Saturday, December 31, 2011

Fundamental Changes?

Some creationists propose that from the time the creation was completed by God as described in Genesis 1, it has undergone some fundamental changes in its physical operation. They argue these changes occurred as a result of man’s sin and subsequent alienation from God in the Garden of Eden after a period of sinless innocence of unknown duration. This idea appears frequently in the writings of creationists who believe the earth is only six to ten thousand years old.

No one knows the duration of man’s innocence before the introduction of sin into the fabric of man’s experience. The Genesis 1 account of the creation of “living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds” also tells of the creation of “man in our image, after our likeness.” All of these events take place on day six of the creation narrative. Theologians tell us “in our (God’s) image” means man is a willful, intellectual, rational, moral, and spiritual being. As the only living being created in God’s image, man is distinct from all animals.

Based on the many events of day six described in Genesis 1:24-31, we may confidently conclude the time elapsed was substantial. Toward the end of that time frame the Genesis passage reviews the general instructions God gave to the humans created on day six. They were to be fruitful and multiply. They were to fill the earth and subdue it. They were to have dominion over every living thing.

The second chapter of Genesis shifts its narrative focus. It is a day seven account occurring after all God’s acts of creation were complete. It relates more detail of the creation of Adam. It tells of his placement into the garden of Eden God had prepared (Gen. 2:8). Adam was instructed to work and keep the garden, eat certain plant foods, and avoid eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam was given the task of naming the beasts of the field and the birds of the heavens. Finally, to Adam’s delight, Eve was created.

Then comes the heartbreaking story of the initial human fall into sin and man’s alienation from God. Satan the tempter was cursed and life would become far more difficult for Adam and Eve than ever before as a result of their new fallen, sinful state. They would eventually die a physical death. Their spiritual death, far more serious, was already a reality.

Three brief chapters do not answer even a small fraction of questions we may have concerning earth and human history. The Genesis 1-3 passage provides information God considered essential for us to know: God created the universe and all living things on earth, and sadly, man fell into sin of his own free will. Given my personal choice, I would want a library of many inspired volumes detailing creation events answering when? how? and where? questions and a host of others. In God’s wisdom the creation narrative is quite succinct.

Many sincere Christians delight in dramatizing the effects of the fall of man into sin. They say it has resulted in animal death and animal predation which did not exist before the fall. In addition, they claim the physical laws governing the operation of nature’s geological and meteorological forces have been altered to permit violent, tragically fatal earthquakes and storms which would not be a part of our world had sin not been injected into the cosmic mix. They assert that a loving, all-powerful, good God should not and would not permit suffering and death for any of His created creatures. Their comments apply to the world they suppose existed for the limited time before the spiritual fall of Adam and Eve. But even in that short-lived world, if it existed as they suppose, it would be difficult to realistically envision a condition where no death or no decay were possible for any creature.

The great age of the earth has been established by sound mainstream science using dozens of independent methods. This is not godless, atheistic science. Wholesale death is evident in the record of paleontology among countless quadrillions of creatures within tens of millions of species existing on earth since life forms suddenly appeared 3.8 billion years ago. Suffering and death of our favored pets or beautiful wildlife are not conditions we wantonly celebrate. But to negate a divine purpose for events we cannot begin to understand with merely human wisdom is to set ourselves above the wisdom and purposes of God. The world of Genesis 1 was described as good or very good on multiple occasions by God as He looked upon His completed works. Such is the world we inhabit yet today.

Hugh Ross, in a new volume entitled Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job (Baker Books 2011) reports his startling perspective: “If I were to name one controversy with greater power to inflame passions than all others associated with creation, evolution, and judgment, it would have to be whether any animals experienced death prior to Adam and Eve’s sin. In my experience this issue is far and away the most divisive aspect of the dispute over the age of the earth and length of creation days.” If the No Death before the Fall paradigm of our young earth fellow Christians is accepted as factual reality, it is then an easy step for them to allow an earth only several thousand years old.

Genesis 1-3 speaks of the role of God as Creator of all things. In brief, it also speaks of man’s fall into sin and the consequences of that fall. We may rejoice in scientific discovery of how God has designed the cosmic operating system of our current dimension of time. In modern times our God has lovingly provided multiple opportunities for the discovery of “…the fixed laws of heaven and earth” (Jeremiah 33:25).     

Friday, December 23, 2011

Psychological Arrow of Time

Time may be considered either a coffee table discussion topic or an esoteric subject of interest mainly to scientists and philosophers. Coffee table conversationalists sometimes say, “Time flies!” or they complain about their day “dragging.” Similar comments are meant to poke fun at our subjective state of mind. But we all know the passing of time is inexorably steady.

Scientists are fascinated by the first two popularly discussed arrows of time: thermodynamic and cosmological. They relate to two overwhelming descriptive physical characteristics of our universe--ongoing decay, and ongoing expansion. A third arrow of time may also be of interest to the psychologist. It is called, appropriately, the psychological arrow of time. Humans remember their past, accumulating more memories of past events as they age. We do not remember the future, but we have an innate sense that time moves linearly from our memory-rich past to our memory-absent future. We could diagram this process using an arrow moving left to right across the page.

Popular agnostic physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking agreed that our present existence is dominated by our linear, forward-moving time dimension. Hawking and others are also fascinated by another time dimension he named imaginary time. Some scientists diagram time concepts showing two perpendicular lines. Our present time dimension is represented by a line moving only left to right, past to future. It is intersected by a perpendicular line crossing at only one point, the present. That perpendicular represents imaginary time which could travel infinitely far in either direction, not just one direction as required by our time dimension, “limited” as it is by a beginning and an ending.

This idea has promise for suggesting how our dimension-enriched God could operate and interact with humanity. His time dimensions (let’s call them imaginary) could operate outside our dimensions, but also at any point within our time dimension. The incarnate Christ willingly operated within our time dimension, but after His resurrection He also operated in other time dimensions, without the limits our restrictive time dimension imposes. This could explain many post-resurrection appearances and miracles.

For the present, humanity must be content with the opportunities and limitations of our present time dimension. We must be content to observe the progression of the psychological arrow of time and its relationship with the other arrows. Our present is positioned between a retrospective past and an anticipated future. This universe has experienced a beginning, and therefore a beginning of our time dimension. Scripture also states our arrow of time points to a conclusion of time as we know it. Consider this majestic passage: “Lord, in the beginning you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. Even they will perish, but you remain forever. They will wear out like old clothing. You will roll them up like an old coat. They will fade away like old clothing. But you are always the same; you will never grow old” (Hebrews -13 NLT).

This Hebrews passage cites the beginning and ending of our time frame. It also states God is changeless. He existed before He “laid the foundation of the earth” and was the pre-existing Cause of the created order. He is “always the same.” God “will never grow old.” If there is such a thing as imaginary time, this passage illustrates it. Many scripture translations use the phrase “everlasting to everlasting” to describe God in Psalm 90:2. The arrow of time in the dimension where God abides has no beginning or end. These ideas would provide for interesting conversation around a very large urn of coffee.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cosmological Arrow of Time

The cosmological arrow of time signals a constantly expanding universe. As we observe this phenomenon we have a sense of time moving forward. Our universe was smaller in time past; as it grows larger we move into the future. This observable fact logically points to the inescapable conclusion that our universe had a beginning. Scripture indicates God created everything that exists at the beginning--matter and energy along with our dimensions of space and time.

The Bible refers to the “stretching out” of the heavens at least eleven times in five different Old Testament books. Theologians and scientists who regard themselves as concordists would claim these passages refer to the modern discovery of the early 20th century that the universe undergoes continual expansion. Concordism is the belief that scripture and scientific facts may be harmonized. Strong concordists would claim that a passage such as Isa. 45:12, “…My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts,” is a statement of scientific fact. The meaning of the “stretching out” imagery seems unmistakable.

Expansion of the universe at a precise rate provides the opportunity for life on Planet Earth and the eventual arrival of humans. Not only does the expansion enable us to sense the passage of time, but it also provides exact conditions without which life of any sort would be impossible. Expansion rates since the creation event could not have been even slightly less or slightly greater. The required precision of the expansion rate is dependent on the mass density of the matter originally created. Because all matter possesses gravitational attraction, too much or too little matter (mass) present since the beginning creation event would in turn cause too little or too much gravitational braking following the Big Bang creation event. For roughly half of the universe’s existence, the expansion rate was gradually slowing.

In recent years another discovery has been made relating to the expansion of the universe. A mysterious “dark energy” is now acting to accelerate the expansion of our universe. The same rules apply for the required rate of expansion. It now appears the precision required for life-sustaining expansion is even greater than in the former decelerating universe. The term precision acquires new meaning in this context. The precision required is exponentially greater than for any physical system man has ever devised.

Had the expansion rate been slightly greater no planets, stars, or galaxies could have formed at the right times and places. The universe would contain only diffuse gas and dust. This scenario would have resulted from too little mass density. On the other hand, had the expansion rate been slightly less only life destroying giant stars and black holes would have formed because too much mass was present. Someone may ask, “How much extra mass is too much, or too little?” The answer: Less than the mass of a single dime in the entire universe.

If I were teaching this concept to young people I would make use of sports analogies. When we shoot a basketball toward the hoop, a too-short or too-long attempt results in failure. The shot distance must be accurate within a small range. When we swing at a baseball, an under swing of a few millimeters results in a fly ball out; an over swing of a few millimeters results in a ground ball out. Only a near perfect swing results in a home run. Most successful athletic outcomes demand similar precision. The young person should understand that the precise expansion rate required for a successful universe is many billion times greater than the precision required in an athletic contest.

Dozens of other characteristics of our planet must be fine-tuned to an unimaginable degree. We are discovering many additional fine tuning requirements for life with each passing year. This degree of fine tuning points to the Master Designer. In the demanding swirl of life’s mundane events, many people find such information incomprehensible or boring. Others discover new ways to worship the God of Creation and to understand the beauty of His loving provision for man.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

2nd Law Outcomes

Statements from skeptics that a loving, benevolent God should not permit decay, pain, suffering, evil, or death do not indicate their basic understanding of the advantages of living in a world governed by the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. Such declarations are motivated by their desire to incriminate God. Scientists, in particular, should be among the last to decry the benefits of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics frontloaded by the Creator into the operating system of our universe at its beginning.

The 2nd Law is sometimes called the Law of Decay. What, we may ask, could be good about a universal tendency for systems to decay, for ordered things to become less ordered? The skeptics, putting themselves in the place of God, sometimes ask why God did not create, according to their guidelines, a “perfect” world where no decay, pain, suffering, evil, or death could exist.

On another level, what could be good about having to keep a garden in order? or maintaining good relationships with our family? or avoiding conflicts with neighbors? or preventing any type of suffering? or working for the good of others? In the perfect world demanded of God by skeptics, there would be no responsibility to exercise human free will or autonomy because every good action would already be pre-accomplished for us. Human free will is a gift of enormous value from our Creator. Such lack of responsibility would not prove personally satisfying.

Human autonomy, and the autonomy of our physical cosmos to operate with the purpose for which God created it, is a double-edged gift. The benefits of the 2nd Law are overwhelmingly positive for the human race. There are virtually no human physical activities which do not involve some application of energy consumption, energy conversion, or energy flow which are not an illustration the Law of Decay. Too often we cite our deteriorating automobiles, homes, or bodies as a deleterious effect of this law. Indeed, these situations are unwelcome handicaps. In other examples, the 2nd Law enables us to think, digest food, stay warm, work, and travel from place to place.

One outcome of the operation of the 2nd Law is the depressing deterioration of our physical bodies and our ultimate death. We would do well not to trivialize the tragic impact of the death of our physical body. Many Christian writers attribute death--the death of all creatures--to the sin of our first parents in the Garden of Eden. Credible scriptural support for this concept is lacking. In the scope of God’s plan for this temporal sphere of existence, scripture indicates the sin of Adam resulted in the spiritual death of all men. Animal death is not indicated: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” (Rom. ESV). The context of Romans 5 is spiritual death and reconciliation. Animals do not sin, so their death could not have resulted from their own sin. Moreover, animal life and death had existed on this earth long before Adam--for many millions of years. Plentiful microbial death on the early earth was the outcome of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics operating since creation. This large scale death has provided generous resources for the sustainment and enrichment of our modern life.

Instructive discussions of these issues have been provided in Why the Universe is the Way It Is by Hugh Ross (Baker Books, 2008): “This universe with all its features, laws, and dimensions represents the perfect theater for enactment of God’s redemptive drama. By its physical constraints, God limits the spread of evil, encourages the spread of virtue, and demonstrates his great love for humankind. According to the Bible, this temporal universe provides an essential proving ground to test each human heart (in the spiritual sense) and prepare those who pass the test for life in a completely new realm, one that includes all the features we long for and more—the perfection we can barely imagine.”

Why would an all loving God subject humans to “the tribulations and tragedies of this present world?” Hugh Ross continues, “One partial answer may be that if evil and suffering are temporary and humans eternal, then each person’s encounters with these troubles and griefs may serve as preparation for some high reward not possible otherwise. This consideration might also imply that humans are part of God’s strategy to bring about a total and permanent triumph of good over evil.”

Finally, Hugh Ross asks, “Why didn’t God just place Adam and Eve in the New Creation to start with?” Ross continues, “It appears that unless humanity is exposed to and tested by the greatest possible temptation, the most compelling attraction of evil, in the first creation—the rewards, pleasures, and relationships of the new creation cannot be made both perfect and permanent.”

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Time and the 2nd Law

Stephen Hawking discusses three arrows of time in his popular 1988 volume A Brief History of Time and subsequent updates. He defines an arrow of time as “something which distinguishes the past from the future, giving a direction to time.” One of the three is the thermodynamic arrow of time. The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is one of the most fundamental characteristics of our created universe. It has operated in the past and still operates in our present, giving us a sense of time moving relentlessly forward. Our understanding of this law helps us comprehend how God established the operational rules for our universe at the initial creation event.

God set up the time dimension of our universe at the creation event described in Genesis 1:1. It stands to reason that the creator of our time dimension would also create other fundamental characteristics to enable successful operation of our universe. In particular, He established abundant life-friendly characteristics. The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, also known as the Law of Decay or the Law of Entropy, serves as an umbrella for hundreds of other life-friendly characteristics.

The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics states a fundamental reality. In our cosmos, all systems naturally proceed from a state of higher organization to a state of lower organization. Paint ages and peels; plants die and decay; hot water cools. Sometimes an apparent increase in order in an isolated system results from a reduction of order in some other system. Total order of the combined systems is reduced. For example, restoring an old, broken down, deteriorated automobile in the repair shop results in a localized increase of order when we look at the finished, restored vehicle, but the resources of the repair shop and outside vendors are diminished. When we look at the overall picture, the Law of Decay operates.

In this case, the Law of Decay (a reduction in the usefulness of resources) sounds like a bad thing. In this instance the Law of Decay works to our advantage. The owner of the restored vehicle may now drive down the street proudly, consuming fuel as he travels along. The gasoline is reduced to exhaust vapors and becomes useless as its heat energy dissipates, but it has provided a mode of transportation. The owner of the restored vehicle is happy to make these sacrifices.

Another example is provided by the consumption of food by living things. Food is a highly concentrated source of energy. As our bodies digest and otherwise metabolize food products, energy is produced. We are able to think, stay warm, and move about. The Law of Decay again works to our advantage. If the law did not operate, neither would we. One college biology professor, in his supplementary notes to students, stated if the process of energy transformation to lower states did not take place the organism would be dead!

Do we live in a world of decay? Yes, we do. For the most part, however, the Law of Decay works to our advantage throughout our lives. Carried to the law’s ultimate conclusion, eventually all organisms die. This includes the heartbreaking deaths of human beings. We function in the ongoing, linear dimension of time where the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics functions constantly. Stephen Hawking states the inexorable progression of increasing disorder helps us sense the passage of time: “Disorder increases with time because we measure time in the direction in which disorder increases.”

Holy Scripture deals with the subject of our universe’s bondage to decay in Romans 8:18-25. The Apostle Paul may or may not have been thinking in a modern scientific manner in this passage. He could have combined common sense observations of increasing disorder in his physical world with spiritual insights he had received by revelation. It is quite certain that “…our present sufferings are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us” refers to our present existence compared with our future existence in an eternal, perfect, new-dimensional existence. The colorful imagery of “…the whole creation groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time (Rom. 8:22) could apply to our future deliverance from 2nd Law physics to a future New Creation reality where our current physics will no longer exist.

Decay and death have been present on this earth from the initial creation to the present. God created the Law of Decay as surely as He created our dimension of time. The decay has resulted in many beneficial energy transformations; the death of quadrillions of creatures has resulted in production of plentiful resources for our modern life. Of course, the deaths of billions of humans created in the image of God are not events to celebrate. Such deaths do, however, represent deliverance from conformity to the 2nd Law to something even better and more glorious yet to come for the redeemed in Christ.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

From Start to Finish

Jesus Christ’s startling utterance “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 22:13) could not refer to the beginning and ending of Christ’s existence, for He is eternal. Rather, the passage refers to the beginning and ending of this present dimension of time in which Christ “holds all creation together” (Col. 1:17 NLT). Christ pervades all past, present, and future reality. He brought the matter and energy of our universe into existence as well as its dimensions of space and time. He unfurled the dimension of time at the start and He will roll it back up at the finish when time as we know it will end. In this sense He is the Alpha and the Omega.

Scientists have diverse and fully persuasive evidence that the beginning of time as we know it occurred 13.73 billion years ago. God in three persons existed before time began and was uncreated. This proposal does not yield to any rational human explanation. The uncreated God is the cause of our created cosmos. Time is linear in our cosmos. This means time proceeds in one direction with causes preceding their effects. Humans have the feeling of time slipping from one moment to the next. Within time we are always in the present even though we may contemplate the past and the future.

Some people do not care to contemplate these matters. Others speculate philosophically on issues such as “circular time” which allow for possible reincarnation or experiencing the future before the past. This is suggestive of a philosophy termed “eternalism” in contrast with “presentism” which views the present moment moving into the future, leaving the past behind. This was the view of early church theologian and philosopher Augustine (354-430 AD). He also conceived of God as transcendent, outside of time, as well as existing within our time dimension.

This esoteric discussion may be more important than the average church member realizes. If Jesus Christ created the time dimension in which we live, giving it a beginning and an ending, He must also have had a divine plan for the operation of matter and energy within our created dimensions of space and time. Secular science findings may enlighten us with respect to the characteristics of time and the realm in which we live. Many modern findings of science dovetail with scripture insofar as scientific issues are touched upon by the authors of sacred scripture.

An example is provided by a popular 1988 runaway best-seller authored by brilliant agnostic physicist Stephen Hawking. In A Brief History of Time Hawking’s Chapter 9 is titled “The Arrow of Time.” In a future post I will address his discussion of three different “arrows of time.” These are defined as “…something that distinguishes the past from the future, giving a direction to time.” Each of Hawking’s arrows of time could be connected with concepts mentioned in scripture about how our universe operates.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Bookends of Time

We are firmly embedded between the “bookends of time.” The “books” between the bookends contain a record of events in our temporal sphere--earth history from the creation event until the present as well as events yet to come before the end of this present age. The arrival of the New Creation described in scripture brings an end to our current time frame and ushers in a timeless eternity. We might also describe the events of the pre-Genesis creation account as timeless.

From a scientific perspective the beginning and ending of our present dimension of time is not a far-fetched concept. Secular scientists agree that our present time dimension originated at the initial creation event of this cosmos. Many scientists are distressed at the idea that time had an actual beginning. This acknowledgement carries with it a tacit admission that there was also a Beginner. The concept of a Beginner runs counter to the secular reasoning that everything in our universe may be explained naturalistically. The troubling reality of a Beginner lurks inescapably as secularists contemplate the reality of the beginning of time, space, matter, and energy. Likewise, any discussion about the end of time may provoke a feeling of unease.

Many cosmologists have referred to the separation of three space dimensions and one time dimension from ten or more dimensions an instant after the Big Bang creation event. We could call this the “beginning of time.” The remaining dimensions still exist but remain tightly curled up, inaccessible to us. They are not a part of our human experience of dimensionality.

What about the “end of time?” Chapter 21 of the Book of Revelation tells us our time dimension ends at the onset of the New Creation. The experience of God’s redeemed people in the New Creation will be unimaginably different from the here and now. Speculation on the quality of our existence in the New Creation is woefully inadequate. We know there will be no sorrow, death, crying, pain, or evil. The pleasures of this timeless eternity will be far beyond our present ability to comprehend.

Since the 1960s when Big Bang cosmology replaced steady-state theory, scientists nearly all agree that time had a beginning. But they may have more problem with the concept of the end of time as we know it. Scripture such as Isaiah 34:4 speaks of the heavens being “rolled up like a scroll.” Most theologians agree that Isaiah is apocalyptic, referring centuries in advance to the end times described again in the book of Revelation. The imagery of Isaiah and Revelation 6:14 is reminiscent of secular cosmologists’ descriptions of the uncurling of space and time dimensions at the beginning of time. At the end of time the “curling” of dimensions is reversed: in Isaiah and Revelation the spatial dimensions of the sky are “rolled up.” Time comes to an end.

The verses of Isaiah and Revelation are not offered as proof texts. They are, nevertheless, suggestive: “And the sky was rolled up like a scroll and taken away. And all of the mountains and all of the islands disappeared.” (Revelation NLT), God created our time dimension. Time had a beginning; time will have an end. Jesus Christ said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” (Revelation 22:13)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Roll Call

Many people who lived five decades or more ago remember the popular hymn “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder.” This title was requested more frequently than most during the “favorites” portion of hymn time. The verse 1 lyrics begin, “When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound and time shall be no more…” For those unfamiliar with biblical eschatology, this refers to the return of Christ at the end of this present age. It precedes the onset of the New Creation described in Revelation 21. I sang these lyrics hundreds of times as a young person. The term “time shall be no more” was characteristic of many sentimental expressions sung from behind a hymnal in that era. We do not disparage the pietistic expressions of those musical offerings. Perhaps our increased understanding of cosmology and its theological implications in the past half century imparts new meaning to this old expression.

Revelation’s description of the New Creation suggests that the dimensions of space and time we experience at present will be replaced with entirely new dimensions. Space and time will not be reckoned as we reckon them today.

Scripture also refers to a past interval in history when the dimension of time as we know it today did not exist. Four New Testament verses explicitly state this concept: I Cor. 2:7, Eph. 1:4, II Tim. 1:9, and Tit. 1:3. Cosmologists agree that our single time and three space dimensions were “created” a split second after the Big Bang. They even speculate on the presence of a number of other dimensions existing at the first moment of the universe’s existence. Ironically, secular cosmologists and theologians both agree on the “creation” of time at that point in the past.

We see, therefore, that our present dimensions of time and space are emplaced between two intervals of timelessness--one interval prior to the beginning of time (John 1:1-2), and the New Creation described in Revelation 21 after the end of time. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary indicates the Genesis 1:1 In the beginning refers to the creation of the heavens and the earth, while the John 1:1 In the beginning “…does not refer to a particular moment of time but assumes a timeless eternity.”

The Bible speaks almost exclusively about events in our time frame of existence and instructions for our lives within our time frame. God is the creator of our existence and sustenance within this time frame and the author of guidelines for our successful and joyful living. He also provides the opportunity to achieve redemption in this life and in the life to come--the ultimate in successful and joyful existence. This comes through the gift of God’s Son.

God created the conditions of our present time frame to fulfill His divine purposes. He enjoyed creating the heavens and the earth and eventually earth’s millions of different creatures. In particular, God took pleasure in creating man in His own image. He enjoys fellowship with the pinnacle of His creative work--man. Science has discovered the laws of operation of this universe and by extension, Planet Earth. Thousands of volumes of scientific literature have described how these laws have produced the resources currently supporting the existence of seven billion human beings and uncounted trillions of other living things. The functioning of our earth may be described as a divine success story. Even better things, however, are in store for redeemed mankind.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Best of All Worlds

A popular current scientific buzz is an imaginative concept called the “multiverse” which posits that at the Big Bang multiple universes may have been generated. Perhaps, some scientists say, the number of universes is infinite. Some scientists hypothesize our own universe may possess all the “just right” requirements for life because if infinite universes exist, it is virtually certain that at least one of them would possess all the conditions and physical constants necessary for life as it exists on Planet Earth. Moreover, life could have evolved by chance, because with an infinite number of “trials” our particular set of earth conditions was bound to occur.

Physicist Paul Davies has declared that the multiverse hypothesis has no empirical testability. Therefore, it is not falsifiable and has no standing as a scientific proposal. Modern fascination with the multiverse idea reminds us of the Apostle Paul’s visit to ancient Greece. In the picture painted by Luke, writer of the Book of Acts, the intellectuals gathered frequently in downtown Athens to gossip. Eugene Peterson translates the scene this way: “There were always people hanging around, natives and tourists alike, waiting for the latest tidbit on most anything” (Acts 17:21 The Message). Paul Davies wrote “Taking Science on Faith,” an op-ed in The New York Times, Nov. 24, 2007, claiming “…Science has its own faith-based belief system…Clearly, then, both religion and science are founded on faith—namely, on belief in the existence of something outside the universe, like an unexplained God or an unexplained set of physical laws, maybe even a huge ensemble of unseen universes, too.” No doubt the Athenians would have been fascinated with the multiverse proposal.

Davies took a lot of heat from skeptical scientists for his proposal that science is akin to a faith system. A Wikipedia entry claims Davies’ piece “generated controversy over its exploration of the role of faith in scientific inquiry. Davies argued that the faith scientists have in the immutability of physical laws has origins in Christian theology, and that the claim that science is ‘free of faith’ is ‘manifestly bogus.’” We might ask, “What is the essential difference between religious faith and a scientific faith?” Our blog agrees that both science and religion are faith-based. The object of that faith highlights the difference.

Our Christian belief system casts strong doubt on the reality of the multiverse proposal. Genesis declares “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Science is based upon evidence gained from empirical evidence. We observe only our own universe. Paul Davies correctly states that the multiverse hypothesis has no empirical testability. Therefore, we do not assign credence to the imaginative and speculative hypothesis of the multiverse, however appealing that hypothesis may be.

The heavens and the earth referenced in Genesis 1:1 is the term for the entirety of the universe we now observe. It is the production of the God of Creation. He created Earth with the ultimate good of modern man in mind. Every process over the eons of time looked forward to modern man’s arrival. God has stockpiled the benefits from these processes, benefits which persist even in our day. We may confidently say, with the psalmist, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof…” (Psalm 24:1 KJV).

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What Kind of World?

How does the physical operation of Planet Earth’s systems and our cosmos fulfill God’s higher purpose? Do Earth’s physical systems and Earth’s life forms operate according to the foreknowledge of an infinite, omniscient God? Since the Fall of Adam in the Garden of Eden, are we operating under God’s “Plan B?” That is to say, was God’s perfect creation sabotaged at the moment of Adam’s Fall? These are not only issues of deep theological significance, but profound scientific questions as well.

Many Christians see both the operation of Earth’s physical systems and the spiritually fallen condition of the human race as the outcome of the sin of our Garden of Eden parents. They believe Adam’s action was responsible for both physical and spiritual degradation. Man’s spiritual alienation from God is, indeed, inherited from Adam. Some broadly blame Satan for man’s spiritual downfall. In some sense this is true. Had free will not been gifted to humanity and had Satan not existed, the Fall would not have occurred. But this conclusion seriously overlooks a deeper theological reality.

Long before the creation of man “in the image of God,” long before life of any type existed on this earth, and long before the initial creation event described in the first verse of the Bible, God in three persons existed outside our current dimensions of space and time. Stated another way, God was transcendent. Three dimensions of space and one dimension of time were imposed upon this universe at the creation event. We tend to think only in terms of our current space/time dimensions. In some small measure, theologically and scientifically we are able to grasp the importance of this concept by studying scripture and by discovering the operations of our cosmos from a scientific perspective.

Some of Scripture’s most startling passages refer to the plan of redemption for man. The plan was present in the mind of God even before the creation of our dimensions of space and time. The Apostle Paul, recipient of many of God’s special revelations of truth, spoke at least five times in his epistles of pre-creation divine determination of future events involving man on earth. For example, the New International Version translates I Cor. 2:7 using the term before time began, Eph. 1:4 with before the creation of the world, and II Tim. 1:9 and Tit. 1:3 by the term before the beginning of time. Rom. uses the phrase “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son…” In each of these cases it is clear these passages refer to man’s redemption from sin.

The term grace is used in scripture to indicate, among other things, the reception of something we do not deserve. Again, II Tim. 1:9 states, “Grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.” We do not deserve grace because of our sinfulness. God knew man would rapidly fall into sin when left to his own free will choice. Another term, adoption, refers to the transfer of a person from one condition (family) to another. Clearly, redemption was in the heart of God long before the creation of the cosmos. We may ask, “Redemption from what?” We may answer, “Redemption from a sinful heart condition to a new condition of guiltlessness before God through the sacrifice of Christ.” Did God know beforehand that humanity would fall into sin by virtue of his free will choice? Yes, He did. God did not prevent Satan’s entry into the Garden of Eden, but He could have done so.

The physical characteristics of this world at times result in discomfort, distress, or even death. A broad scope analysis of conditions on our earth, however, reveals an earth with the optimal potential for nourishing and sustaining the lives of seven billion souls. God designed our earth system with our benefit in mind. He has given us the privilege of tenderly caring for it, working it, and reaping benefits from it. It is part of a cosmos gradually running down under the God-imposed “Law of Decay,” but it is a cosmos ideally suited to fulfillment of His plan for the redemption of reborn mankind into the future New Creation described in Revelation 21.

What kind of world do we live in? We may conclude this cosmos is ideally suited to fulfill God’s purpose: the redemption of mankind to a future state in the New Creation. This state is far more wonderful than merely restoring the brief “paradise” which purportedly existed in the Garden of Eden. Man was not intended to live forever in an unredeemed state in Eden. The Creator looked far beyond Eden to the state of redemption in this world and in the New Creation.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

System Breakdown

“It’s a wonder more things don’t go wrong; It’s amazing anyone stays healthy five minutes!” This was the observation of my brother, my only sibling, who recently suffered a significant stroke. This profound insight does not diminish the lingering stroke symptoms, but it does help us put the wonder of our normally functioning bodily processes in perspective.

There are nearly a dozen major organ systems in the human body including circulatory, digestive, endocrine, excretory, immune, lymphatic, muscular, nervous, reproductive, respiratory, and skeletal systems. In a healthy person they work together to create a smoothly functioning bodily unit. Stated another way, ordinarily we would describe ourselves as “feeling well.”

The circulatory system is primarily a network for blood distribution. Life giving oxygen, nutrients, and hormones are carried by the blood through arteries to every body cell. In turn, veins carry away waste products to be removed from the body. There are 60,000 miles of blood vessels in the human body, mostly composed of microscopic capillaries which touch almost every body cell. If a blood clot or other debris reaches the brain through one of the arteries leading to it and lodges there, lack of oxygen rapidly causes brain damage resulting in a variety of temporary or permanent adverse effects. This is the situation when a person suffers a stroke.

In any system, a single problem may cause breakdown even if the problem may seem minor. Lawn or garden watering ceases when a clog, kink, or break develops at just one location in the supply hose. Until the problem is remedied the watering process ceases. A flat tire on our automobile suddenly derails completion of a journey. And in 1986 the Challenger shuttle exploded because of a defective “O” ring. That inexpensive component failed because its sealing effect was slightly diminished in the cold morning launch temperature. Never mind that over 99% of the systems maintained proper function in the above examples. James 3:5 applies: “A tiny spark can set a great forest on fire.”

With respect to the hundreds of properly functioning components of our bodies’ circulatory system, we are remiss in not reminding ourselves often that our bodies are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). The New Living Translation declares “Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—and how well I know it.” Even as he still suffers from the residual effects of his stroke, my brother voices the sentiments of believers who, upon studying the dizzying intricacy and beauty of bodily processes for even one bodily organ system exclaim, “It is absurd and outrageous to suggest this is an (evolutionary) accident.”

We talk, read, and write far more about our personal body system failures than our body system successes. Even the person with science aversion experiences open-mouthed awe upon becoming even slightly aware of the multiple processes taking place in just one body organ system. The awe would multiply with an understanding of how the systems integrate. The sports-minded person may draw the analogy to an 11-man football team whose plays succeed only if every man performs his function correctly. The body, of course, is exponentially more complex.

The medical profession has produced hundreds of specialties focusing on diagnosis and treatment of these systems, or even subsets of one of these systems. Perusing a list of these medical specialties, one may think: “Look how many things can go wrong!” More realistically we should exclaim, “Look how many things are going right!” During his recovery process, my brother is able to voice this sentiment with even more conviction.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Contending for the Faith

The brother of Jesus Christ wrote a one-chapter epistle in which he urges believers to “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 1:3 NASB). My personal preference for the translation of this verse comes from Eugene Peterson’s The Message: “I have to write insisting—begging!—that you fight with everything you have in you for this faith entrusted to us as a gift to guard and cherish.”

Many of our posts have stated the value of science as an apologetic tool to strengthen our faith. Apart from fundamental doctrinal pillars of the Christian faith such as the truth of Christ as God in the flesh and Christ as Redeemer of fallen man, science provides apologetic value at a different level. Science in general offers evidence of the supernatural creation event described in Genesis 1:1 as well as knowledge of a cosmos functioning in an incredibly orderly manner. The cosmos offers clear and ubiquitous evidence of intelligent design. By extension, the scientific knowledge gained over the past few centuries is a powerful apologetic for the very existence of God. Paradoxically, lurking in the consciousness (or subconscious) of many science professionals is the very question, “Does God exist?” This question has likely occurred to most people, science professionals or not.

Identification of intelligently designed features in our universe is not regarded as a scientific enterprise. Science, according to established modern standards, must investigate only natural events. The supernatural is ruled off-limits. There is an advantage to this ruling. It avoids assigning every unknown effect observed in nature to the direct, deliberate action of God. Naturalistic scientists are fond of proposing the “God-of-the-gaps” accusation against creationists and believers in intelligent design. In reality, most skilled theistic scientists reserve design explanations only for unique features of our physical cosmos such as the DNA code in living things.

The disadvantage of the paradigm that science must investigate only natural cause and effect is that events of probable supernatural origin are excluded from the discussion of what really may have happened. Scientific naturalism has been established as a rock solid, indestructible “rule of the game.” Theistic explanations are ascribed to a separate realm of reality. Many of my theistic evolutionary friends have subscribed to the doctrine of separation of the realms as an unalterable principle. One theistic evolutionist friend wrote, “They (science and theology) are not a single, self consistent whole but rather two very different ways of viewing reality.” Rigid adherence to this principle is a discussion stopper. The science establishment’s adherence to this paramount “rule of the game” is a brilliant accomplishment. It is also an unfortunate fact.

How does this discussion relate to the biblical exhortation to contend or fight for the faith? The oft-repeated exhortation to “get on board with science” in the matter of origins deflects seekers from a frank acknowledgement that God has ever acted interventionally along the timeline of life’s history on Planet Earth. Marriage to a “naturalism only” paradigm may preclude our embrace of a thoroughly Christian worldview. My TE friend, at the conclusion of lengthy discussions, stated, “Both of us believe that God is the Creator of all things, including humans.” But the unsolved question of how God created remains a troubling impasse.

Recognition of the evidence for sudden rather than gradual biological creation events on earth is established by careful analysis of great amounts of evidence and carefully reasoned interpretation of the evidence. The historical record of life on earth and the entire physical cosmos comprises the general revelation provided by God. We have the capability of inspecting and interpreting the evidence of general revelation. This capability is provided by the gift of reason. Revelation and reason, therefore, provide mankind with a double-edged tool for contending for the faith. In this context, our faith affirms the facts that God exists and that God acts in this cosmos.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Revelation vs. Reason

Hymn time during a recent Sunday morning worship service featured “By Faith,” a popular new song by Keith and Kristin Getty. Verse 1 begins “By faith we see the hand of God in the light of creation’s grand design.” The subject of faith juxtaposed with creation’s grand design in only one line of the hymn is fascinating.

In the context of the hymn’s text, faith may be defined as an inner assurance that our course of belief or action is correct and supported by the will of God. Tangible proof may not exist to support our belief or course of action, but we are confident we are on the right highway. Over the centuries, theologians have sometimes referred to the embrace of revelation or revealed truth as faith.

Recognition of “creation’s grand design,” in contrast, is an embrace of reason. We recognize by our logical, rational thought process how unlikely or even how impossible it would be for the created order to have assembled itself to function with such apparent efficiency and purpose. Beyond that we acknowledge God as the agent responsible for creation and the apparent design features of the cosmos.

Historically, either reason or revelation was held in favor by theologians. Sometimes they stressed both reason and revelation. Early theologians Tertullian (160-220 AD) and Augustine (354-430 AD) and later figures such as Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) stressed the revelation of theological truths over reason. Pascal, a brilliant scientist and mathematician, was noted for his Christian conversion experience. His focus turned to theology after his conversion. Thereafter he de-emphasized finding God through evidence from the natural world.

Other theological notables stressed the importance of reason in acquiring knowledge of God. Justin Martyr (103-165 AD) promoted an early reason-based Christian apologetic as did Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) in the Middle Ages. Aquinas also blended revelation with reason in forming his theological belief system.

Is acquisition of our belief in God a matter of either revelation or reason? At times my personal enthusiasm for science may slant my thinking in favor of reason; the wonder of the design and function of the natural world is powerful affirmation of the reality of God. But for others their theological belief system is supported by their embrace of the revealed truth of scripture or other forms of personal enlightenment.

Scripture affirms the value of both revelation and reason. Our embrace of Christ as the Son of God, a truth brought forward to us in our day by the witness of scripture, may be regarded as revealed truth. Scripture also points to the design and beauty of the cosmos, the behavior of living creatures, existence of the whole personhood of the pre-born, and many other deep truths to support our ability to reason concerning the deeper significance of our existence and origin.

Congregational hymn singing satisfies our desire to offer worship to God as well as to express theological truths gained by revelation and reason. We would do well to study the lyrics sung by church musicians and thoughtfully contemplate the hymn texts used each Sunday. The gift of music allows us to express our heartfelt worship of the Creator who makes Himself known through the gifts of revelation and reason.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Ask The Birds

“But now ask the beasts, and let them teach you; and the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you.” (Job 12:7 NASB) This unusual concept was a reply given by Job to his accuser, Zophar, who had proposed confidently that Job’s trials were punishment for his sins. Zophar and Job’s other “friends” had piously cited object lessons from the natural world to strengthen their case for condemning Job. Now Job is turning some of the same wisdom back on his accusers.

We may wonder what birds may teach us about the truths of life. He also cites the earth itself and fish of the sea. Job does not elaborate extensively. “Who among these does not know,” Job inquires, “that the hand of the Lord has done this, in whose hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind?” Are these verses and the remaining verses of chapter 12 merely poetic imagery? Or could humans learn lessons from the birds of the heavens? And what would those lessons be?

Outside my office we have installed an ornamental water fountain which doubles as an avian bird bath and drinking station during the summer. Currently our various neighborhood birds have completed their parenting duties for the year and the permanent winter residents now seem to have banded together for some high sprited fun in addition to satisfying their need for food and water. Groups of mixed bird species sometimes excitedly fly from tree to tree or branch to branch in what seems to be a mysterious, exuberant celebration. The bedlam often ceases as suddenly as it began, only to resume another time.

One recent day our fountain was the locus of action. Within ten minutes seven different bird species visited the fountain. Many were robins, but they were joined by a blue jay, slate colored junco, cedar waxwings, starling, red bellied woodpecker, and several cardinals. In my human wisdom I would not have been bathing in the 36˚F temperature. But the cardinals seemed to enjoy splashing in the cold water with their feathered audience looking on. Most birds merely seemed intent on taking turns quenching their thirst. One exception was provided by two robins 90˚ apart on one level. In addition to drinking they periodically faced each other, opening and closing their bills in unison. Several other robins chased each other around the yard at intervals. What unknown purpose was served by these behaviors?

The blue jay garnered the most respect. He drank alone, having assertively dispersed the other birds for a few moments. Many birds seemed to politely defer to each other. Rarely did more than one or two drink at once. In ten minutes I observed behavioral interactions which could be variously described as joy, excitement, cooperation, submission, caution, assertiveness, aggression, dominance, boldness, and fear. My research provided information on the desirability of helping birds during winter by keeping a water fountain liquid all winter with a submersible heater. Most over-wintering birds seem to manage well without the human provision of feeders. Perhaps providing water is more important. Most important may be the lessons provided for us by the behavior of “birds of the heavens.” Their innate wisdom teaches humans some valuable lessons.

We learn from wild creatures by systematically observing their activities. The familiar verse in Matthew reminds us that wild animals’ innate wisdom is supplied by God Himself: “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?” Evidence that our Father values us more highly is plentiful, including our intellectual capacity to provide for our own needs in ways animals cannot. The inherent wisdom of animals, however, provides humans with much food for thought. The exuberant autumn antics of our neighborhood birds are a gift of the provident Creator, both to the birds and to us.

In a broad sense, we may say that the tutorial provided by our feathered neighbors is a lesson from natural theology--a human lesson drawn from our “reason and ordinary experience” which points to the existence and actions of a divine Being. Science and natural theology are different pathways to realities of how the natural world works, including the scientific question of causes. Most professional scientists are willing to stop off at a naturalistic explanation for fascinating everyday phenomena we observe, consigning any hint of a theological implication to religionists. The problem of separation constructed between science and religion is known as the demarcation problem. It is hotly debated by scientists who wish to preserve the naturalistic purity of science unencumbered by any theological implication.

Multiple passages in scripture tilt us toward contemplation of the deeper theological significance of things we observe in the natural world. As I watched seven distinctly different bird species cavorting around my water fountain, I admired the unique beauty of each one along with their distinctive mannerisms. For me, explaining their physical beauty and behavior entirely by naturalistic reductionism amounts to an absurdity. I highly respect the methods of science which aid me in understanding beauty and behavior. In most instances science provides an entirely adequate account. Contemplating deeper theological significance, however, enhances our understanding and enjoyment of the reality of the Creator and His relationship with the created order.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Seasonal Rebirth

A favorite question often asked is, “What is your favorite…?” Many deflect such a query with, “I like them all,” perhaps using the qualifier “for different reasons.” As autumn progresses in northern latitudes there is often trepidation at the approach of winter, sometimes fueled, as in the Midwestern US, by the rumor that a “La Nina” weather pattern is still in effect. Conversely, when late winter moderation clearly signals a weakening of winter’s grip, spirits are lifted.

Cycles are common in our created world. Weather cycles related to temperature and precipitation fluctuations and the consequent sequences of seed time, harvest, and dormancy are topics addressed in scripture. For example, after the Genesis flood, the Lord said, “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease” (Gen. 8:22 NASB). These contrasting conditions were related in Old Testament times to the annual revolution of the earth around the Sun as it rotates on its tilted axis. These relationships still exist after many thousands of years.

Our revolving earth produces seasonal cycles because of its obliquity: Earth’s axis is tilted 23.5˚ away from the perpendicular to its orbital plane. Without any axial tilt there would be no cyclical seasonal changes anywhere on earth--no annual anticipation of summer’s oncoming warmth or winter’s frigid cold. Seasonal changes result in a refreshing variety of weather in Earth's temperate, middle latitudes. But there is a more important reason to embrace the benefit of these seasonal variations. Grain crops thrive when where warm seed time and harvest contrast with a period of cold dormancy. Humans get about 48% of their calories from grain crops. The Northern hemisphere has 90% of the world’s people and produces most of the world’s grain crops in its temperate zones.

Northern hemisphere winter sun rays must spread over a larger area of land because they arrive at a smaller angle above the horizon. Since they are “shared” by more surface area, any one spot receives less heat. Summer reverses the conditions. The sun takes a shorter path across the heavens in winter. Days are short; heating time is less; cooling time is greater. Again, summer reverses these conditions.

Some people may long for a season-less weather pattern. Without disparaging anyone’s desire for pleasant weather, we must remind ourselves that seasonal changes provide far more interactions between air masses, resulting in distribution and movement of precipitation-producing systems superimposed on the seed-time, harvest, and cold. The Genesis 8 passage seems to affirm the benefits of contrasting conditions--the “ups and downs” of weather. Now and then these ups and downs result in too much or too little rain, or too much or too little wind and humidity for our personal preferences and comfort.

This meteorological variety enables the Earth to support nearly seven billion people. Famines and weather tragedies do occur. But such events are relatively rare and often result from poor human management or deficient stewardship. Heavy media coverage of these tragic events may cause us to see our earth’s weather cycles as cruel rather than as the benevolent gifts of a caring Father.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Attractive Belief Systems

Blaise Pascal wrote “People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.” William Dembski, intelligent design theorist, claims Pascal was “…not talking about people merely believing what they want to believe, as in wish fulfillment. Rather, he was talking about people being swept away by attractive ideas that capture their heart and imagination.”

Recently I concluded two lengthy written dialogues with friends who embrace theistic evolution. We all agreed in the end that “God is the Creator of all things.” That statement of agreement, however, belies fundamental disagreements between us involving the question “How did God create?” In particular, how did he create living things, including humans? Was modern man a unique and special creation appearing on earth at a specific point in time in the past few tens of thousands of years by a fiat miracle of God? Or did man slowly develop from LUCA (the last universal common ancestor) since plentiful bacterial life suddenly appeared on earth several billion years ago?

My friends both wound down the dialogue by asking questions such as “Does it make a difference?” and “We are not as far apart as you think we are.” Perhaps they thought the gulf between us would seem narrower. I have thought deeply about their statements and have concluded that it makes a significant and substantial difference. The differences should never diminish the quality of friendships or personal relationships. Nor should the differences affect the mutual respect we have for each other as individuals. But the issue is far from unimportant.

One friend wrote “I have tended to assume that if you take the scientific evidence from physics for an old universe, an old earth, etc. as valid evidence…you must already be on a road that leads to taking the same open mind toward the evidence for biological evolution as a scenario with some limited validity also.” This comment also goes to the heart of objections made to me by young earth creationist believers. Herein lies an ironic twist in discussions of this sort. Belief in an ancient cosmos does not presume belief in biological evolution. The eventual coalescence of matter into planetary systems such as our own unique Solar System resulted from physical laws based on physical constants established by the Creator from the moment of creation of the cosmos.

The world of living things poses an entirely different origins scenario. Physical systems operate according to the physical laws in effect from the beginning of time. We might say the “information” inherent in those physical constants was front-loaded into matter at the beginning. Living things, on the other hand, appear to have come into being with an exponentially vast, intelligent input of information long after the initial creation event. That information possessed directions for synthesizing thousands of different proteins and organizing them into complex, functional systems. Living systems are very different from non-living systems. An understanding of forces and motion, formation of storms in our atmosphere, or structure of complex mineral crystals, for example,--these are simple matters compared with an understanding of the origin of information needed to produce living systems. To use a sports analogy, the world of living things is in a different league.

Both friends stressed the dichotomy between theology and science. I had repeatedly made the proposal that science and theology comprises “a single, self-consistent whole,” and that we should be able to inspect the creation using the methods of science and identify the work of God, particularly with respect to the origin of information in the DNA/RNA of living systems, as well as in the exquisite design and function of living and non-living things alike. This argument does not resonate with theistic evolutionists because of their insistence on keeping the conclusions of science completely within a naturalistic box. One friend, a career professional scientist, claims “divine agency in creation is not subject to mundane scrutiny by the powers of human reason, but is hidden.”

Most theistic evolutionists prefer to accept the scenario of mutations, natural selection, and plenty of time to explain the process of change naturalistically. Nearly all would insist on knowing how a miraculous process such as creation of life or creation of a new species would work. To claim God acts to create or reorganize molecules in some unknown fashion does not satisfy the theistic evolutionist. They prefer to continue the search for a naturalistic process to account for origins of species, including man. We acknowledge that for some, this is an attractive idea which captures the heart and imagination. Their ability to explain events in natural, human terms provides a sense of empowerment. We also note that the science profession in the last 1½ centuries has constructed a wall of separation between itself and theology. As a result, science is not perceived favorably by many in the community of faith.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Bible Zodiac

The Signs of the Zodiac have been associated with horoscopes--ancient and modern systems promoting belief in the supposed connection between events visible in the sky and events on Planet Earth. The zodiac is a narrow band of constellations through which the sun apparently moves during Earth’s annual revolution around the sun. This apparent movement is caused by the real revolution of the earth around the sun. Day by day, we view the sun from a slightly different position in space. Therefore, the sun appears daily in a slightly different position with respect to background stars. Once each year the sun traces a giant circle through the constellations of the zodiac—Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces, and nine more.

Teaching this concept is a tricky business. If you are a “Taurus” it merely means that on the day you were born, the sun was surrounded by the stars in the constellation of Taurus (the Bull). Of course, those stars would not be visible in a sun-brightened sky. But wait six months! Taurus would then be visible opposite the sun in the dark night sky. Your birthday is six months away. There is a mystic appeal associated with these celestial movements and the imaginary personal traits assigned to the “signs” of the zodiac. But there is NO truth to the belief that movements of celestial objects entail meaning for human events, or ever did.

The Book of Job may have been penned at around the time of Moses. Even if it was written later, its events likely took place around the time of Abraham. The Book of Genesis, probably written by Moses, references lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide day from night, and to signal signs, seasons, days, and years. The sun swings through the twelve constellations of the zodiac once each year. Another way to describe this phenomenon is to note that the twelve constellations slowly revolve across the night sky, making one cycle in twelve months. Springtime constellations appear, for example, in the evening dark sky, slowly slide around, then appear in the same place exactly one year later to mark the onset of spring again.

Genesis states the “lights in the expanse of the sky” act to “separate the day from the night” (the sun’s daily motion) and “to mark seasons…and years (the sun’s annual slide through the zodiac). Other functions of the sun and moon are more familiar. They “give light on the earth,” one governing the day; the other governing the night. This description of the luminaries’ function is absolutely accurate in terms of determining days, seasons, and years. The causes of the changes in terms of rotation and revolution of the earth and the structure of the universe were not understood by the ancients, but residents of that time were exceedingly skilled at making meaningful observations to help determine days, seasons, and years.

Several translations of Job 38:32 mention “Mazzaroth,” including the KJV, ESV, and RSV. This term is used in the context of astronomical constellations, and there is little doubt that the Hebrews were aware of the zodiac and its season-heralding features. Explicit scientific explanations would wait for Copernican and Galilean astronomy several millennia later.

Bible authors were aware of other celestial features such as the Pleiades, the Great Bear (Big Dipper), Orion, and several bright planets. This discussion is not meant to tout scripture as an astronomy textbook. It may help us respect the inspired thought processes of ancient Bible characters and writers and arouse admiration for their powers of observation. All such references show the ancients’ respect for the natural world and affirm their appreciation of God as Creator.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Celestial Wonders

One day last week I rose very early and journeyed up my driveway for the morning newspaper in early morning pitch darkness. My body was “suffering” from jet lag, seven hours ahead of the clocks in northern Illinois. When I saw the constellation Orion blinking brightly in the southwest, I was reminded of one of the astronomy labs I had offered my young astronomy scholars for many years.

Mid-October evenings were often cool and clear. Our outdoor astronomy session was preceded by an introductory talk and demonstration on the gym floor by my pastor. He was an astronomy enthusiast and owner of an excellent tracking telescope. The evening lab session provided an appropriate diversion from the regular classroom. It was necessary to schedule the gathering on a moonless October evening when the stars shone in a dark sky and the students were not distracted by excessively cold temperatures.

My students were well versed in the difference between real and apparent motion of the heavenly bodies. At some point in their lives they had learned that the sun’s motion in the heavens is only apparent. What really moves is the earth, rotating on its axis at almost 1000 mph at our latitude, even though we can’t “feel” it. We do not feel the motion, for we are carried along with the earth at the same speed. The sun and stars, as a result, seem to move across our sky, some of them rising above or setting below the horizon in the process.

If we understand the mechanics of earth’s rotation and revolution, we realize the axis of the earth, if extended into space, always points to a single spot in the sky. Conveniently located at that spot in the sky is a famous star called Polaris (the Pole Star). The revolution of the earth, extensive on a human size scale, becomes insignificant when considered within the vastness of space. If we were to visit Earth’s North Pole we would observe Polaris directly above our head 24/7/365. This also has the effect of everyone in the northern hemisphere being able to observe Polaris at the same spot in the sky: directly toward geographic north 24/7/365.

Earth’s daily 24 hours of rotation is real motion. It results in every star in the sky appearing to revolve around Polaris once each day. Close to Polaris they travel in small circles; farther from Polaris they travel in larger circles. During the hour my students were identifying constellations and viewing various “Wow!” sights such as Saturn’s rings and Jupiter with its moons through telescopes, the apparent movement of fifteen degrees did not seem very noticeable. But the most jaw-dropping sight was yet to come. Nine hours later they returned before the crack of dawn’s early light. The sky was then completely different. Earth had rotated out from under the evening stars, revealing a different and exciting celestial panorama. The famous constellation Orion now appeared in the southwest within a beautiful star-filled region of the sky called the Great Winter Hexagon--six bright stars which frame a rich field of interesting and beautiful stars. The startling effect of seeing an entirely different sky pattern taught my students the concept of earth’s rotation more effectively than any classroom activity.

In the public school setting where I offered this annual outdoor astronomy lab, it was not appropriate to express the explicitly religious devotional sentiments those celestial marvels inspired in me. My students, however, were able to share my enthusiasm for the wonders of the natural world while studying astronomy and many other topics within our science curriculum. There are many ways in which believers are able to express their Christian worldview in a secular setting.

The Old Testament book of Isaiah contains many magnificent creation passages. Isaiah 40:26 (NIV) exults: Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. This verse is contained in a virtually complete original manuscript of the Book of Isaiah. It was copied over a century before Christ and is now displayed in the Shrine of the Book Museum in Jerusalem. Its words were originally uttered by the prophet over seven hundred years before Christ. I was privileged to view the manuscript in person in 2009. This was an emotionally moving experience not to be forgotten.