Monday, July 27, 2009

Einstein's Vindication

Two adult Bible Class courses in my home church in 1997 and 1998 were entitled “Bible Science” and “The Cosmos Cries ‘Creator!’” I taught these classes where members explored in some depth the role of reason and revelation in the acquisition of faith, issues of design and fine tuning of the universe pointing to the Creator, and the integration of science and scripture.

Recently I found my handwritten notes retained from these classes. One entry caught my eye: “universe expanding but decelerating (negative acceleration)” Conventional wisdom at the time held that we lived in an expanding universe, but the expansion was decelerating. Many astronomers thought that the decelerating effect of gravity might eventually slow the expansion to zero and be followed by a “Big Crunch,”--the antithesis of the “Big Bang.”

In the early 20th century Albert Einstein thought our universe was changeless. Such a cosmos became known as the “steady state” universe. He introduced a “fudge factor” into his equations--a cosmological constant to account for a universe that did not contract under the influence of gravity as he felt it should. In 1929 Edwin Hubble showed the universe was expanding, the first suggestion that the Big Bang was the event which birthed the universe. Einstein later called the cosmological constant his worst blunder. There was no need for his fudge factor if the universe had begun with a Big Bang in the very distant past.

Barely two months after I taught my class members the then-current belief in a slowing-expansion universe, I spotted a New York Times article on March 3, 1998 entitled, “Wary Astronomers Ponder an Accelerating Universe.” Observations of Type Ia supernovae indicated that the universe’s expansion rate was not decreasing, but actually increasing. This effect was due to the cosmological constant discarded eighty years earlier by Albert Einstein. A mysterious “dark energy” seems to be the cause.

I did not reassemble my class members to correct the error. Several years later, more clarity emerged in the cosmic picture. Most important was the news that the increased expansion rate from dark energy demanded a degree of fine tuning precision far greater than astronomers had previously thought in order for the universe to be life supporting. The fine tuning is on the order of a tiny fraction of the mass of an electron compared with the mass of the entire universe.

The history of the universe, its present existence, and the history of past and present life forms which inhabit it demand hundreds of incomprehensibly precise fine tuning parameters. Even atheistic astronomers acknowledge this fact. They insulate themselves from its reality by claiming theistic design proposals do not stand up to scientific scrutiny, because they have defined science as a purely naturalistic enterprise. Truth discovery, however, does not bow at the altar of changing philosophies of science.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Scriptural Cosmology

The Apollo 11 moon exploration anniversary may cause us to consider the cosmological concepts held by ancient biblical characters and scripture writers. Did they, for example, see the earth’s moon as a body suspended in space? And did they consider the earth to be a sphere?

Greek philosopher Pythagoras in the 6th century BC originated the concept of a spherical earth. The Book of Job predated Pythagoras and refers to events which occurred during the days of the patriarchs many centuries earlier. An oft-quoted verse is found in Job 26:7 which states, in every translation checked, that God hangs the earth on nothing. The shape of the earth is not described, but may be inferred. The Isaiah 40:22 allusion to “the circle of the earth” is suggestive, but could convey other concepts understood in that day.

Propositions concerning the scientific accuracy of the Bible are posed along a broad spectrum. At one end are the doubters who claim scripture is pre-scientific or even unscientific. The other extreme is an optimistic group of scripture apologists who force upon the Bible unnecessary or unwarranted scientific authority in an effort to reinforce its divine authenticity and inspiration. This range of viewpoints is suggestive of another discussion spectrum--that of cosmic and life origins. Participants in the latter debate range from atheistic naturalists to young earth creationists. In both ranges of discussion there is intermediate ground established not by compromise, but by reason and good evidence.

Robert J. Schneider, in Perspectives on Science and the Christian Faith, posits “The biblical writers offer believers a valuable lesson for interpreting the doctrine of creation: one can take whatever is the current cosmological model and use it to understand more deeply and clearly God’s relationship to the creation.” He further states “Students…do not have to choose between modern science and the Bible” because it is more important to focus on the Lord’s sovereignty.

Biblical statements about the world of nature that we perceive to be “scientific” in the 21st century must be seen, therefore, as speaking truth to all men across the ages. We may want to impose our spin on that message in an effort to have scripture say something we would like it to say. So we must remind ourselves that the Bible is God’s message. Our ability to interpret that message more clearly in the light of newly discovered evidence is an exciting and ongoing gift from the message Giver.

Friday, July 17, 2009

To the Moon and Back

Where were you at the moment humans first walked on the moon? The 40th anniversary of this event has given us an opportunity for recall. I was traveling the western states with relatives on July 20, 1969, listening to the events on radio. Suddenly, on the New Mexico desert, we had the idea to forego our camping tent trailer and rent a motel room so we could watch on television. We entered the motel around 9:00 PM. When we clicked on our room set, the screen flickered to life showing Neil Armstrong and “Buzz” Aldrin in their bulky space suits standing and walking on the moon’s surface--live. It was a special, unforgettable moment!

Most school children today may not understand or care about the physics of space travel. In the 1950s and 1960s, however, with the first orbital flights, mission achievements, and finally manned flights to the moon and back, interest in science was produced and sustained by the achievements of NASA’s space program. Today, interest in space exploration among our citizenry, and especially our young people, takes a back seat to fascination with the newest applied technologies. As a teacher during the last four decades of the 20th century, I watched interest in NASA’s achievements and goals wax, and then wane significantly.

How many school children can explain the earth-orbiting prelude to a moon visit at 18,000 mph and the subsequent escape from earth’s gravity at 25,000 mph? Or the precision placement of the orbiting moon vehicle in preparation for the later controlled descent to the surface?

My grandfather, born in 1880, proclaimed that it would not be God’s will for man to break loose from earth and visit the moon. His death in 1960, however, was sandwiched between man’s first orbital flight in 1957 and our manned moon landing and exploration in 1969. I’ve wondered if, in the last three years of his life, he ever changed his mind about the possibility of man’s visit to an extra-terrestrial world. And if he did, was that change of heart accompanied by his exultation that God permitted our scientists to acquire previously unimagined knowledge and achievement, or did he view that knowledge and achievement as spiritually dangerous?

Some early astronauts have experienced firsthand the spiritual dimension of looking back on Planet Earth from space. Just a few months before man’s first steps on the moon, there was a riveting television broadcast to earth from the moon. On Christmas Eve, 1968, Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders, while in moon orbit, took turns reading the first ten verses of Genesis 1 while transmitting images of the earth. Included in the reading were verses 9-10, a most explicit desription of earth as seen from space: And God said, "Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear." And it was so. God called the dry ground "land," and the gathered waters he called "seas." And God saw that it was good. That live broadcast had a stunning impact on me and many others.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Soundness and Cogency

When arguments are made for one point of view or another, they are presented with various types of logic: deductive, inductive, and sometimes, abductive. For example, one may argue for naturalistic evolution, theistic evolution, young earth creationism, old earth creationism, or a variety of intermediate positions using logical arguments.

Deductive logic and inductive logic both offer supporting evidence (premises) to justify a claim (conclusion). A valid deductive argument produces a conclusion which is certain. A strong inductive argument produces a strongly probable conclusion. Both types of arguments use logic in their argument forms.

In my July 7 post I stated that Dr. John Ankerberg had received a well-written letter from a young earth listener who used “tight logic.” This statement needs some explanation. Deductive logic, applicable to a rather limited number of discussion topics, virtually guarantees validity. Inductive logic is applicable to a greater number of arguments where high probability of a true conclusion is the best we can hope for. The most important factor in our discussions of evolution or creationism is often overlooked: In order for a deductive argument to be considered sound (reliable), or in order for an inductive argument to be considered cogent (convincing), all premises presented to support the argument must be true or acceptable before one can be assured of a true conclusion.

An argument may be tightly logical, but many arguments in evolution/creationism discussions break down because false or unacceptable premises are used. False premises, if accepted, lead to false conclusions. A deductive argument may be logically valid and an inductive argument may be strong, but if the argument is based on false or unacceptable premises, its conclusion cannot be true.

To illustrate, here are three premises upon which young earth conclusions rest: (1) ALL physical death in the animal world was caused by Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden 6000 years ago. (2) The Bible should be the ONLY source of knowledge with respect to the history of the earth and life on earth, so we should reject any and all science which points to an old earth. (3) Plants are less than living things, even though it appeared that plants “died” when animals consumed them prior to Adam and Eve’s fall into sin. God did not assign “life” to plants in the same manner he assigned life to animals. Acceptance of the truth of each of these premises supports the conclusion that the earth is young. But if these premises are false or unacceptable, the conclusion of a 6000 year old earth is not demonstrated to be true.

Theologian Kenneth Samples in A World of Difference, states “Understanding that the premises of an argument must be true, relevant, adequate, clear, and knowledgeable helps keep a person’s thinking on the right t-r-a-c-k.” Our Creator has endowed us with the ability to think clearly and soundly. It is our responsibility to use our ability to think clearly and soundly in order to evaluate the beliefs we hold. Proper use of that ability is crucial for our effective witness.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Lost in Translation

One of the most profound difficulties we face in achieving a reasonably complete and accurate picture of historic Genesis events is the problem of interpreting the Bible for the English-speaking population. Dr. John Millam, on the Reasons to Believe website, has written about this problem. He quotes C. S. Lewis expressing the difficulty of bringing a Greek word to life by hunting for it in the Greek lexicon and then substituting an English word for it. Lewis says such translators “are not reading Greek at all; they are only solving a puzzle.” The same difficulty exists with the ancient Hebrew language.

Dr. John Ankerberg receives many letters from listeners disillusioned with the old earth creationism position of Ankerberg Theological Research Institute. One lengthy recent letter decried “perverting plain Genesis scripture to squeeze billions of years into the Bible.” This impassioned letter was well-written with tight logic, imploring Dr. Ankerberg to at least consider the “slightest possibility that the earth was really created just as Moses plainly wrote it: in six ordinary days (with an evening and a morning) about 6000 years ago.” The writer then asks, “If you had no archaeology, no biology, no geology, no cosmology, no scientists, only scripture: how old would the earth appear to be?” We should, according to this letter, use the Bible as our ONLY source of the history of creation, and “throw out” all other sources of information on the earth and its origins. I have heard this stance repeated by many creationists who believe in a young earth.

There are reliable resources available to us in the search for truth concerning earth origins. Not only do we have archaeology, biology, geology, cosmology, and scientists in the 21st century, but we also have linguistic and hermeneutics experts who are able to instruct and caution us regarding nuances and pitfalls of language translation, especially, as Dr. Millam states, when spanning “cultural barriers that separate modern perspective from ancient thought.”

Young earth creationists read and interpret the ancient text as signaling the sun was created on Day 4 after three consecutive 24-hour days. Plants (Gen 1:11) were created on Day 3 before the sun even existed, they must claim. Days measured without the presence of the sun or clocks to measure hours are difficult to imagine. Old earth creationists see the atmosphere clearing sufficiently on Day 4 to make the sun clearly visible, having been created much earlier (Gen. 1:16: asa = made, the Hebrew verb indicating already completed action). Moses, therefore, must have had an “indefinite time period” concept of “day” for the first three days of creation instead of the 24-hour variety later invented by the Babylonians and Egyptians.

Placing confidence in trustworthy, correctly interpreted science is an important pathway on the journey to truth. When an entire body of scientific discovery contradicts young earth views, we must weigh our belief options seriously. Reliable scientific knowledge is never the enemy of truth discovery, either in earth history or in theology.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Scripture Science

Focus on the Family’s Truth Project is an effective worldview program which presents the scriptural foundation for God’s guidelines for man in a dozen major categories of human experience, including science. There are two lessons on science in The Truth Project’s lineup. Some of the other lesson topics offering plentiful instruction supported by biblical principles are veritology (the concept of truth), philosophy/ethics, anthropology, theology, history, and sociology.

Scriptural allusions to science topics do not consist of a neat collection of “proof texts” for God’s existence. This is not to say there are not plentiful instances of design and fine tuning wonders evident in our cosmos. Even famous atheist Richard Dawkins recognizes possible indicators of design. In 1986, he said, “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” Indicators of supernatural design are difficult to deny.

I have mused about why scripture does not more explicitly support the existence of God and His direct actions from a scientific perspective. There are impressive narratives in the Book of Job which exult in powerful natural processes. Other passages are instructive, such as Solomon’s advice to consider the ant, or devotional, such as Christ’s reminders about growth and splendor of lilies or the Father’s care for sparrows. Scottish theologian Thomas Torrance and astrophysicist Hugh Ross have proposed that scripture encourages use of elements of scientific method such as accurate sequencing of events, proper use of frame of reference, and an organized system of observation and concluding processes. One wonders, however, how inspired authors of scripture would have incorporated today’s advanced science knowledge into their writings.

Concepts of philosophy, theology, and anthropology were well developed when the Bible was written, but science knowledge was in its infancy. Modern approaches to discovery in the world of nature had not been developed, nor would formal “scientific methods” emerge for many centuries after production of the sacred canon. Our modern methods of scientific discovery illuminate scripture references to the natural world. This blog has often made the case that modern science does not contradict scripture. Instead, it expands and clarifies the meaning of scripture and bolsters belief in the agency of the Creator.