Thursday, June 30, 2016

Forced to Agree

Students of climate science encounter an interesting term—climate forcing. Our earth climate had been “forced” naturally into warmer conditions by increased solar radiation in distant geologic history. In effect, the sun became brighter and warmer. More recently earth’s climate has been temporarily “forced” by several significant volcanic eruptions into cooler temperatures. Many climate forcings have been observed and attributed by climate scientists, but many forcings occur that climatologists do not yet understand. Our blog has frequently discussed a popularly publicized climate forcing—the addition of CO2 to our atmosphere by anthropocentric (man-caused) consumption of fossil fuels, especially in the last 200 years. This forcing has raised atmospheric CO2 about 40%, from just over 0.03% to about 0.04%. This CO2 trace gas is vitally important for the life on Planet Earth. It comprises 1/2500 of the composition of the atmosphere.

Our readers would agree that our population is heavily divided on the effects of this important greenhouse gas. It has been politically elevated to cause célèbre status. Some say we must take immediate steps to reduce CO2 emissions because Earth is in dire short- and long-term danger. Others state that increased CO2 has been a benefit to increased agricultural production and its harmful effects are substantially overstated. These statements are mere tip-of-the-iceberg concerns and talking points. There are dozens of additional issues. Climate alarmists wish to force us to agree with them and implement their proposed climate solutions post-haste.

Our culture is becoming more fractured by climate concerns as well as controversies on how to address them. Recently the global warming alarmists have elevated their attack strategy. Some politicians have placed those who disagree, often termed “climate skeptics,” on notice. They will be subjected to legal prosecution under RICO—the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act. Congress designed RICO in 1970 to target organized crime. It is true that US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island used the term “civil” RICO to characterize his campaign on the floor of the senate, but claimed he is targeting only “fraud.” Legally, fraud is defined as, “Intentional misrepresentation of material existing fact made by one person to another with knowledge of its falsity and for the purpose of inducing the other person to act, and upon which the other person relies with resulting injury or damage.” We implore our readers to study this complex issue carefully.

E. Calvin Beisner, founder and national spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation has published many informative statements concerning the activities of opposing climate change camps. He correctly states that the science of  global warming is far from settled. Our blog position agrees with Beisner that while minor warming has occurred coincident with increased release of CO2 in the past two centuries, the earth is nevertheless “a place to thrive.” Planetary temperatures have risen and fallen many times in previous thousands of years in conjunction with many usual and unusual climate events. But in the past 200 years, Earth’s population has increased seven fold with wondrous agricultural, technological, and scientific advances. The misinformation that droughts, floods, heat waves, tornadoes, hurricanes, and other spikes of unpleasant weather different from recognized ideal conditions are abnormally multiplying is not statistically defensible. 

When damaging weather events occur our media are prone to mention global warming as causative in most of their reporting. Such mentions increase the drama of their story. Read deeper into their accounts and one finds references to many past weather occurrences equal to or worse than the current weather events. For example, one of our recent posts referenced the severity of the US heat and drought of the 1930s which far exceeded heat and drought events since then. Two hurricanes which traveled up the US east coast in 1954 were both more intense than Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The 1960s witnessed ten destructive east coast hurricanes.

Cornwall spokesman Beisner was skewered by Sen. Whitehouse as the founder of a “phoney baloney industry front called the Cornwall Alliance.” Recently Beisner mailed a packet to supporters claiming “Earth’s climate system is one of the most complex natural systems ever studied. It consists of thousands of subsystems—feedback mechanisms—most of which we still don’t understand. We don’t know how strong they are, in some cases even whether they increase or decrease warming or the balance of benefits and harms from it.” Beisner had decried “the direct attack of the rights to freedom of speech and the press.” He claimed such an attack was “horrifically bad for science.”

Now, progressive liberal politicians are intent on forcing Beisner and his numerous soulmates to back away. Which of the thousands of climate change scholars are right? Which are wrong? Do Beisner and many other scientists intentionally misrepresent established facts of science? Do we still respect the truth? Does the group of eighteen  Attorneys General in our United States intent on launching RICO investigations primarily deserve the innocuous title of “AGs united for clean power?” Or do they support the goals of partisan politics on climate change issues?

We request wisdom from our Heavenly Father concerning this difficult issue.     



Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Unsettled Science

Two groups were organized in 2005 in response to the perceived environmental challenges posed by climate change. We highlight these two groups, pointing out similarities and differences. The Evangelical Climate Initiative is composed exclusively of 300 evangelical leaders in the United States sharing concern about environmental stewardship. The Cornwall Alliance For The Stewardship Of Creation is a conservative public policy group also focusing on environmental stewardship. It boasts 1500 diverse signatories from prominent religious groups. Each organization has claimed the high ground of stewardship for our planet and each continues with its mission. The similarities are not as striking as the differences. Both organizations are energized by the topic of global warming.

The global warming issue divides many residents of the US and the world. Among many noble ideals for the stewardship of creation lurks the issue of how to remedy potentially disastrous global warming. This issue is laden with complexity far beyond warming due to human consumption of fossil fuels and the concomitant release of additional CO2 into the atmosphere. There is widespread agreement that release of any additional CO2 does indeed contribute to slight atmospheric warming owing to its properties as a greenhouse gas. As a result of this knowledge, CO2 has been designated a “pollutant,” albeit a minuscule component of the atmosphere. The recent convoluted regulatory ruling of CO2 as a “pollutant” highlights the emotionally charged politics attending the conversation. CO2 remains vitally important for earth’s plant life.

We have selected passages from each group’s major declarations. The passages highlight a profound difference in theological and scientific analyses. From the Evangelical Climate Initiative: “Even small rises in global temperatures will have such likely impacts as: more frequent heat waves, droughts, and extreme weather events such torrential rains and floods; increased tropical diseases in now-temperate regions; and hurricanes that are more intense. It could lead to significant reduction in agricultural output, especially in poor countries. Low-lying regions, indeed entire islands, could find themselves under water.”

From the Cornwall Declaration On Environmental Stewardship: “While some environmental concerns are well-founded and serious, others are without foundation or greatly exaggerated…..Some unfounded or undue concerns include fears of destructive man-made global warming, overpopulation, and rampant species loss.” 

Another Cornwall passage (An Evangelical Statement on Global Warming) states, “We believe Earth and its ecosystems, created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence—are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory. Earth’s climate system is no exception. Recent global warming is one of many natural cycles of warming and cooling in geologic history. We deny that Earth and its ecosystems are the fragile and unstable products of chance, and particularly that Earth’s climate system is vulnerable to dangerous alteration because of minuscule changes in atmospheric chemistry. Recent warming was neither abnormally large nor abnormally rapid.”

After only a cursory study of the points made in the above declarations, we long for deeper and detailed truth concerning global warming in the mind of the public. We perceive public resistance to a quest for depth. It is much easier to fall back to one’s preconceptions and philosophical bias. If we have become enamored by the politically correct, simplistic responses to climate change, we will ignore the effects of thousands of climate subsystems known as feedback mechanisms. Even climate experts do not understand many of the feedback mechanisms and whether in the long term global warming is increased or decreased. As I read the voluminous research on the complex subject of climate change, I am determined to encourage individual study of complex climate issues among our readership. Without unbiased, intentional study, most people simply reinforce their previously held positions. Above all we must recognize that our Creator is the author of the physical venue we call our home. This awareness is the beginning of wisdom in climate issues.

Linked below is a previous blog posted in 2012. Click on “older posts” or “newer posts” to scroll through our previous offerings on climate change.




Friday, June 24, 2016

Enduring the Heat

Our somewhat warmer 2016 Northern Illinois winter and spring may call attention to the issue of climate change in a few residents’ minds. But as I write, the southwestern United States bakes in oppressive, record-breaking heat. As usual, the anthropogenic climate change subject receives much attention at such times. Imagine daytime temperatures of 115º to 120ºF. Triple digits are common across several states, accompanied by the scourge of fire. This heat wave is caused by a “heat dome.” Air is trapped by the upper atmosphere in one location and circulates within the dome like a convection current in an oven.

Many fascinating short and long term events enrich our climate. These events are minimally related to the popular current obsession with anthropogenic climate change. A few years ago our severely frigid winter was attributed to a cycle called the arctic oscillation (AO). Some poked fun at global warming enthusiasm after living through the effects of that year’s AO, but their enthusiasm may have waned when the next heat wave occurred. Heat domes and arctic oscillations are but two examples of numerous local and global weather phenomena. Weather researchers have identified the features of our complex, dynamic planetary weather and climate systems in great detail. Our current post’s purpose is to remind readers that unusual weather trends and cycles have been noted for thousands of years. The cycles have contributed more to human enrichment than to human detriment. Our wondrous planet is a place for humans to thrive.

The current southwestern heat wave will wind down in a few days. A relatively recent heat/drought event occurred in the US during the decade of the 1930s. It is remembered as historically momentous. The 1930s ushered in a decade of unprecedented heat and drought over much of the country. It persisted for years and was known as the “Dust Bowl” event. 1930, 1934, and 1936 were particularly hot and dry. Wikipedia states “The 1930s are remembered as the driest and warmest decade for the US and the summer of 1936 was the most widespread and destructive heat wave to occur in the Americas in centuries.” The current obsession with climate change pales in significance.

Cutting through the concern about anthropocentric climate change, aka global warming, is a distressing fact. Far more people on this planet die of cold weather than of warm weather. In 2015 the British journal The Lancet “analyzed data on more than 75 million deaths between 1985 and 2012. Of those, 5.4 million deaths were related to cold, while 311,000 were related to heat.”

The current discussion about anthropogenic climate change owing to increased CO2 release from consumption of fossil fuels provides more stress for contemporary earth residents than many other causes for concern. Opinion and emotion generated from this issue ranges across an exceedingly broad spectrum. The solutions offered extend from indifference to militant activism and from offering no remedial funding to truly budget busting remedial funding. This response occurs in the face of considerable uncertainty concerning our complex natural climate system. The prediction of human disaster based upon the CO2 factor alone in light of thousands of interacting climate subsystems, is an example of the fallacy of oversimplified cause, also known as the fallacy of the single cause. The issue is far from settled science, notwithstanding the strident claim that the science is settled. 

We have offered several dozen blog posts on this issue, especially in 2012. It is a politically charged subject, generating more heat than light. Linked below are three previous posts which address some of the complex issues.

Our secular and religious cultures have produced diverse analyses of civilization’s most significant problems. Many of these relate to dire warnings of environmental disasters, past, present, and future. We do not minimize such warnings; neither do we overstress their importance. Either approach locates reality in an out-of-balance fashion. Our interpretation of Romans 8:22-25 leans away from characterizing our creation as primarily “broken.” Verse 22 states “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” Some interpreters see a fallen physical creation in this verse. We envision the entire epistle of Romans including verse 22 in relation to man’s spiritual redemption—God’s provision of salvation through Jesus Christ and his plan of righteousness for humanity. In terms of God’s plan for spiritual wholeness, we have presented our planet’s physical venue as a beautiful divine setting for achievement of God’s ultimate goals for mankind. In this light we submitted this post:




Monday, June 20, 2016

Scientists Ask--Is God Dead?

In 1966 there was a famous Time Magazine story asking “Is God Dead?" The thought of the death of God could have been interpreted in several ways. Did a pre-existent God cease to exist? More likely, the meaning of the title was captured by the thought that our culture had created no need for God. Science had answered many vexing questions related to our home planet. The universe’s age and expansion rate had been discovered with remarkable precision, due largely to Alan Sandage, the most influential astronomer of the last half century. Many of his findings were published not long before the Time article appeared. Science had matured and now addressed issues formerly reinforced primarily by natural theology.

In the immediate years before the article was published we had been apprised of a remarkable revelation of the structure of DNA, the template of genetics, followed shortly by news concerning how DNA’s digital code produces the thousands of proteins required for the building of eight million unique species. In our opening paragraph we referred to the precision of cosmologists concerning the age of the universe. The DNA discoveries left many bio-scientists feeling empowered with their newfound knowledge. Had God died? Time’s editors decided to pose the provocative question. There was little need for the Creator now that humanity had discovered some of His previously unrevealed secrets.

We had discovered a wealth of knowledge concerning the workings of the universe and the secrets of life on the planet. Owing to an explosion of scientific knowledge, in the popular mind God was no longer necessary in describing our universe or exulting in a Creator responsible for its existence. Effectively, therefore, the Time editors shocked the world by asking, “Is God Dead?”

The Time article was not explicitly focused on the secularization of science. There were many other cultural and theological changes discussed. On the 50th anniversary of the article, we point out that science has acquired even more cultural secularization. In 1966 science supposedly had reduced the need for religion to explain the natural world. My personal experience recalling the novel offerings in high school biology courses during the 1960s aids my recollection of a sea change in bio-science education of that time. The new BSCS biology courses achieved rapid elevation to prominence in secondary bio-science education. They stressed evolution as a scientifically endorsed belief. “Is God Dead?” our high school scholars may have asked. The question seemed significant as science provided detailed knowledge of genetics. 

Since 1966, the situation has worsened. God is less important today than at any time in recent memory. Creationism and Intelligent Design theories in Earth’s living things draw scorn, even among some Christian scientists and theologians. Various commentators such as Robert Mohler of Southern Baptist Seminary have stated that the “post-modern, post-Christian, post-Western cultural crises threaten the very heart of our culture.”

A friend recently called my attention to an article in American Thinker by Deanna Chadwell, professor at Pacific Bible College. We quote Ms. Chadwell’s blog “Science and Limits” as she discusses the impact of God having been removed from science. In former times, “Science…had once been the method by which curious people had learned about God’s creation. But the science we now have has forbidden God to have any part in experimental hypotheses. Even when the evidence clearly points heavenward, the presence of a creator cannot be considered.” For our current generation, science has suffered from displacement of God together with a wide array of cultural values. Whereas God could be credited with the order and design of our cosmos and life forms, now we credit materialistic naturalism. Methodological naturalism (MN) is the religion of most scientists, displacing God in any experimental hypothesis. Naturalistic explanations rule; theistic explanations are in retreat. This phenomenon parallels the withdrawal of most expressions of biblical theism in public life, not only in the domain of science.

Chadwell continues, “Yet science can explain very little, and that is disappointing to a generation of materialists. If all that is, is merely matter, then science should be able to answer all our questions. If there is no God, in the Judeo-Christian sense of the word, and no supernatural forces operate in this universe, then science should be able to formulate hypotheses, construct experiments, repeat those experiments with similar results and, either adjust the initial assumptions, or conclude they were correct to begin with. It should be doable. But it’s not.” 

The author of “Science and Limits” further exults in “some of the marvels of this world that science can address only in a shallow and mechanistic manner.” We offer a quick catalog highlighting the author’s thoughtful musings: Hummingbirds are specifically designed so as to make random mutation appear to be a silly explanation. They vary their metabolic rate drastically, rotate their wings in a helicopter hover, and retract their long insect-seeking tongue into a channel that winds around its skull. Owls fly in almost absolute silence, but science cannot explain how it got that way. No one knows what goes on in the chrysalis soup of a butterfly, let alone how four stage metamorphosis works to produce the ultimate wonder of an adult. Migration skills guide animals, sans GPS or map directions, on multi-thousand mile travel sagas to locate their destinations with pinpoint accuracy. Monarchs accomplish this feat without having traveled the route in several generations. What about the mystery of life itself? How do the presence of brain waves with electrical impulses distinguish a live creature from one that is not alive? What is the “ethereal self?” What is the nature of a living human soul? How does science explain mysteries of the hard sciences such as the incredible fine tuning of hundreds of physical constants?

Many scientists have succeeded in shutting out the awareness of God in professional science discoveries. When science succeeds in explaining the many mechanisms by which our earth’s physical and biological systems operate, they inadvertently call attention to the God who authored the systems. Many systems, however, have not yet been explained by science. We anticipate a future day when science professionals may conclude that methodological naturalism is inadequate to explain many phenomena. Rather, they may recognize God as an explanatory controlling force for phenomena they are able to explain as well as phenomena they are unable to explain. God is supernatural but he has power to author and sustain natural events.

In the closing paragraph of “Science and Limits” Chadwell noted, “God is not dead, but mankind is getting good at shutting Him out of all of our understandings.”    



Monday, June 13, 2016

Divine Credibility for Children

Christian parents raising children desire to instill a sense of divine existence and love for their Creator in their offspring. We are always pleased when our grandchildren want to pray before mealtime, thanking God for the gifts of food and asking him to bless all the dear ones in their acquaintance. At some level, children are responding to the modeling of their parents. Parents pray that their modeling behavior will instill an early, genuine sense of God’s reality in their children. That sense parallels parental instructions for other age appropriate behaviors.

Most parents one or two generations removed from child rearing imagine that they might instruct their children differently given another opportunity. Sometimes  grandparents speculate on how their own children are training their grandchildren. Leaving mundane behavior apart for our present discussion, we might focus on the ongoing opportunity to instill an age appropriate sense of divine reality in young children. This topic is reasonably simple at the preschool level, but it becomes more complex as the children advance through their elementary, middle, and high school years. For children in public school, parents bear heavy responsibility for their offspring’s God-awareness. Appropriate instruction concerning the reality of God must be shared by the instructional and pastoral staff.

How should the subject of God’s reality be addressed with our children? If we believe God is real, how do we make the subject real for them? We do not see God. Neither do we feel God or hear God speak. Sensory experiences of God directly exist for neither adults nor children. At the same time, seeing, feeling, and hearing are sensory experiences by which most learning takes place in young children. Feelings of joy and happiness in our youngest children mostly result from sensory stimulation. As children grow in intellectual development and maturity, they become more aware of abstract realities. We do not describe God, however, as an abstract reality.

Christians understand God as a real being. As Creator, God is not an abstract “idea.” He is not physical, but is described as a spiritual being. “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). An abstract idea is incapable of producing our cosmos from an original, infinitesimally small singularity. Neither is an abstract idea able to create life on a formerly lifeless planet. In summary, our awesome responsibility as parents and grandparents is to impart a sense of God-awareness in our children. We humbly confess our inability to teach God-awareness adequately and we implore our God to give us wisdom in this endeavor.

How do we teach the reality of God’s existence to young children inasmuch as we do not see him, feel him, or hear him? These facts need not be counted as deficiencies in our justification for the existence of God. Agnostic claims of lack of evidence for God are weak when we analyze the physical realities of our cosmic and planetary system. A case for God’s existence is more persuasive as we study instances of cause and effect phenomena and the design features of our incredibly fine tuned universe. Some form of this argument is effective notwithstanding the maturity level of those receiving our instruction. Ontological evidence for God, arriving at the conclusion that God is real by deductive skill, and other advanced evidences must wait for a few years. 

The case for God’s existence has an empirical underpinning, regardless of the age of our clients. Scientific method relies on empirical methods—methods verifiable by observation or experience rather than theory or logic. As our children become older, theory formation and logic become better developed depending on intellectual maturity. 

Let us return to preschool children. Some may be taught to thank God for their food at mealtime or even say a prayer before bedtime. We do not minimize the significance of such prayers offered by very young children. Thoughtful parents may promote the reality of God-concepts at this tender age. No doubt there are different strategies used by various mentors to instill an age appropriate understanding of God’s existence. As a science minded person, I have used the cause and effect illustration with our very young grandchildren. Activities such as building a tall tower from wooden blocks or a complicated Lego construction could be used to illustrate the activity of an intelligent agent. In these cases, the intelligent agent is the child. Young children are capable of recognizing their own role in play room design projects and ideally, God’s role in building wonderfully diverse, attractive, functioning living organisms.

In recent years our grandchildren have been fascinated by the variety of walking sticks, pill bugs, butterfly-producing caterpillars, praying mantises, ants, and digger wasps, not to mention birds and mammals. Some of these animals were captured and caressed by the young children. The elaborate design of the animals is matched by their intricate and unique behavior. The unusual behavior of digger wasps tunneling in the soil just outside our home each summer is one of many examples of unusual behaviors with which our neighborhood animals are programmed. Mundane wonders from our immediate front yard to paths in the woods, not to mention the glory of the night sky provide parents with an opportunity to affirm the existence of the God, the author of orderliness and design.

Our discussion barely scratches the surface of the joyful awe of the Creator we desire to cultivate in our young people. Moses received the lengthy commandments of the Law on Mt. Sinai before the congregation entered the promised land. Moses repeated these commandments in a lengthy sermon beginning in Deuteronomy 6. Early in his sermon we find these startling words—a model for the early training of our young people to instruct them about the Creator: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your soul and with all your might…..You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” (Deut. 6:5, 7 NIV).

When the sermon was nearly finished, Moses uttered these words: “Assemble the people—men, women, and children…so they can listen and learn to fear the Lord your God” (Deut. 31:12). Learning to love, believe in, and respect God and the works of his hands was important for the children of Old Testament times. It was no less important in the New Testament Day of Grace and in our modern Day of Grace.  



Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Glimpses of God

Atheists and agnostics challenge belief in God by claiming there is no evidence for God’s existence, much less proof. Personal research provides plentiful commentary on the question of God’s existence and how individuals deal with the issue. Believers in God function as missionaries attempting to carry their message of faith to unbelievers. Personal experience reveals that such discussions are often ineffective, not only in persuading someone that God exists, but also in changing minds concerning other topics such as evolution, intelligent design, or the age of the earth. Each individual sets his own standard of proof or acceptability of evidence. Often the standard for acceptable scientific evidence or proof is almost impossibly strict.

Acceptance of evidence for God’s existence is a complex, subjective matter. Personal belief in metaphysical, ontological, and theological realities connects with one’s goals, ideals, and worldview. Issues lurking in one’s background influence a person’s quest for belief in God. We could inquire, “What evidence or proof would you find acceptable to tilt you toward belief in the existence of God?” In Old Testament times, the ancient Israelites personally witnessed many supernatural miracles, particularly toward the end of Egyptian captivity. In New Testament times, many miracles were performed by Jesus and the disciples in which ordinary laws of nature were suspended. Many contemporary witnesses observed the miracles. Some witnesses believed but many did not. Personal belief in God is not achieved merely by perception of proof or evidence. The human heart is involved in belief as significantly as human intellect and sensory evidence.

The matter of personal belief or disbelief in God’s existence is paramount in our human experience. Some say the issue is not important for personal fulfillment. Do such statements mask an inner heart of fear or doubt? Likewise, our vision of God extends far beyond whether or not he exists. How has God acted in the creation of life? Has God guided the development of life on the planet? Did God form humanity In His Image as Genesis states? What are the implications of how we perceive such vital issues?

We resist quoting the following passages as proof texts for those who express doubt about God’s existence and actions. Doubters would not be persuaded to believe merely with scripture passages. Rather, we present these scriptures as affirmation of our personal thinking. Ecclesiastes is an Old Testament canonical Book of Wisdom. Among many other expressions of wisdom is hidden an observation of profound significance. Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NLT) states, “…He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” This passage indicates a human awareness or longing for connection with the Creator, as well as curiosity about the Creator’s role in our world of existence.

Nehemiah 9 records an expression of collective worship at a key time in Israel’s history. After the exile to Babylon, the Jews were permitted to return to Jerusalem by Cyrus, the Persian king who had conquered Babylon. The Jews who rebuilt the city and its walls were overcome with emotional worship and repentance. Led by Nehemiah the governor and Ezra the priest, they led the people in confession of their past sins. One section of their worship celebration stands apart: “You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.” (Nehemiah 9:6 NIV). Underlying their recognition of God and his redemptive role was a startling acknowledgement that the Lord had created the universe, life on Earth, and the beings in heaven which worship the Creator.

We posit that man possesses an intrinsic awareness of an eternal, omnipotent God. Our intellect enables us to observe our cosmos from macrocosmos to microcosmos and intuitively infer that God made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all creatures on this earth in the land and sea. This intrinsic awareness supersedes academic instruction about the reality of marvelous design features present in our universe. Alvin Plantinga, contemporary giant of Christian theology and philosophy, has stated his views of “warranted beliefs” and “properly basic beliefs” in his many writings. In Plantinga’s concept of “warranted” or “properly basic” beliefs, it is not necessary to infer God’s existence from other truths to be reasonable. His ideas originated with earlier figures such as Protestant Reformation theologian John Calvin who articulated the idea of humanity’s sensus divinitatis—an intrinsic sense of divine existence.




Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Magisteria Overlap

In 1997 Stephen Jay Gould proposed a principle to experts in both science and religion. It became known as the NOMA (non-overlapping magisteria) principle. The conflict between science and religion had occupied the attention of authorities in both fields of knowledge for many years. It was described as a conflict where answers posed by scientists and theologians were often at odds. This did not result from the two groups dealing with completely different subject matter. Rather, the discord occurred when both groups weighed in with their own versions of truth on very significant issues, sometimes identical issues. One example relates to beginnings of the universe, origin of life, and diversity of species. Other issues are embryonic stem cell research, cloning, recombining DNA, and in vitro fertilization. Conflicting overlap also occurs with disagreements on social behavior and the moral significance of various behaviors. In these domains, science and religion should always overlap.

Gould suggested a resolution—a “blessedly simple and entirely conventional resolution to…the supposed conflict between science and religion.” The inspiration for Gould’s resolution was drawn from a comment by Pope John Paul II who had used the ancient term “magisterium,” a term meaning a domain where different teaching groups claim ownership of appropriate tools for meaningful discourse and resolution. That teaching domain is claimed both by scientists and ecclesiastical authorities where certain subjects hold interest to authorities in both science and religion. We propose that there is a significant, appropriate overlap. Gould decried the overlap. His proposal amounted to, “You go your way; we’ll go ours.” 

Scientists, explained Gould, deal with empirical facts while religious authorities are concerned with human purposes, meanings, and values. As an evolutionary biologist he was devoted to discovering empirical facts concerning evolution. One of his many statements concerning human origins reveals that Gould clearly understood that alternative explanations of “facts” exist and many are diametrically opposite: “Do humans look so much like apes because we share a common ancestor or because creation followed a linear order with apes representing the step just below us?” (emphasis mine) This quote makes clear that Gould understood the blatantly opposite factual interpretations of physical evidence presented by evolutionists and creationists. If new species originate by descent from a common ancestor, this sharply contrasts with supernatural creation of new species along Earth’s historic timeline. Science professionals do not always agree on facts. Often experts propose only their own versions of facts.

In view of the diversity of interpretation of empirical evidence, it is inaccurate to characterize Gould’s NOMA proposal as a difference between those who are guided by a simple dichotomy between facts and values. That is a misrepresentation of remarkable proportions. Scientists often disagree on facts and lean toward their own version of facts. He further professed respect for each camp by politely implying one side should respect the other even though they deal with separate domains of human experience. Implied was the idea that there is little argument concerning facts. For example, evolution is a fact because we look out at the world and see that evolution (changes among life forms) has taken place. Moreover, the method of evolution related to descent from a common ancestor should also be accepted as fact because the bioscience professionals have accepted its factuality. Nevertheless, their explanations of the evolutionary process are in dispute. Most bioscientists following Gould’s advice politely advocate that values of religious creationists should be respected even though their beliefs are not fact-based. Their positions possess separate religious values and significance for humanity.

Did God ever supernaturally produce earth life using a method going beyond the natural laws emplaced by God at the initial creation? If God created in this way, his action may be considered a “fact.” If he supervised the classic scenario of “molecules to man” evolution, that would also be considered a “fact.” But these proposals are in substantial conflict. Likewise, religious judgments concerning recombinant DNA, stem cell research, cloning, pro-life, and other morality-laden issues generate disagreements on the “values” side of the NOMA discussion. We should strive for resolution of the conflict not by a quarantine of the two domains, but by a diligent attempt to enrich relationships and exchanges between the groups.

Has the Creator interacted with the creation in terms of supernatural, hypernatural, or naturally occurring divine sustaining action in the past? Does the Creator yet interact with his creation in these ways in our day? Proof of these interactions is a difficult standard to achieve, but we have confidence in plentiful evidence and the strength of inductive reasoning. 

The NOMA principle lives on in our science culture. Science deserves its elevated status of respect and admiration. However, In the respective domains of science and religion subjective philosophies sometimes reign. Science must not rest completely on its reputation as a fact-based enterprise. Conclusions concerning evolution, climate change, and other broad issues mentioned above have been awarded the imprimatur of science. Conclusions are often subjectively value-laden. Disagreements concerning the application of subjective moral values are also apparent. But science and religion should overlap. God has created both domains. We must avoid misplaced trust in unreliable science and search for reliable science while strengthening our trust in the revealed truths of scripture. We pray for God’s guidance in establishing the reliability of facts claimed to be true, the scriptural basis for our values and beliefs, and the validity of our knowledge.