Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Temporary Suffering

Many skeptics highlight their argument that a loving and benevolent God would not permit evil, decay, pain, suffering, or death. If God is both omnipotent and good, certainly he would permit only goodness and righteousness to exist, the argument goes. Moreover, he would not permit any physical laws such as the Law of Decay to operate to limit their comfort or diminish their lifespans. This proposal is offered by skeptics to strengthen their argument against God. Sometimes even believers in God agonize over these issues. The argument is a classic case of begging the question or circular reasoning: a conclusion is offered initially as a supporting premise of the argument.

Evil has several dimensions. Not only is evil considered volitional moral failure. It also includes harmful events such as natural disasters bringing pain or death. Often the question of evil is connected with discussions on the existence of God and his role in reality as we experience it.

Could illness, trouble, and grief in this world play any part in God’s redemptive plan? Answers to these questions are complex and far-reaching but they are worth investigating. A previous post addressed some of the positive aspects of the Law of Decay with respect to God’s divine plan. We reprint a portion of a previous post relevant to our recent posts’ discussions of illness and bodily decline.

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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 Second Law of Thermodynamics 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 of the Second Law of Thermodynamics and the Law of Decay. Too often we cite our deteriorating bodies, automobiles, or homes as a deleterious outcome of this law. Indeed, these situations are unwelcome handicaps. But in other examples, the Second Law enables us to think, digest food, stay warm, work, and travel from place to place.

One outcome of the operation of the Second Law is the depressing deterioration of our physical bodies and our ultimate death. We do well not to trivialize the tragic impact of the death of our physical body. May 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. 5:12 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 millions of years ago on early earth was the outcome of the Second Law operating since the time of creation. This large scale death has provided plentiful mineral 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.” 

We read about the New Creation in Revelation 21-22.  


Monday, June 22, 2015

No More Decay

Discussions about the body’s wellness or illness consume a large portion of conversation, whether among the young, middle-aged, or seniors. Regular medical monitoring is vital even for the very youngest among us. By retirement age and the years following, our discussions, not to mention a substantial portion of insurance coverage, are committed to slowing our inevitable health decline.

Senescence is a not too humorous outcome of the scientific reality of The Law of Entropy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics applied to the progressive condition of our bodies as we age. Phrased as simply as possible: Our bodies run down. This tendency illustrates the reality of the above-mentioned laws. The entire universe since the initial creation event is in the midst of a slow downward trajectory: disorder  increases; the store of universal energy becomes less and less useful with the passage of time.

The laws of entropy and thermodynamics have application to human experience in terms of human health. Quality of life issues are important as we pursue optimal personal wellness. For example, one doctor mentioned the quality of life issue as we discussed strategies for coping with my medical diagnosis of spinal stenosis. Our final decision to proceed with extensive back surgery proved to be the correct solution. Pressure on spinal nerve roots was relieved along with attendant symptoms. We believe our heavenly Father has gifted us with ability to manage our health as successfully as possible during our tenure on this earth.

Relatives and friends prayed for me before, during, and after surgery. The Biblical advice to pray without ceasing was observed. All healing is divine, even when the healing consists of surgical “healing” which sometimes involves months of recovery. Doctors work within the realm of secondary causes to achieve bodily wellness. The spectrum of treatments for body ailments ranges from transcendent healing by Christ when he was on earth (such manifestations are rare in our day) to various physical therapies, prescriptions of chemical substances, surgical interventions and other types of current medical technologies. Notwithstanding, ultimately the body succumbs to one or more conditions which limit life span. This includes the transcendently healed individuals of the New Testament times.  

The prayers of patients, relatives, and friends also range along a spectrum. We pray for healing. More important, we pray that the will of God is accomplished in the lives of the people we pray for. Searching for commentary concerning meaning of the “Pray without ceasing” exhortation of I Thes. 5:17, we found many interpretations, including: we should cultivate an attitude of God consciousness and God surrender to be carried with us at all times; we must exercise continual dependence upon and communion with the Father. Most important in these statements is the focus on God rather than ourselves.

In a coming post we will continue our review of health, wellness, illness, and healing of the body in terms of the Law of Entropy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics to which we are presently subject. These are scientific laws which govern the universe from day to day as well as long-term. In terms of the temporary nature of our human lifespan we must give this subject careful attention. In the spiritual realm many statements in Scripture refer to redemption of our souls both in this world and the next. In the physical realm the Bible states our future existence will not be subject to the Laws of Entropy and the Second Law of thermodynamics when this life is complete. We will experience The New Creation of Revelation 21-22.      

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Temporary Medical Intervention

Divine healing or medical intervention? God has supplied the benefits of both. In our day the confident pronouncement that “All healing is divine” accounts for phenomena such as (1) our body’s own repair mechanisms from cuts, scratches, and bruises, (2) our body’s responses to illness or infection, and (3) our body’s natural tendency to produce system equilibrium. These are examples of “secondary causation” with which our physical bodies have been created. Doctors trained in medicine are able to produce wellness in their patients by enhancing some of the responses our bodies utilize without medical intervention. 

Surgical intervention goes beyond other common medical interventions. Surgeons receive more training than other medical personnel. About a year ago I encountered a neighbor on his morning neighborhood walk. We shared the information that each of us had been diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a degenerative condition of spinal tissues resulting in pressure on nerves in the spinal column, the electrical communication system of the body. It results in diverse discomforts—pain, cramping, numbness and weakness. He claimed that in the sixth or seventh decade of life many people are victims of normal wear and tear on our complex and multifunctional spinal organ. He stated many body systems such as the spine were not designed to work optimally for decades. My neighbor’s condition was alleviated by epidural steroid injections. Others with this condition, roughly 70%, are able to live with and manage the condition while 15-20% get better. I was one of the unfortunate 10-15% whose symptoms, despite heroic treatment and personal endurance, were not alleviated after several years. Surgery was the only option. Thankfully, it has proved successful.

We have joked with our family chiropractor that he should rename his business “The Senescence Clinic.” Many friends have never heard this term. My naming lesson was received with humor by the doctor. Realistically, senescence is a phenomenon inherent in the condition of every human. Our impermanent body systems tend to deteriorate. For reference, check out this previous post:

Psalm 90, likely written by Moses, is a combination of truth—theological, poetic, scientific, and pragmatic: “The length of our days is seventy years—or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away” (NIV). It is true that life expectancy has increased roughly twenty years since my grandparents’ day due to medical advances, improvements in diet, and other factors. Some analysts judge that human life expectancy may be reaching a maximum; others disagree. Life expectancy has varied over the centuries, but the 70 to 80 figure of Moses is not substantially different in our day and will probably not change.

Skeptics and even some people of faith question that a righteous and loving Creator would permit disease, injury, disasters, and even the onset of senescence during the acknowledged average span of 70 or 80 years of human existence. Some question why a perfect and loving God does not eliminate the perils and misery of aging. Ecclesiastes 12:2-8 contains vivid imagery of the unpleasant experiences of old age and the final reality of death when “the spirit returns to God who gave it.”

Many Christians long for a perfect world of optimal health and freedom from concerns about disease and aging. The redemption from sin in humanity has been addressed by the advent of Jesus Christ. That redemption is available to all of us at present. However, our eternal redemption from the totality of perils of this life, physical and spiritual, is not in prospect until the New Creation of Revelation 21-22. Until our eternal redemption arrives, scripture gives wonderful solutions for coping with our present condition!  


Monday, June 15, 2015

Healing Questions

Our friends and fellow church members often request prayer for physical injuries or illnesses. Useful perspectives on wellness and illness are sometimes under stressed in our church communities in light of diverse and ongoing physical needs. Within the church these conditions are often communicated as a need for divine healing. Outside the church community such requests are more ofter characterized as a need for medical intervention. Such requests really deal with the same methodological process, we propose. What is the difference between divine healing and medical intervention?

A recent entry in the Our Daily Bread Ministries devotional booklet entitled “The Great Healer” from May 19, 2015 brought several dimensions of God’s works into focus. The Our Daily Bread article described (1) God as designer of an orderly universe, and (2) God as creator and designer of our bodies. The article also highlighted physical healing, in keeping with its title: (1) God created us with the ability to heal, (2) God created our bodies to function, and (3) Scientists devise therapies to help restore or cure us.

Are doctors healers, then? In the sense of healing events recorded in the Bible, no, they are not. However, in broadened meanings of the term healing, God is the healer: “…for I am the Lord, your healer.” (Exodus 15:26). Article author Julie Ackerman Link states, ”So, I am grateful for science and doctors, but my praise and thanksgiving go to God who designed an orderly universe and who created us with minds that can discover how it works. I believe, therefore, that all healing is divine because no healing takes place apart from God.”

In the sense that every facet of our experience and every moment of our existence is sustained by God, we agree with Ackerman’s assertion that “all healing is divine.” Acts 17:28 states, “In him we live and move and have our being.” This passage expresses a profound truth. The universe is sustained by the power of the Creator. The living things in our tiny corner of this universe and the physical constants governing all forces and energy in each living thing, are preserved and sustained moment to moment by the will and power of God.

Healing “miracles” are usually the result of medical knowledge. God enables humanity to learn of multiple secondary causes governing the operation of individual body organs and the integrated functioning of the whole body. In the beginning, God created man’s physical body a functioning unit. Thereafter, man’s body has functioned on the basis of secondary causes. We illustrate the point with one of many intelligently designed creations of man, the automobile initially known as a “horseless carriage.” After the initial act of unit assembly, the owners are enabled to operate their vehicles at will. They do not have to re-create it each time it is used. Today we have features like cruise control and even muse over the future reality of self-driving cars. The automobile’s creator designed the physical unit to possess intrinsic functional capability. This function is known as secondary causation. It is a given that the owner must observe appropriate operational practices and proper maintenance.   

Doctors and surgeons respond to diseases or injuries to the body resulting from infections, chemical imbalances, aging, and other factors. The body continually battles pathogens, works to regulate internal bodily conditions, and reacts with incredible cascades of responses to injury, not to mention constant battles with the effects of aging. These responses were designed into living things by the Creator. Ackerman gives praise and thanksgiving to God, “…who designed an orderly universe and who created us with minds that can discover how it works.” Our bodies function effectively with many “secondary causes”—ability to fight off germs, maintain stability of bodily responses, and repair damage. Doctors are acutely aware of the secondary responses inherent in our body’s function. Medical personnel function as healers, but not as workers of miracles. We do not deny rare supernatural instances where healing may occur beyond the ability of the normal, functioning body. 

We do not minimize the effectiveness of prayer regularly offered to our heavenly Father for our bodily medical problems. Scripture instructs us to “Pray without ceasing” (I Thes. 5:17). Bible authors have given us literary and medical commentary on our lifespan, its temporary nature, and its sometimes unpleasant condition. The trajectory of bodily health during our lifetime is inexorably downhill. God has given us the ability to gain strength. wisdom, and endurance from the power of prayer.          



Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Deposing the Queen

Many science laypersons may not be enthralled with our recent discussions of science methodology such as methodological and metaphysical naturalism. For them, merely acknowledging the beauty and order of the natural world suffices. We hope one positive dimension of their experience consists in admiring the artistry of the Creator.

Deeper research highlights the interesting timeline of events from the onset of the Scientific Revolution to the present day. Many scientists strongly affirmed the actions of God when the revolution began. Soon the transition to a more naturalistic vision of the world took hold among scientists. We wonder with Robert C. Bishop, “If the scientific revolutionaries were theists who deployed MN in the service of discovering the nature of God’s creation, then what happened in the intervening centuries such that the sciences and their methodologies are now routinely disassociated from God?”

During the High Middle Ages, a phrase became popular among scholars: Theology is queen of the sciences. Philosophers have addressed the meaning of this statement for centuries. Before considering specific developments during the 19th century concerning the manner in which the sciences became “routinely disassociated from God,” we link two past posts referencing theology as “queen of the sciences:”

By 1830 many scientists had endorsed a deistic belief system. Most deists believe in a First Cause but their belief was not based on biblical revelation and their attitudes concerning the physical world were not founded on a creationist belief system. Deists believed in a mechanistic world and in their personal, self-generated knowledge. Their reason pushed faith into the realm of superstition and mythology, but many believed in ultimate goodness of the universe even though God did not interact actively with creation.

Faith became secondary even among many 19th century theologians. For some, God’s role as First Cause vanished by mid-century. Agnosticism and atheism were ways of life by the time of Charles Darwin’s publication On the Origin of Species. Thomas Huxley coined the term agnosticism, describing a permanent suspension of belief in God. The argument for design was waning. Metaphysical Naturalism had been birthed in the practicing science professions. God was unnecessary; natural processes seemed more credible than supernatural processes. Even Charles Darwin, however, could never account for the origin of life according to a naturalistic account.

After 1859, Darwin had complained that secondary causes were not often cited to explain the natural history of life on earth according to his revolutionary theory. As time went on, secondary causes assumed more importance in the thinking of bioscientists while belief in divine, miraculous action diminished. Even theologian George Frederick Wright, among others, pronounced that we should not resort to an unknown cause until the power of known causes has been exhausted. This pattern acquired the staunch support of scientists. Agnostics and atheists felt comfortable with this approach. They collectively believed their naturalistic science was most sensible since many felt science is silent on the question of God. Many theologians found themselves in agreement. The idea that only scientific methods deliver knowledge acquired traction.

Nineteenth century science acquired a methodology which excluded awareness of God. Some acknowledged scientific methodologies such as abductive reasoning (inference to the best explanation) clearly signal divine “input” as the best explanation in the absence of convincing contrary proof. Even more traditional inductive and deductive science methodologies were consigned to unacceptability by scientists because they signal supernatural action in terms of life origins.

Contemporary scientific views do not allow supernatural conclusions about the origin of primeval life, the sudden appearance of Cambrian Explosion life, and most remarkable, the very sudden onset of modern humanity in relatively recent tens of thousand of years—a mere instant ago on the 3.8 billion year timeline of life on earth.

Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory has captured our modern culture. In terms of documented history of the 19th century, we observe the displacement of God from the psyche of the science establishment, and to a lesser extent, from the general population. The displacement has been in place for 150 years. According to Nature, a science journal, over 90% of America’s most esteemed scientists either doubt or disbelieve in the existence of God. This statistic is variable depending on how the questions are posed. It is true that the science profession is not a bastion of theistic belief.

In many respects theology, the queen of the sciences, has been deposed even though science is a profession exposed to the beauty and wonder of God’s creation on a daily basis. The movement toward belief in metaphysical naturalism, especially since the life of Charles Darwin, is disappointing. We rejoice, however, that science professionals successfully discover the beauty of mundane secondary processes by which our lives operate. 


Sunday, June 7, 2015

MN and Metaphysical Naturalism

In past discussions with friends concerning science, including specific issues such as creationism and evolution, few subjects have consumed more attention than methodological naturalism (MN). MN is a guiding principle of secular and theistic scientists alike. Under modern principles of MN, scientists are strictly guided by the concept that in science, only natural effects are studied. MN poses a stumbling block for science laypersons if issues surrounding it are misunderstood. 

Robert Boyle, an early pioneer of the Scientific Revolution, helped establish the methodological principles of the revolution. He said “Natural Philosophy’s task is to explain phenomena of creation in terms of natural processes. Natural philosophy became known as “science” as the Scientific Revolution progressed. MN, therefore, is worth our effort to understand thoroughly, along with the potential for its misunderstanding. Perhaps one important area of misunderstanding is the confusion between methodological naturalism and metaphysical naturalism. Hereafter we abbreviate methodological naturalism as MN while we spell out metaphysical naturalism in its entirety. In our time MN is still the guiding principle of science methodology while theistic beliefs are put in abeyance. In metaphysical naturalism, operative science methodology is identical but there are no theistic beliefs whatever. We credit Wheaton professor of Philosophy and History of Science Robert C. Bishop’s article, “God and Methodological Naturalism in the Scientific Revolution and Beyond” for many ideas expressed in this post.

The focus of MN at the beginning of the Scientific Revolution was discovering what kind of creation God had made and how God was at work in and through creation. “Focusing on natural causes in no way implied that God was absent from creation nor even that God was somehow excluded from explanations of how creation worked,” according to Bishop. Robert Boyle believed God could intervene in the natural course of things, but he focused on understanding creation on its own terms. Even though very little was known of the fossil record in the time of Boyle, we imagine that his thinking may have allowed for historical supernatural introductions of new species on occasion. The astonishing evidence left in the rocks by Cambrian Explosion events consists of sudden appearances of hundreds of new life forms without precursors and never before seen. We stress, however, that Robert Boyle is best known for researching secondary causes manifest in the world of nature created by God: “Natural philosophy’s task is to explain phenomena of creation in terms of natural processes,” he stated. This statement defines MN as a description of what scientists do in their normal investigative processes.

Boyle’s concept of natural philosophy was soon challenged by a rival philosophy as the 17th century progressed. MN in its pure form is challenged by another species of naturalism—metaphysical naturalism—which has gained a strong foothold in the science profession. Bishop asks a disturbing question: “If the scientific revolutionaries were theists who deployed MN in the service of discovering the nature of God’s creation, then what happened in the intervening centuries such that the sciences and their methodologies are now routinely disassociated from God?” Even though a diverse company of scientists since the Scientific Revolution were staunchly Christian, many scientists, theologians, pastors, and authors found it challenging to debate whether the physical creation events were shaped by divine command, or merely mediated by divine command. The difference between shaped and mediated may be described as a distinction between explicit acts of transcendent creation versus God merely “looking on” from afar. God arbitrarily and unpredictably intervening in creation became “psychologically jarring to a majority of theists,” according to Bishop’s view: Deism was becoming the intellectual trend as the 18th century approached.

Deism as a form of rational theology embracing a religion of nature emerged in the writing of many intellectuals. Traditional Christian beliefs by some early American settlers were weakened by the foothold of deism. Many have come to believe America was founded on a deistic belief system. Foundational Christian beliefs were sometimes cast as unenlightened. Supernaturalism was sometimes viewed as superstition as contemporary spirituality replaced traditional spirituality. No miracles were needed. Only natural laws were necessary.

This 17th/18th century deism was the precursor of an even more radical change in store with the approach of the 19th century. Optimism that science revealed truths about the glory of the work of the divine Creator of Scripture gave way to confidence in the power of naturalism and disbelief on the question of the existence of God among wide segments of the science community. The discoveries of science did not serve as apologetic support for the existence of God as either Creator or Sustainer. The epistemological value of science was perceived in different ways by the theist and non-theist.

We contemplate additional posts covering 19th century developments and in particular, the ascendancy of Charles Darwin. Metaphysical naturalism, also known as philosophical naturalism or ontological naturalism, was on the way. Theistic creationists would do well to study the significance of these terms as they connect with our view of the philosophy of science.  

This post may not be inspirational for enthusiasts of the apologetic value of science. We acknowledge the challenge of using explicit scientific evidence to support belief in the reality of God and his works. There is, however, much value in examining the natural world to determine what we may learn from its orderly, purposeful, functional design characteristics.     


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Methodological Confusion

“I believe methodological naturalism is a good operating principle for scientific discovery.” Your Ankerberg science blogger wrote this on his 9/15/2009 post. Lacking full knowledge of what this important term means and how it is used by science professionals, some science laypersons may be confused. At worst this confusion could cause misunderstanding concerning the operation of science.

One reason for laypersons’ uncertainty is the manner in which the term methodological naturalism (MN) is defined. We begin with the Rational Wiki website’s upfront definition of MN: “Methodological naturalism is the required assumption (emphasis mine) of philosophical naturalism when working with the scientific method.” Philosophical naturalism, also called metaphysical naturalism or ontological naturalism, is the doctrine that the natural world is all there is.

Here is a key element in the confusion referenced in our opening paragraph. According to Rational Wiki (a secular, skeptical website dedicated to countering their self-defined concepts of pseudoscience, including the ID and creationist movements) the majority of scientists do not believe it is possible to combine methodological naturalism with theistic or supernatural belief systems. Rational Wiki states that in the United States approximately 60% of scientists endorse full philosophical naturalism, and that in foreign countries the percentage is even higher. Many scientists state an obvious outcome of this thinking. They claim “philosophical naturalism is essentially the logical result of methodological naturalism.” Many evangelical theistic evolutionist friends do not agree with this analysis but the perception remains embedded in the thinking of secular scientists.

Returning to the Rational Wiki definition of MN, we focus on “the required assumption of philosophical naturalism when working with the scientific method.” Scientists instruct us that in science we investigate only natural phenomena, never supernatural phenomena. We illustrate with an example from a legal crime investigation where there is often a cause/effect determination: “Who set fire to the barn?” In personal investigations there is often a similar search for phenomena of cause/effect in answer to our questions such as: “Why did our rotisserie meat overcook?” In such examples, assuming intelligent agents or causes are not involved is counterproductive. Are we reminded of the science definition of MN? Are predetermined assumptions helpful? Perhaps assumptions should take a back seat to full scope investigations and thoughtful cataloging of a wide variety of possible causes, however unlikely they may be.

As we listen to political commentary we often hear politicians calling for investigations of one sort or another. Such calls are frequently inspired by unusual or rare circumstances. Investigations are not inspired by assumptions. We ask why scientists who subscribe to the principle of MN would begin with assumptions rather than full scale and all-inclusive investigations. In the case of the ever popular questions on evolution, if we assume anything, let us assume that all possibilities should be included, including the possibility that God has intervened miraculously along the timeline of life’s history on Earth on occasion. Along the timeline of Earth history, evidence of sudden input of novel information for life forms has the hallmarks of divine creation acts.

I repeat my 9/15/2009 assertion: “I believe methodological naturalism is a good operating principle for scientific discovery.” Take note that “assumption” does not appear in my definition. Careful study of God-inspired natural laws by which the world operates daily are consistent with our endorsement of MN.

Many early scientists of the Scientific Revolution took full account of the glory of God’s past creation achievements. In like manner today’s theistic scientists still work under that umbrella. There is no assumption that God has not acted to create natural laws. Neither is there any assumption that God could not supernaturally create again. Early advocates of MN were too busy discovering how to “understand phenomena on its own terms” to be concerned with assumptions concerning the existence or non-existence of a supernatural Creator. Scientists have manifested a sort of “theological neutrality” but not because they do not believe in the existence and power of the Creator who is worthy of our humble worship.