Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Doubt About Darwin

Stephen C. Meyer’s Darwin’s Doubt (HarperOne, 2013) is sure to reignite lively discussions concerning intelligent design. Many scientists decry the ID concept unscientific, not to mention their underlying doubts that a Designer has worked in nature to produce our finely-tuned universe, earth’s first life, and the sudden appearance of new species on this planet.

Meyer’s volume focuses heavily on the apparent absence of precursors for many new species appearing in the fossil record. The most startling example is the Cambrian “explosion,” a geologically sudden appearance of novel body plans never before seen on Earth. This event is called one of “Biology’s Big Bangs,” even by many paleontologists who do not subscribe to any episodes of sudden creation events. This blog has discussed these geologically sudden appearances in many past posts.

Professional reviews of Meyer’s latest book reveal the unhappiness of many evolutionists. Comments range from judgment of the “many errors” Meyer commits to their commentary concerning the unscientific nature of intelligent design. Critics seek to shield their evolutionary proposals for the totally naturalistic explanation of life’s origin and development by proposing a variety of new theories for the knotty problems they encounter. In the case of the Cambrian explosion, they posit that the exceedingly sparse and simple life present on earth prior to the Cambrian was sufficient to generate great numbers of complex phyla in a virtual geological overnight. Evolutionists acknowledge traditional evolutionary processes posed to explain such diversity do not occur so fast, even if they really occur.

Over the past few years, many new explanations in support of evolution have been proposed to the delight of philosophically committed evolutionists. This includes believers in both naturalistic and theistic evolution. Critics of intelligent design are fond of using the expression “chestnut,” (a stale joke or story) to ridicule the ID propositions they wish to attack. We may turn this expression back on our naturalistic friends by citing their tendency to say, “We have not yet found enough fossils to prove the naturalistic succession of species development.” They confidently pronounce evolution a settled question, another of their chestnuts. By no means is the question settled.

The book jacket of Darwin’s Doubt implies “The explosive origin of animal life and the case for intelligent design” was troubling for Charles Darwin as it should be for evolutionists today. Explaining the sudden appearance of life forms on earth is a paramount issue for evolutionists and creationists alike. Stephen C. Meyer is an outstanding scientist. His 500-page volume is packed with the rationale for numerous supernatural design events. Calling them “design” episodes points to the supernatural intervention of the Creator--the God of the Bible.

Stephen C. Meyer’s Darwin’s Doubt is a must-read if you believe traditional scientific evidence speaks more loudly than philosophical commitment.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Universal Permanence

How permanent is our universe? When God created man, did he intend their lives to continue on earth forever? Was human life on this planet the ultimate goal of the Creator? Do the millions of created animal and plant species exist as a supporting cast to enrich human life? Did the entrance of sin by human choice put an end to the Creator’s goal of creating a perfect world and was God forced to implement a “Plan B” to remediate “Plan A?”

These questions and dozens of others pique our curiosity. Many secular thinkers speak not of life’s eternal existence but rather, its impermanence. The outlooks of secularists, therefore, are worlds apart from the answers offered by Christian theologians. Secular answers have their origin in the imaginations of human thinking. In contrast, ask a Christian theist the same question about life’s ultimate permanence and the answer should revolve around what God thinks. Not once do inspired writers of scripture ever indicate that the soul of man does not have an existential, eternal reality.

Man is uniquely able to contemplate these deep questions. Humans prepare for upcoming events in anticipation of the arrival of future events. The theistic worldview helps us prepare for eternal existence by adapting our behavior and outlook accordingly. “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (I Cor. 15:19 NIV). Scripture speaks of our behavior and attitude toward life not only in terms of the present but also with the permanence of existence in view. Our beliefs about the time, space, matter, and energy of the present sphere of existence relates to our parallel beliefs about eternal existence.

Personal worldview guides not only our vision of the eternal future, but our outlook for the present as well. Our worldview must have a balanced perspective on the present and the future, including our future afterlife. Our vision of the present, including our vision of the past which contributes to our present, must not overwhelm our vision of the future. Neither should our vision of eternity overwhelm our effective image of the present--the sphere in which we live. We credit Oliver Wendell Holmes for the first utterance of “You can be so heavenly-minded that you are no earthly good.”

Visions of existence in two-dimensions pervade human consciousness. One dimension is the physical world in which we are embedded. Some fundamentalist evangelical thinkers have promoted the notion that Adam’s human sin entered the dimensions of time, space, matter, and energy in which we exist at the moment of “the fall of man”. These thinkers present several passages of scripture as support for their ideas. Romans 5, for example, verse 12 in particular, states “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned…” On this passage is constructed the foundational belief that Adam’s Garden of Eden sin resulted in the first incidents of physical death for every earthly organism. Prior to Adam’s sin, they claim, physical death did not exist for any earthly organism. It is also claimed that sin also resulted in a spectrum of outcomes from inconvenience, to pain, to production of thorns and thistles, to sweat of the brow, to eventual physical death (for dust you are and to dust you will return) and to a myriad of other effects. The clear findings of totally reliable geological science affirm these events had been present on earth from the beginnings of life on earth--a very ancient earth!

What about the dreadful condition to which Adam and Eve had descended as a result of their willful sin? Guilt-ridden and devastated by their spiritual disobedience, it is easy to project guilt onto Adam and future generations. Garden-tending, farming, and family relationships would no longer be easy for spiritually degraded inhabitants of Earth. The supernaturally insulated primeval garden would no longer be hospitable for Adam and Eve. They could not stay in the garden, but were expelled to the environs of the earth outside the garden. These earth conditions had always existed outside the garden. Life had gone on in that environment for eons and it would continue for eons to come.

Idealists intent on promoting the horrific effects of sin may over-dramatize disease, starvation, global warming, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, signs in the sky, social deterioration, and political turmoil. These idealists may even claim there was “No Death Before the Fall.” These phenomena, albeit disturbing, have always been a part of the scene on Planet Earth. Realistically, some of these planetary phenomena have always been present. Some of these effects have even been improving since man has learned to apply health, agricultural, and industrial technologies according to the instructions of Genesis 1:28 to subdue the earth.

Planet Earth has been functioning with the same “handicaps” it has manifested for millions of years. Our recent and past blogs have highlighted the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics and senescence. Briefly, the 2nd Law, the law of decay, is only remotely related to senescence. But both effects result in what may be termed a “running down” of some of our operating systems. Many resources have been authored detailing the operating characteristics of our universe. Our universe, our galaxy, our solar system, and our planet compose a wonderfully operating system designed by God to accomplish his purposes in the present cosmic regime. It also functions as a prelude for the eternal realm to yet come. It has been the purpose of our blog to call attention to the beauty of our cosmic system. 

The characteristics of our cosmic system anticipate the even more glorious eternal realm of existence we yet anticipate. Revelation 21-22 describes an entirely new realm of existence yet to come for those trusting Jesus Christ as Redeemer. We rejoice in the permanence of that future realm.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Divine Master Plan

Our personal theology involves far-ranging beliefs concerning fundamental realities about God. There is no aspect of life unrelated to theology because God is Creator of everything. Man’s ability to consider theology sets us far above all other life forms. The Image of God, possessed uniquely by humanity, enables us to contemplate the existence of God. This includes God’s essence and his attributes. We are also able to contemplate how God relates to man, the summit of his creation, through the physical dimension. Theology, then, expands our knowledge far beyond the essence of God. Theology relates to our interaction with God’s physical creation. Humanity is embedded in God’s physical creation. We are subject to the “rules of the game” for the operation of God’s physical creation. God is the author of those rules.

Our last few posts have dealt with questions of how we function in our God-authored physical creation in view of a startling reality--life’s temporary existence. Our recent topic--senescence--is one of the least pleasant to contemplate. Instead, our attention focuses on life, how we may improve it, and how we may make life more effective and enjoyable. The medical profession stresses healthy life. Newspaper obituaries spotlight mostly the life of the deceased. The temporary nature of all life from the human level down through the millions of species inhabiting earth is a fundamental reality of existence in our universe. Throughout our reportage of the phenomenon of senescence, it has become apparent that the term is under-reported and unfamiliar. As a society we highlight healthy life and the healthy state of existence. We avoid death; we abhor senescence.

Life, earth’s most unique characteristic, is temporary. By contrast, matter and energy seem more permanent. The structural organization of particles since shortly after the Big Bang creation event seems more permanent in this created cosmos, having been present for billions of years. We find ourselves asking, “What’s wrong with this picture?” On careful study, we answer, “Nothing.” The God of Creation authored and supervised the picture.

In view of the temporary nature of life in this created cosmos and the relatively permanent nature of matter and energy, we ask, “Has the divine master plan for the operation of our universe has been turned upside down?” As we study God’s initially established laws for the physical operation of our created universe, and the manner in which the physical laws of our universe have been carried out to this very moment, our science/faith blog confidently answers, “No.” We caution that this issue has been and continues to be one of disagreement and dispute within the church. Perhaps the issue is more a disagreement of interpretation than one of actual doctrine.

Of the many dimensions of this question, we briefly offer a few of the most significant responses. First, over the geological history of earth, senescence and death of countless creatures over eons of time has resulted in abundant good in terms of the plentiful resources of our planet to power today’s physical existence. It was created a “very good” earth according to God (Gen 1:31). Second, God provides benefits to man, including opportunities for work, personal endurance, and mastery over life’s hardships. Third, our created dimensions of space and time have a higher purpose in providing a prelude for a much “greater good” to follow--the eventual defeat of sin. Fourth, scripture tells us redemption was in the heart of God “before the beginning of time” (I Cor. 2:7, Eph. 1:4, Tit. 1:3, II Tim. 1:9 NIV). We infer God did not create a permanent sinless paradise in our dimension of time and space. Rather, he looked ahead to the glorious eventual New Creation yet to come, an ultimate “greater good.”

These ideas are not offered as answers to all aspects of the question of God’s divine master plan. Instead, they are offered as considerations. Our God has established the present dimensions of time, space, matter, and energy to fulfill his specific purposes. Scripture offers instruction about how humanity fulfills God’s plan in the created physical dimensions surrounding us every moment of our lives. He gifts us with ability to discover scientifically the historical and current realities of the physical world. In contrast, the Word of God primarily offers instruction for the relationship of God and man in the spiritual realm.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Programmed Senescence

Progressive deterioration of physiological function? Children cannot relate to an overwhelming fact of life of the human condition--senescence. The focus of children, instead, is to understand the reality of personal growth expected of them as they become older. Until children approach teenage, they focus on their own developing skills as students and family members, and acquisition of increased responsibility with their growth in personal maturity.

What about the parents of our pre-school, elementary, middle school, and high school students? How do they understand this unfamiliar term and its implications for their outlook on life? Young and middle-aged adults may be vaguely aware that their optimum physical prime has passed, even if the decline from “prime time” is gradual and seemingly unhurried. Few admit to concern about senescence. Its effects barely lurk in the background of their consciousness but coping with its physical effects demands their attention as concern for adequate health coverage intensifies.

The focus of concern for citizens nearing retirement or already experiencing it has acquired importance for our vote-hungry politicians. Health care in old age is a necessity. Many fear provisions of our national health care law will multiply our national debt to a staggering degree. The law exposes awareness of “the elephant in the room:” The human race is in the stranglehold of senescence. Life’s “normal” portrait paints a picture of physical decline during the course of life. Many acquaintances express amazement or denial of the onset of senescence and death, concomitants of life’s existence on earth.

Lest our readers believe this post has become depressing, we hasten to submit a more optimistic view of reality. Senescence and death have been a reality ever since simple life appeared on earth 3.8 billion years ago. We proclaim the words of the transcendent God of creation: the Creator declared his works of creation “very good.”  Multiple quadrillions of diverse species of life forms have appeared on earth since the first creation of bacterial life. Each of these life forms possessed limited life spans. All life forms experienced physiological deterioration after a period of healthy growth and life. The geological record provides us with ample evidence of this indisputable fact. Senescence and death have been a defining characteristic of life on earth for 3.8 billion years.

We do not assign “sin” as the cause of senescence. Only humans are morally responsible agents. Therefore, only humans are capable of sin. The oft-quoted Romans 5 is a commentary on spiritual death and alienation resulting from Adam’s willful disobedience to God’s commands. Senescence and death had been present for the lengthy time frames of creation days 5 and 6 prior to the creation of modern humanity. They were characteristic of life in this present universe and are present as an overlay of existence of all living things to this day.

Early earth life has supplied our current society with plentiful oil, coal, natural gas, topsoil, and ores of multiple minerals necessary for modern life. In one way or another life has sprung from the leftovers of previous life throughout earth’s geologic history. Our God built in the maximum benefit of bio-deposits for the benefit of humanity. In God’s wisdom, He programmed characteristics of earth life for man’s benefit before the arrival of Adam. God programmed the deaths of countless creatures to achieve a “higher good.”

How does our knowledge of senescence and death of multiple creatures throughout earth history relate to our view of the trajectory of life apparent in our time? In both cases we proclaim God as “programmer.” It is not pleasant to contemplate senescence as we observe our own relentless physical deterioration. The reality of mortality is even more traumatic. Despite the teaching of some theologians whose interpretations of redemption include a restoration of a perfect, physical Garden of Eden-type paradise, the future New Creation redemption state of Revelation 21-22 is impossible to contemplate. Its reality will be unimaginably more glorious than the theoretical restoration of the paradisiacal Garden of Eden and the “perfect Earth” proposed to have existed over our entire planet.

Has our planet been a place to thrive? Is Earth still a place to thrive? The “higher good” concept of life on Planet Earth may be difficult to reconcile within the constraints of a restrictive view of senescence and mortality. Nevertheless, during our lifetimes, we have had ample opportunity to conclude that Planet Earth is a place to thrive according to God’s infinite plan. Viewed through (1) the lens of a proper scriptural interpretation of God’s creative purpose, (2) scientific knowledge of the wonders of Planet Earth and its life, (3) our personal work ethic and mental attitude based on a Christian worldview, and (4) confidence that God programs all things for our ultimate “higher good,” readers may conclude our planet is, after all, a place to thrive: