Thursday, May 31, 2012

Remarkable Healing Incidents

Recently I personally experienced two remarkable healing events. One type of healing incident has occurred dozens of times throughout my life. Because such  healings have happened frequently, they are nonetheless remarkable. I speak of the ability of the human body to heal its wounds, cuts, and scrapes. Later in this essay I shall speak of a different, personal, one-of-a-kind healing episode which happened to me just a few days ago. Both incidents inspire a thoughtful sense of wonder.

Ever since I opened a deep gash on the back of my wrist installing an ultraslim TV screen in our living room I have marveled anew at the wound healing ability of the body. While installing the mounting hooks for the screen my hand wound up in an unexpected place. The gash was deep and long. Over several months the gash has healed with barely any evidence of its severity.

Many sources list the general sequences of wound healing. Knowledge of this process is a virtual medical specialty. The wonderful complexity of the process should not be neglected in the interest of brevity. Many sources, including Wikipedia, mention that “The classic process of wound healing is divided into three or four sequential, yet overlapping phases…upon injury to the skin a set of complex biochemical events takes place in a carefully orchestrated cascade to repair the damage.” It is as if all the different body cells are enlisted to know what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. The sequential healing stages are little short of astonishing.

Over the Memorial Day weekend I experienced another healing episode I will not soon forget. Saturday morning I awoke during a thunderstorm in the middle of the night to find my right arm numb and without feeling. In the darkness I did not first believe it was really my arm. I thought it had fallen asleep and tried not to worry. Arising early I journeyed to the living room only to realize things were not right. My wife first mistook my gibberish statements as a joke. After a minute she called EMS, thankfully staffed by our neighbors a quarter mile away. They were at our home in less than five minutes.

That morning I journeyed to one hospital, and then to another in order to receive the very best care. For two days I was virtually unable to talk except in a few halting words. I could not speak my wife’s name, much less spell it. I could not repeat our hometown. I was unable to spell my name or give my wife directions to find the medical cards I had accidentally dropped between the driver’s seat and the console. For those two days in the hospital I did not have my ability to speak in a meaningful way. My right arm was somewhat functional, but not behaving normally. I had multiple medical tests to determine that I’d actually had two strokes. My wife left the hospital for home that first night thinking how our lives would change from then on. My children visited me on Sunday. There was not much significant difference in my condition.

Sunday evening I watched the NBA semi-finals but fell asleep. I slept very peacefully for about five hours. When I awoke I discovered I could speak normally and I practiced on my own to see if things were different. One nurse heard me talking in the room. When she came in about I told her I thought I was much better. She stated she also thought I was better and left excitedly for the desk to draft a report. Let’s cut to the chase: Since Monday morning my condition has been essentially normal. The fuzzy memories of two lost days have long vanished. I was sent home Monday afternoon.

My post of 5/9/12 was titled “Mundane Miracles,” written long before I experienced the events of past few days. This was before I reinforced again my personal beliefs in several types of miracles. They form a spectrum of beliefs from (1) ordinary events dependent on the everyday sustaining power of God to (2) events more directly dependent on God’s transforming power or even (3) God’s transcendent power. The term miracle is often overused and misunderstood. Many people use the term today in the sense of a transcendent miracle such as Christ’s miraculous healing of diseased people, the miracles of Peter and Paul, or the miracles performed by Moses and the prophets of the Old Testament.

It is the view of many theologians that in our day transcendent miracles are rare, but transformational miracles are more common and sustaining miracles are by far the most common. Transcendent scriptural miracles are responsible for the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, and the healing of the withered, blind, or deaf. Transformational biblical miracles are those events which are truly extraordinary and unusual, such as the Old Testament plagues, the large catch of fish, and the Bethlehem Star. Finally, sustaining miracles occur around us every day, such as the wonderful development of plants and animals, the production of new generations of living things, and the supply of moisture to water the earth. Who could deny that we may recognize the “miracles” of growth or new life?

How may we relate to my stroke experience of the past few days? There is no question I have been healed, just as many people have been healed of diseases or have been healed of wounds, cuts, or scrapes. The cut on my wrist has healed, but there is yet a modicum of a scar where the original wound occurred. In my view a miracle has occurred in both my wrist and in my brain. It is not wise to dispute what kind of miracle has occurred. The Apostle Paul writes, “If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” (Rom. 14:8 NIV).  For this miracle, I give the ultimate glory to God!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Sudden Creation Events

“Sudden Creation Events” may not implicitly suggest that a discussion of evolution will follow. My conversations with theistic evolutionists often distill to time frames for evolution events. Did God front-load primeval matter and then observe the slow changes to follow? Theistic evolutionists may find this imagery to their liking. More specifically, they may claim earth life has evolved, changed, or progressed rather like a non-stop, leisurely spiral journey by foot up a large mountain from the base to the summit. Travelers reaching the summit possess a genetic ancestry linking them to the original traveler, evolutionary geneticists maintain.

The theistic progressive creationist, by contrast, would spice up the trip journal with accounts of sudden creation events: Using similar journeying imagery, the ascent up the mountain would be joined suddenly by new travelers as older ones quit the journey. Paleontologists would describe this in terms of extinctions followed by the appearance of new forms. Creationist geneticists would account for similar genetic coding patterns across different species by the Creator’s repeated use of a common template.

Theistic evolutionists (evolutionary creationists) and theistic creationists would both declare that God supervises the process. Theistic evolutionists may even claim God guides the process. Theistic creationists, by contrast, would say God creates a new species which did not exist before. There may be similarities from species to species, but the similarities do not indicate common ancestry. Rather, they highlight repeated use of similar portions of the genetic blueprint by an all-wise creator. Stephen C. Meyer has written effectively about the appearance of new species and its implication for the ID and creationist perspective in “Intelligent Design: The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories” published in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington in 2005. This essay provoked a controversy because it leaked through the usual safety net for preventing publication of design proposals in a secular publication.

Meyer wrote that evolutionary biologists have not “identified a specifically causal explanation for the origin of true morphological novelty during the history of life.” More plainly, Meyer develops the case that a species A to species B evolutionary transition would entail the simultaneous production of new proteins, then new cell types, followed by new tissues, new organs, new body plans, and finally, a new organism. The gradualism demanded of the well known evolutionary pathways of mutation and natural selection would not account for such a sudden transition to a new species. If the transition were contingent upon the occurrence of thousands of correctly sequenced steps, the probability that a new species would appear is remote beyond comprehension. It is no wonder that the evolutionary science officials of the Biological Society were not pleased such an essay appeared in their evolutionary journal.

What may we say about God guiding the process of evolution? For example, could God see millions of mutation-generating cosmic rays in advance? Could he oversee the random selection process? Philosopher and Christian apologist Alvin Plantinga claims “God certainly could have used Darwinian processes to create the living world and direct it as he wanted it to go.” If God actually used such a method for directing the evolutionary process, it would have entailed almost unlimited contingencies. Every event would have been a “miracle of God,” pre-programmed to accomplish his divine will in the creation process.

If, however, God actually intervened in a miraculous fashion to produce novel species, in seeming conformity with the fossil record, sudden creation events are confirmed. Hundreds of biblical accounts of creation events are confirmed as factual, not merely understood in a more general, theological context.

Evolutionary theory is appealing. It is nourished by the ability of man to “figure things out.” It is supported by man’s ability to rationalize, affording him a sense of empowerment. Creation events to account for the appearance of novel species, however, somewhat diminish our human ability to rationalize, explain, and elaborate. However, highlighting supernatural creation events returns the focus to God.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Evolutionism's Flavors

The generic term evolution is defined, according to the Free Online Dictionary, as “a gradual process whereby something changes into a different and usually more complex or better form.” Sometimes evolution is simply described as “change over time.”

If we accept astronomical and geological evolution in the production of the cosmos we now observe, including our home on Planet Earth, is it not a small leap to accept biological evolution in the same basket of natural processes? We propose it is a large leap. The Creator established the physical constants and laws of nature at the primordial creation event. He omnisciently foreknew matter would evolve from a plasma of particles to atoms of hydrogen and other simple atoms, and much later produce the heavier elements through star formation and supernovae events. God also knew beforehand that cosmic evolution would produce planetary systems around newly formed stars, a process we observe continuing to this day. The geological evolutionary processes of plate tectonics, weathering, and erosion have brought forth the planet we inhabit.

The notion that biological evolution ought to be in the same league as cosmic and geological evolution from the Big Bang event until the present is appealing on many fronts. Both naturalistic and theistic evolutionists often tacitly make that connection. On the other hand, young earth creationists sometimes fear that belief in an ancient cosmos, ancient earth, and associated evolutionary geological processes is tantamount to believing in biological evolution. The term evolution possesses an enormous range of meanings. As noted in the definition, most often some sort of improvement, advancement, or upgrading is understood. Evolution, therefore, as it is most commonly used in connection with biological evolution, has a pleasing “flavor,” seasoned as it is with the imprimatur of science.

If our cosmos could have evolved eventually to produce the incredible wonder of the habitable planet we call home, why not simple molecules combining to form simple life? And why couldn’t simple life morph into varied, complex, and beautiful life forms? The idea held enormous appeal for Charles Darwin. It has become one of the most popular scientific theories in our modern cultural cook book. The basic recipe for cultural acceptance of biological evolution is really quite simple, but the effort of the bio-science community to foster its acceptance has been intense: (1) Demonstrate that life has changed since it first burst forth on earth, (2) Propose a plausible mechanism whereby this change occurred, and (3) Repeatedly intone the term evolution in the literature of biology as well as in the culture at large.

Curiously, each of the above points is factually accurate. The basic recipe book of evolutionary theory, however, should contain many cautionary warnings. For example, the anomalies of many incredibly sudden appearances of new forms in the fossil record, together with the absence of true intermediates, should trigger honest and open reflection by those who relentlessly promote the theory. Likewise, the lack of real proof that the sequence of mutation and natural selection actually results in the production of a recognized new species, instead of mere microevolution, should be an open issue. But instead, we are bombarded with creative new explanations for the anomalies. These explanations are readily accepted by those already firmly committed to evolutionary theory.

Several bedrock principles of science are overlooked by bio-scientists who embrace evolution and reject creationism. RenĂ© Descartes originated one principle centuries ago. It is termed the “causal adequacy principle” (CAP). Descartes stated the cause of an object must have at least as much reality as the object itself. Stephen C. Meyer, in Signature in the Cell, extended that idea to state that “Intelligent agents—conscious, rational beings such as ourselves—can produce information-rich systems, including systems containing digitally encoded, functionally specified information.” Such information, Meyer posits, is the product of an intelligent designer. His volume cites the origin of the DNA code as the paramount example. To clarify, even “simple” life demands the input of huge amounts of information, and existing life cannot become more complex without massive amounts of new information.

The evolution of our cosmos and subsequently, the geological features of Planet Earth proceeded with all the necessary information pre-loaded. The physical constants were present from the beginning. No new information was ever needed to make things happen. Quite the opposite, however, in order for life to originate, or even to become substantially more complex, a great amount of new information must be injected into the systems. The appearance and evolution of life forms, therefore, does not occur without a miracle of creation by the acts of a creator. If we wish to call the change in earth’s life forms over eons of time “evolution,” we may do so, but we may only credit a supernatural creator as “causally adequate.” The evolution (change) of our cosmos and the evolution (change) of our earth’s life forms may both be considered evolution. They are, nevertheless, evolution of very different flavors.

Is the proposal of the origin of life, the sudden origin of new species, and the origin of humanity by supernatural acts of creation a scientific proposal? According to nearly the entire modern community of scientists, no, it is not. The question of whether or not a proposal is scientific is sometimes a smokescreen to avoid asking the question of whether or not the proposal is (or may be) true. In our culture many find the question of the existence of God as Creator distressing. They would rather hide behind the definition of science to avoid the question or to deny God’s reality. Others dichotomize the natural world and theological reality.

The topic of origins is not a simple issue, but it is an extremely important one. We must not rest on what we have always believed or refuse to study the issue any further. The body of literature on both sides is daunting. Our worldview is intertwined to a greater degree than we realize. I encourage readers to devote quality time and energy to the quest for truth.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Flavors of Creationism

When topics of origins come up for discussion, my comments often trigger the explicit question, “Are you a creationist?” My answer is an equally explicit, “Yes, I am a creationist.” Usually my answer conjures up in my listeners the impression that I believe the universe, the earth, and all its life forms were created in six 24-hour days a mere 6000 years ago. This flavor of creationism is termed “young earth creationism.”

Evangelical historian Mark Noll’s definition of creationism reads as follows: “The word creationism by rights should define all who discern a divine mind at work in, with, or under the phenomenon of the natural world.” According to Noll’s definitional umbrella, several forms of creationism would be included. For example, my personal belief would be termed “progressive creationism.” This belief accepts the enormous age of the earth as proposed by the mainstream science establishment, about 4.5 billion years, and allows for many widely spaced, sudden supernatural creation events along the timeline of earth history, including the initial appearance of earth life. In these supernatural interventions, new species of life would appear on earth suddenly.

Another form of creationism is the ever more popular “evolutionary creationism,” also termed “theistic evolutionism.” The American Scientific Affiliation offers this description of evolutionary creationism: A theory of theistic evolution (TE)—also called evolutionary creation—proposes that God’s method of creation was to cleverly design a universe in which everything would naturally evolve. Usually the “evolution” in “theistic evolution” means Total Evolution—astronomical evolution (to form galaxies, solar systems…) and geological evolution (to form the earth’s geology) plus chemical evolution (to form the first life) and biological evolution (for the development of life)—but it can refer only to biological evolution.

Evolutionary creationism is a fascinating proposal. Those who offer it are theists. They believe God created matter in the beginning, and endowed it with the capability to develop into galaxies, solar systems, and the geological features we see on earth, to originate life, and to fully develop the complexity of life forms and processes we now observe. A friend claims such a scenario is really more extraordinary than periodic, sudden supernatural interventions. But is it?

The vast majority of evolutionary biologists have a worldview of naturalism. Stated another way, they are materialists who reject the supernatural. They do not believe there is a God who initially set up the system with the ultimate purpose of generating the marvelous complexity we now see in our universe. On the other hand, theistic evolutionists inject God into a proposal (evolution) which is naturalistic to its core. If that scenario occurred, we must admit it would be quite extraordinary. Such a proposal demands nearly unlimited contingencies.

Theistic evolutionists credit God with omniscience. They claim God foreknew the effect of every cosmic ray. The reference to cosmic rays relates to the fact that evolution, as still understood, depends upon rare beneficial mutations caused by cosmic radiation, in concert with the operation of natural selection to produce new species. In such a theistically guided, yet naturalistically permeated scenario, evolution, in theory, produces the wondrous abundance of life we observe in our day. Why is evolutionary creationism included in the listing of creationist flavors? Because God supposedly “guides” an essentially naturalistic process by virtue of knowing or directing in advance what happens.

The great majority of naturalistic evolutionists, including over 90% of evolutionary biologists, do not endorse the marriage of naturalistic evolution to theistic evolution. Naturalistic evolutionists believe the process of evolution should stand on its own. It does not need the intervention of God to make it work. In this sense, theistic evolution is an oxymoron. We must decide if theistic evolutionists are justified in appropriating the term “creationist” to describe their belief system.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Mundane Miracles

“In Him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts NIV). If I were required to cite a personal favorite verse or passage of scripture, this passage would be high on the list. Acts 17:15-34 records a startling apologetic for believers and unbelievers alike. The Apostle Paul, after being brought to the Areopagus at Athens, reasoned with the pagan crowd assembled there. The record of this event was unusual in New Testament writings. Paul was specifically addressing pagan unbelievers, an idolatrous gathering of people who spent much time glibly discussing popular new philosophies. Most of Paul’s epistles were written to Christian believers whose doctrinal beliefs needed strengthening. We may wonder if Paul’s Areopagus apologetic is appropriate for believers of today.

The apostle develops his message with exhortations to “seek God, if perhaps they might grope for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.” Then comes the profound “…for in him we live and move and exist” (Acts -28 ESV). These statements speak not only of finding him in terms of theological verities, but also of finding him revealed in physical creation. The original creation of the world as well as day to day existence--our functioning and sustenance--is evidence of the same divine reality. If the Athenians could recognize divine immanence in their physical surroundings and personal being, their innate religious sense would be affirmed. They had placed the inscription “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD” on one of their many altars.

Paul was attempting to instruct the men of Athens theologically. His subject matter was the reality of existence of the living God of the Bible. He used evidence from the physical world and daily human existence to substantiate his argument. Although Paul’s sermon presented proof of God’s existence by citing the original creation act and ongoing daily sustenance of the created order, including human existence, it really had an undercurrent of recognition of God’s beneficent gifts to man. These gifts, both spiritual and physical, are examples of God’s grace. Evidence of God’s grace as demonstrated by the operation of physical matter, and life in particular, is sometimes lacking from our pulpit ministries. We prefer to separate the spiritual from the God-affirming sphere of our mundane physical existence. But God’s grace is manifest in both spheres.

During a recent Sunday sermon, the missionary speaker presented a startling example of his sermon title, "God’s Amazing Grace." He stated, “The amazing grace of God has been poured out to you. As I stand here this morning, I am breathing. As you’re sitting down there you’re breathing, you can see, you can walk. Do you realize that is the amazing grace of God extended to you, that God has given you that life?” Perhaps few in the congregation realized the understated truth of that brief sermon segment. Understanding the grace of God manifest in the complexities of respiration, vision, and motion as well as dozens of other bodily systems, is an occasion to worship the God of creation just as assuredly as understanding the grace of God manifest in His plan for man’s redemption.

We must guard against over-compartmentalizing the physical and spiritual realms. There is also danger in overemphasizing or de-emphasizing one or the other. Historically, some have erred in claiming the material world is all that exists. Others have errantly disdained all things physical, part of the historic Gnostic belief. Heresies have crept into the church over the centuries from an out-of-balance emphasis. The science profession is virtually ruled by the insistence of most of its practitioners on refusing to consider any supernatural explanation as causally adequate, even when the evidence clearly signals such causation. Many Christians, therefore, are tragically suspicious of science. They reject many scientific conclusions which may be perfectly sound.

A reading of Paul’s discussion with the Athenians in Acts 17 resonates with some believers more than others. Understanding the mundane miracles of our everyday life may not seem interesting to result-oriented folks. For others the mundane miracles help them believe in the reality of God. Observing and understanding everyday miracles strengthens their faith. We are thankful that scripture contains generous commentary in both spheres--physical and spiritual.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Obscuring General Revelation

Many sound, orthodox church ministries, schools, and organizations proclaim the reality of God and His message of love for mankind. Their ministries are firmly founded on special revelation--divinely inspired scripture. Believers have anchored their theological belief structure in scripture’s holy writings for centuries. Truth seekers can do no better than to embrace the inspired word of God for the account of man’s spiritual journey, the discovery of God’s remedy of redemption from sin, and instruction in righteous living.

As a child I was raised in a culture of Christian believers who embraced simple faith founded on the truth of Holy Scripture. At times it seemed mundane activities were merely appendages on the body of their primary focus: the spiritual life. While this analysis may be oversimplified, it is certain their paramount issues of concern were spiritual in nature. I am grateful for that heritage. Those church families focused on the most important truths, and lived and died not having discovered much more than basic spiritual truths. For them, belief in those truths came easy.

A postscript of my childhood memories includes the sad truth that some young people in that denomination eventually departed from the simple childlike faith of their parents. Childlike faith was sufficient for their parents, but not for them. They left the faith of their parents. The reasons for their departure, of course, are manifold and complex. One possible scenario centers on the lack of persuasive examples of general revelation provided for them during their childhood or early adult educational experience. Curiosity and wonder for a smoothly functioning physical world as evidence of God’s existence may have been missing. Special revelation and general revelation may not have been connected in their minds. We must not overlook the sad reality of rejection of living faith as an act of individual will. But neither should we overlook the need for appropriate, inclusive patterns of training by parents and Christian educators.

Even in the mid 20th century there were plentiful opportunities to tout the wonders of special revelation for our young people. The Moody Science Film series serves as an example. These well documented productions are still available in modern DVD format. The proliferation of scientific discoveries in the intervening half century, however, has far outdistanced the wonder inspired by Moody Science films.

Superb media resources are available today on startling advances in genetics, cosmology, oceanography, physics, cell knowledge, space science, medicine, and technology, all suffused by incredible advances in knowledge of the design features and fine tuning inherent in each field. Such resources are often perceived by our church members as esoteric, irrelevant, or boring, not appropriate for any apologetic thrust in our churches. People are more focused on learning advanced functions of the newest technology than discovering the reality of the creative Mind behind it all. This distorted focus gives rise to excessive devotion to entertainment and social/interpersonal relationships.

Do we advocate turning our pulpit or church educational ministries into a series of science lectures? No, we do not. Any change in focus in our apologetic strategy must be undertaken with much thoughtful preparation. Pastors could ask, “What is the foundation for our belief? Is our faith merely a ‘given,’ something we possess without the need to defend it? Could we combine some well-presented scientific evidence from the physical world with our defense of the historical reliability of scripture? Could we make quality resources available to our parishioners without making them feel like science geeks?”

One organization with a specialized mission along these lines is Reasons to Believe. This California-based organization has this mission statement: “RTB’s mission is to spread the Christian gospel by demonstrating that sound reason and scientific research - including the very latest discoveries – consistently support rather than erode confidence in the truth of the Bible and faith in the personal, transcendent God revealed in both scripture and nature.”

My personal testimony would include my journey from childhood to maturity along these lines: As a young person I never doubted the teachings of scripture (special revelation) concerning the reality of God and His love for me, even though the substantiating quality of general revelation was not stressed in our congregation. As a science educator in public school for 40 years, my appreciation of the apologetic value of science discovery intensified. In retirement I have been able to grasp even more significantly that the proliferation of science knowledge in the past 50 years strengthens greatly the evidence for special and sudden creation events along earth’s timeline. The evidence for intelligent design of our physical order is becoming stronger.

My prayer for our modern church ministries is that special revelation and general revelation be recognized as reinforcing one another in a powerful way.