such rapid, step-like appearance of new species have been proposed, but the theories are not well developed. The theories do not come with convincing supportive evidence.

What do these sudden appearances of new life at widely spaced intervals suggest? They suggest supernatural action by a Creator more clearly than evolutionary processes. They also suggest the "days" of Genesis 1 may indeed be long periods of time. Possible supernatural intervention cannot even be expressed openly by the purveyors of evolution, because it is contrary to the naturalistic explanations held to be necessary by most paleontologists.

Friday, August 31, 2007

What Is a Creationist?

On Feb. 7, 2007, USA Today's religion columnist Tom Krattenmaker in "The Forum" discussed "The Bible" Many other similar columns could be cited where science is pitted against the young earth creationist position, as if no other position deserves to be called "creationist." Such articles present only one creationist position because the writers think that position is easier to attack. Creationists, they say, believe the earth was created approximately 6000 years ago in six calendar days. According to such authors, "science" presents the rational alternative -- Darwinist evolution. By painting all creationists with the young earth brush, the evolutionary position is made to appear more reasonable and rational.

Mark Noll, religion historian, has stated "The word creationism by rights should define all who discern a divine mind at work in, with, or under the phenomena of the natural world." Included under this definitional umbrella would be the day-age view of earth/life history in which creation days are six sequential, long time periods. This position offers an entirely plausible interpretation of both scientific findings and the Genesis account. Sadly, the media seldom mention the validity of these alternative interpretations. Neither do they wish to characterize them as "creationist," because their agenda would be seriously weakened.

These issues are heavily charged with tension and suspicion among the community of Christians. The search for truth is not well served.

The Science/Faith Connection

Science issues connect to our Christian faith more significantly than ever before. Some discoveries of modern science are welcomed by Christians with great enthusiasm. Startling improvements in technology…medical advances…new discoveries in genetics…improved knowledge of the cosmos and the bio-system…marked improvement in product quality, to name a few. It's an exciting age to be alive!

When the life of a loved one is saved or extended by advances in medical knowledge, most Christians see the advance as a gift enabled and given by God. On the other hand, scientific discovery extending our knowledge of the age of the universe or the history of life on this planet is greeted in some camps with suspicion and doubt because such discovery does not conform to cherished theological tradition.

Our goal for these posts will be to examine some of the issues, both scientific and theological, which engender misunderstanding, even disharmony, among God’s people. The goal is to come as close to truth as possible. Our model in this truth quest is none other than Christ Himself, who stated in John 18:37 “In fact, for this reason was I born, and for this reason I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”

A Welcome Message

Science can be an effective apologetic as we attempt to communicate our Christian faith. In the natural world which surrounds us there are multiple opportunities for faith-affirming observations. Long before the scientific revolution of the last five centuries, the psalmist was able to exult "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands." (Psalm 19:1 NIV)

Our opportunities in the current day have improved dramatically! For example, our knowledge of the incredible fine tuning of the universe has increased a thousandfold. Abundant life, including the life of God's highest creative achievement, man, is not possible in a universe characterized by chaos and chance. We need to be well instructed in both theology and science.

I invite you to comment on any faith-related science topic, particularly those raised by the participants on The John Ankerberg Show or in these posts. I'll attempt to read each one carefully and attempt to respond on the site or in person as time permits.

Welcome to

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Meaning of "Truth"

In this age, “truth” has different meanings to different people. Some say truth is relative, that is, it depends upon the individual. Most people, however, may agree “truth” is that which is “really real.”

When we meet new friends, one of the first things we discover about them is their age. Our curiosity about the age of the earth and universe and about our forebears Adam and Eve is easy to understand. With respect to the truth of the age of the earth and facts about the earliest created humans, we need to go beyond their mere existence and the physical reality of the world in which they were placed. Our truth quest leads us to ask questions such as How old is the earth? How long ago did Adam and Eve live? Have creatures lived and died on the earth for millions of years? There is a reality of “truth” connected with these issues.

Scientists have accumulated an overwhelming body of evidence signaling an earth and universe of enormous age. The professional science community, sometimes not in agreement about interpretation of scientific data, nevertheless is in rock solid agreement on this issue: Earth’s age as a planet is measured in billions of years. Likewise, life in some form, they say, has existed quite early in earth history.

Recent broadcasts of “The John Ankerberg Show” featured debates which paired sincere adherents of both recent and ancient creationist views. These positions are known as young earth (YEC) and old earth (OEC) creationism. Future posts will examine some of the sore spots resulting from these divergent views.