Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Medium is Not the Message

Marshall McCluhan’s familiar phrase “The Medium is the Message” could help us understand the contrast between the metaphysical naturalist and the creationist Christian worldviews. Naturalists claim intelligent design features are not evident. Creationists say such features abound, especially in living things.

McCluhan (1911-1980) is often identified with his famous phrase. His concerns centered on the influence media play in defining us and shaping our outlook. In his day some of the primary media were television and movies. McCluhan worried that intellectual content became secondary to our identification with the medium and the effects generated by our immersion in it. In our day we might add modern technology such as internet and cell phones to the list of media which could define us. Unfortunately, the information provided by these social networking media often becomes secondary. Many people are merely defined as internet or cell phone “junkies.”

Let’s contrast the medium (genetic material in a cell composed of ordinary elements) with the message such ordinary matter is capable of transmitting. Nowhere is intelligent design more obvious than in the DNA molecule found in every body cell. For review, please reference these previous posts:

The incredible amount of information in the DNA molecule amounts to a coded language with rich message content consisting of a lengthy set of detailed instructions. Languages, codes, and messages all originate within a mind. Some intelligent design advocates fail to identify the mind as that of the Judeo-Christian God, possibly to avoid accusations from secular detractors that ID is a religious concept. This blog explicitly acknowledges that mind as the God of the Bible. In John 1:1-2 logos means “agent of reason,” referring to Christ. Christ is God, the Creator and intelligent designer. He created the matter in which we now detect many design characteristics.

Metaphysical naturalists claim matter is all there is. They deny that matter was created by God and that matter has any design characteristics pointing to God. According to them, matter has self-organizing ability--no need for the supernatural. It is not much of a stretch to say they may even appropriate Marshall McCluhan’s maxim: The Medium (matter) is the Message. Matter has ultimate meaning, not the meaning of intentional, informational, and instructional content of the matter. By such logic, inanimate matter would define us as humans, much like cell phones and other networking media, appendage-like, have become such an integral part of many of us in the 21st century.

Are the answers to questions of origins and reality merely the intrinsic ordinary matter of the cell material and in all physical matter? Is matter all there is? Or does the design of living cell matter with its coded language contain the message? Do we find evidence for a mind at work in the “stuff of life?”

Marshall McCluhan was a Christian. Had he studied the contents of the cell and the wonders of DNA, no doubt he would have proclaimed, “The Medium is Not the Message.”

Monday, May 24, 2010

Why Creationism?

One may wonder why these posts have dwelt at length on the topic of creationism, a term the secular media often associate with recent origins of the earth and universe. The community of evolutionary science has derived benefit from the perception that creationism is now defined that way. The evolutionary community promotes the perception that creationism is to be understood in a “literal” fashion. That would include belief in only six 24-hour creation days just several thousand years ago. Therefore, when I announce myself as a creationist, many listeners assume I believe the creation events were recent and accomplished in only 144 hours.

The arguments for evolution are actually strengthened by this concept of creationism. Rodney Whitefield expresses this view effectively in Genesis One and the Age of the Earth: “At the present time there is among evangelical Christians a degree of confusion about Genesis One. The confusion has arisen from the advocacy of a ‘Young Earth’ reading of Genesis One. This advocacy has come to prominence mainly within the past 40 years. It is the opinion of this author that this rise to prominence has been aided by the Darwinists themselves. The opposition to Darwinism by the ‘young Earth’ advocates serves the Darwinists because it avoids the need to mount a scientific defense of Darwinism. Instead, the Darwinist can attack the claims and assertions of the ‘Young Earth’ advocates, assertions which are not in accord with the Hebrew of Genesis One. The Bible cannot be effectively defended nor can the Gospel be effectively proclaimed by asserting things which the Bible does not say.”

Whitefield and many other Bible scholars see Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 as “already completed background information.” The universe had been created long before the sudden appearance of complex bacterial life on Planet Earth 3.8 bya. This complex bacterial life is the precursor of today’s ore deposits on which our complex society runs, as well as breakdown of rocks into soil and the production of atmospheric oxygen. Two past posts supply a relevant review:

Genesis 1:3 begins the description of God’s creative acts spanning six “days” and a seventh day when God rested. Ancient literature frequently used a seven-day literary structure. Davis A. Young writes in The Bible, Rocks and Time that “Clearly, the number seven was used in the ancient near east symbolically for the concept of completion or perfection.” Young further states that the great theologian of the early church, Augustine, “concluded in his most mature study, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, that...humility and lack of dogmatism in interpretation of the creation account is called for!”

Young explains that the symbolism of numbers in Genesis 1 “leads us to believe that it is not the intent of Genesis 1 to provide the kind of detailed factual information that one would find in a straightforward narrative report, nor the kind of detailed factual information that would be useful in developing a scientific reconstruction of the historical unfolding of the universe.”

Secular scientists who mock Christian creation beliefs do not report the nuances of scripture interpretation described above. If they did, the concept of “God created” might be accepted by the public with greater favor.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Views of Genesis One

Misunderstandings and suspicion of the Christian view of creation are rampant in the secular world. Unbelievers look at young earth creationist beliefs and may reject the entirety of biblical claims. They feel biblical claims are not credible if they are anchored to young earth interpretaions of Scripture. Agnostics cannot consider theological claims of the Bible if they must accept a linguistic and historical interpretation which only permits belief in an earth and universe six to ten thousand years old.

The failure of young earth and old earth Christians to agree on time frames of earth history may not have such a profound impact. Both believe in salvation in Christ and the God who created all things. This disagreement may be termed an internecine squabble charcterized as sometimes serious, but not fatal. In contrast, unbelievers are often alienated by young earth beliefs perceived to have no scientific plausibility. Sometimes even church young people are driven away when exposed to the strong scientific evidence for the earth's great antiquity.

Disagreement over time frames deflects both secularists and church members from grasping the most important meaning of Genesis 1. Herein lies a great tragedy. Non-Christians are turned away from the broad claims of the Bible while Christians become entangled in distracting peripheral doctrinal discussions.

Rodney Whitefield has written an insightful analysis of the first chapter of Genesis entitled Genesis One and the Age of the Earth. He states "The message of Genesis One is primarily theological. It informs the descendants of Adam (mankind) about their origin and about their relationship to their Creator. The message is that God is the Creator of Adam (mankind) and that mankind has a responsibility toward God and is accountable to God. The modern attacks on Genesis One have, as their basis, a wish to discredit this theological message and to assert freedom from accountability."

Young earth proponents make claims about the age of the earth and the universe based upon the Genesis 1-2 account. Whitefield presents a convincing case that the language of these chapters does not specify (1) an age for the earth and the universe, (2) time frames for the acts of creation, (3) whether or not those creative times followed immediately after one another, or (4) whether the creative commands were fulfilled immediately. Sometimes the young earthers' insistence on a recent origin overwhelms the primary theological focus of the first few chapters of Genesis. The goal of our blog commentary on origins and on issues of science in general is to call attention to the work and purpose of God in creation, both past and present.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Seasons of Renewal

The universe we inhabit, brought into existence by the Creator, is governed by many laws. One of the most important is the second law of thermodynamics. In brief terms, this law states that since the creation event, all systems in our universe are generally running down, becoming less ordered. Sometimes order appears to increase owing to a transfer of energy, but the increase is only temporary.

In springtime, for example, growth of plants and birth of new animals predominate over decay and death, for spring is a season of growth and birth. In autumn the trend reverses and living things decline for a season. The energy flow which brought forth a burst of springtime growth reverses itself. Overall, the long term trend is for things to run down. This trend is an overlay of our universe, an inescapable law.

The same trend is evident from birth to death for every one of God’s highest created beings--man. Normally, from birth to somewhere around age 25, the human body gradually achieves it peak of physical condition, notwithstanding temporary setbacks due to illness or injury. After that, however, the downward trend accelerates, especially in the decades after threescore and ten. This trend is evident in all living and physical systems. It is the inescapable template for the universe God created.

Physical death exemplifies the inevitability of this pattern for every member of humanity. Within the last few days, we have experienced the death of a beloved family member. Because this loved one knew Christ as his redeemer and savior, the acute sadness has been tempered and balanced by many reminders of the new heaven and new earth described in Revelation 21:1 and by the promise of Christ in John 14:3.

Many comforting object lessons are brought to mind. The day following the funeral, many relatives were standing a few blocks away from the famous Great Auditorium in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, a venue for the message of the Gospel for more than a century. The very warm afternoon was suddenly transformed by a refreshingly cool sea breeze. At this time of year along the New Jersey shore, unequal heating of ocean water and land masses results in reversals of air currents and sudden temperature changes.

In the midst of our second law-dominated world, God provides opportunities for relief from pain, discomfort, and sadness. We experience relief in this world and the promise of entry into the new creation to come.

Friday, May 7, 2010

"Wild Animals Honor Me"

Opportunities to give glory to the Creator for the wisdom programmed into His creatures are ample. At a church dinner in the past week our friends shared an event which would inspire joy in the heart of any wildlife observer. Just outside their home they observed three different birds frolicking in their birdbath all at the same time--a cardinal, a robin, and a Baltimore Oriole.

Several days later I headed to my computer to check on behavior in birdbaths in search of a possible story for this faith/science blog. As I sat down, two cardinals fluttered off from our own birdbath not fifteen feet outside my office window, only to be replaced in a few moments by a curious tufted titmouse, and then a pair of goldfinches--all within three or four minutes. Stepping outside my door I heard or saw five or six other types of birds singing or behaving purposefully in our trees. A few minutes later the neighborhood was quiet and almost deserted.

The Old Testament Book of Job provides plentiful examples of animal behavior or natural events which point to God’s wisdom and glory programmed into our observable natural surroundings. One of the most well-known passages is Job 12:7-10: “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you…..Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.” Could the birds of spring in northwest Illinois instruct us concerning the need to cooperate even in view of their greatly diverse preferences described in minute detail in bird field guides?

In the world of wildlife, altercations among members of the same species are often more frequent than among members of different species. In springtime this behavior is related to defense of territory or jealousy over a mating partner. In autumn such strife is usually forgotten in exuberant group assemblages, not only within one species, but sometimes in the company of multiple species as well. I must rely on my readers to apply the truth of Job’s assertion that animals teach us.

Two other scriptures speak of additional dimensions of our knowledge of animals. “In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures” (Psalm 104:24). And in turn, those creatures are aware of their creator according to Isaiah 43:20: “The wild animals honor me.” Let us give thanks for the theological truths provided for us in the work of creation.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

God and God Alone

The emphasis of our blog since January has been “creationism.” Unknown to many people is the fact that the usual suffix “ism” is a dictionary entry which stands on its own. As such it refers to a doctrine, theory, system, belief, or practice. Some sources claim it is often used in a derogatory or contemptuous sense, even as a suffix. For that reason, a different term might be considered when we are talking about origins options.

The term “creation” may not be encumbered by the same degree of semantic baggage. Creation connotes bringing into being, whether from nothing, from something previously existing, or in a novel fashion. In a more general sense it also refers to the entire universal system of matter, energy, and existence. So would we do well to drop the suffix “ism?” Would we be wise to use the term creation to re-emphasize the wonder and glory of our created order as it exists today? Our cosmos cries out with order and beauty. Beyond our mere sensory experience, we also may exult in the intricate functional capabilities of the tiniest quantum particles of the microcosm to the organic unity of the immense macrocosm, and every location between.

Two recent telephone calls from dear friends I had not seen or spoken with for fifty years set me thinking more deeply about these issues. We live thousands of miles apart. When we closed our conversations we agreed to exchange materials generated by our current occupations and preoccupations. I sent materials I had written on family history and science apologetics including origins. In return, I received a number of CDs my friend had produced for Christian musicians. Included was a CD featuring one of my favorite Christian vocalists--Steve Green.

For many years I have been moved by the theological and scientific depth of one of Green’s signature renditions composed by Phil McHugh--God and God Alone. Lyrically and musically, this composition and Green’s performances are of noteworthy inspirational quality.

God and God alone created all these things we call our own.
From the mighty to the small the glory in them all
Is God’s and God’s alone.

God and God alone reveals the truth of all we call unknown,
And all the best and worst of man won’t change the master plan.
It’s God’s and God’s alone.

God and God alone is fit to take the universe’s throne.
Let everything that lives reserve its truest praise
For God and God alone.

Many scripture passages attest to the faithfulness of the lyrics: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one (Deut. 6:4); Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? (Isa. 40:26); It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings (Prov. 25:2). Scripture teaches lessons from the tiny ant (Prov. 6:6) to the glory of the heavens (Ps. 19:1). The Lord has established his throne in heaven (Psalm 103:19), and encourages multifaceted levels of praise (Ps. 150).

The concept of creation is replete with theological content. Every truth so far discovered about creation speaks loudly of the character of the Creator. Time frames of the acts of creation are of secondary importance, but still on our list of topics God permits us to “search out.” God allows and encourages his children to search. He also desires that we keep our priorities in order.