Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Objective Truth

People react to issues such as God's existence, how He acted, and when He acted in diverse ways. The existence of God, how He acted to create the cosmos, and when He acted to create it, may be regarded as objective truths. That is, no matter what we believe to be the case, some things are really true, and some things are really false.

Objective truth applies to issues of origins: Who? How? and When? The authors of most modern biology textbooks leave no doubt about how and when. Life evolved naturalistically over great time frames, they claim. Their textbooks relentlessly use terms like evolution, evolutionary, and evolved to strengthen their claims. The support for this evolutionary claim to account for the entirety of Earth's life is almost entirely based on inference. Persuasive empirical evidence is lacking, notwithstanding, for example, that microbes mutate to produce new strains. They maintain such events support belief in macro-evolution on a grand scale to account for the diversity of all life on Earth.

What is the relationship between our beliefs and objective truth? Do we subject our belief or disbelief in God, whether we believe in creation or not, and our embrace of old earth or young earth, to careful investigation? More specifically...

* Is our belief merely based on personal choice to accept or reject evidence?

* Do we overly rely on our background beliefs, such as those we were taught as children?

* Are we only accepting the judgments of others--the religious body we affiliate with, or other authories in the field of science--to govern our beliefs?

* Does personal preference take precedence over actual weight of evidence?

* Do we accept weak or inconclusive evidence to build our case?

* How important are preconceptions and biases in molding our beliefs?

* Is our opinion confused with objective truth?

* Do we take the concept of truth too lightly?

* Are we able to admit error?

Conclusions of scientists may or may not be objective truth. This includes much of what is termed "consensus science." It could include the conclusions of any well-known scientist or group of scientists. In some quarters the enterprise of science has acquired a bad reputation, particularly when the science does not support that group's belief system.

Knowledge of objective truth about God, how He acted, and when He acted can be elusive. Acquiring beliefs which correspond to objective truth is an activity encouraged by scripture. Several hundred scripture passages reference truth. Objective truth transcends opinion, bias, presupposition, and ideology. It is God's will that man discover and believe objective truth. Faith is sometimes defined as believing what is true. God's gifts to man include the means to discover objective truth.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Listener Enthusiam

Many viewers have been blessed by the ongoing John Ankerberg Show science program series. Several took time to write after the last broadcast:

* I have been watching John for some years now and have always enjoyed watching him and his guests. I have really been enjoying the Big Bang series where the scientists have "discovered there really is a God!" This series has been my favorite of all I have seen on his show. I don't see how anyone can look at God's creation and not know there was perfect intelligent design to everything." I love looking at God's creation, whether it's through the Hubble or through my eyes at night outside.

* My family enjoyed the science show so much that we are going to purchase the complete set! We are a homeschool family who both love Christ and studying science. It is nice to know that we are not alone in our intense studies of both theology and science, which inevitably intermingle. Both of my children's eyes lit up while watching your episode today! Your shows make us think, helping us expand our knowledge and understanding of the world around us.

These letters reminded me of a recurring message of our blog posts. Our pastors should be encouraged to integrate science topics in their pulpit offerings along with offerings of scriptural principles governing human affairs in many fields. For at least a decade Dr. John Ankerberg has been helping the Christian community integrate science as a support structure for their Christian belief system. Another model for such a broad-scope application of theological principles is Focus on the Family's The Truth Project. Their instructional series includes philosophy, ethics, anthropology, history, sociology, and government. Last, but by no means least, there were two full lessons on science. For me, Dr. Ankerberg's science series and The Truth Project's science segments have been heartening.

Many clergy do not feel competent to address scientific topics from their pulpits. Understandably, "pure" theology and application and interpretation of Bible events falls closer to their expertise and comfort zone. For that, they deserve high praise. Those who have a vision for the apologetic value of science should encourage theologians and pastors to enlarge their offerings to include science topics along with a wide scope of human experience themes.

With respect to science, Del Ratzsch, philosophy department chair at Calvin College, has written, "Yet concern with the natural and material does not characterize natural science alone. Theology is also deeply concerned with things and events in the physical world. In fact, God's creation of and providential governance of that world are basic theological themes." Including science in our theological discussion does not dilute our understanding of theology. Rather, it is deepened.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Listener Reaction

The current John Ankerberg Show science series continues to generate considerable interest among listeners. The series began with a discussion of the "Big Bang" and continues with topics ranging from fine tuning of the universe and life forms to the poverty of evolution and naturalistic explanations, to the agreement of scientific findings with the days of the Genesis creation account. Finally, science helps us answer some difficult theological questions.

Following are excerpts from concerns expressed in response to the current science series:

* I see no reason to accept the idea that God needed a big bang to create anything. This...appears to be conceding the idea of creation as described in Genesis to the "scientists." Is God incapable of creating the universe in 6 days?

* God stretched forth the light beams also at the same time as the universe He created. Both the light beams and stars were also created at the same time...not billions of years ago but only 6000 years ago and in one spoken moment.

* Your millions of years creation discussions we watched tonight were troubling. The truth of the first two chapters of Genesis is being contorted to agree with what "science" tells us.

* I am perplexed as to how one can reconcile the millions or billions of years since the "big bang" with the clearly stated 7-day creation of Genesis 1.

* I am shocked that you would even think that the big-bang "theory" has anything to do with the 6 days of creation!

Many people have commented that God does not "need" millions of years to create this universe or this world. Their concept of creation does not include an event of incredible magnitude such as what is now known as the Big Bang. When I taught astronomy, I referred to the Big Bang as "God's initial creative act," bringing this universe into existence. Our human judgments about what God needs or what He did not or would not do originate in thinking limited by our mortality. The brief story of creation was not meant to convey specific time frames or detailed accounts of events as we, in the 21st century, are able to do for events of our era. The central message of Genesis 1-2 is that God is the Creator of all things; therefore, we honor Him and are accountable to Him.

After we acknowledge the truth of this central message, what, then, may we say about the so-called Big Bang? A quote from Astronomy magazine, October 2007, speaks of the overwhelming accumulated evidence that a Big Bang actually occurred. "Every instant of every day, evidence that the universe began in a cosmic fireball stares us in the face." Hundreds of independent scientific tests confirm the truth of the Big Bang, intricate details of what happened, and precise knowledge about when it occurred (13.73 billion years ago). These are not mere speculations. Skilled scientists have discovered details of the sequence of events and how elements first formed. The order of events and the strength of the forces acting in those first moments had to be fine-tuned to an unimaginable degree, or else our universe could not have become the life-friendly place it is. If blind chance had been the agent there would have been no fine-tuned cosmos, then, or now.

The New International Version of the Bible speaks of hidden wisdom (I Cor. 2:7), grace given (II Tim. 1:9) and hope promised (Tit. 1:2), all before the beginning of time. These are startling verses, confirming the truth that the time and space of our universe were created by God transcendently--from outside of our cosmos. He created, out of nothing, the time, space, matter, and energy of our existence. Science has discovered many truths, and our Bible spoke about them long ago.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Science Special Series

Each time the apologetics television ministry of The John Ankerberg Show presents a series on science featuring trained theologians and scientists who accept modern findings of cosmologists and linguists concerning origins and a universe of enormous age, the ministry receives many questioning letters from listeners. I have been privileged to respond to these listener comments. Currently, Dr. Ankerberg and scholars from the Reasons to Believe ministry are in the midst of a series of five such broadcasts.

Listener concerns almost all fall under one or more of the following three categories:

(1) Opposition to the "Big Bang." Concerned listeners feel the Big Bang concept denies their Genesis 1-2 interpretation of creation as a recent event accomplished is six solar days. The term originated with steady-state cosmologist Fred Hoyle in 1950. He derisively proposed this name to ridicule the concept with which he disagreed. In the years since 1950 numerous discoveries have established the Big Bang as scientific orthodoxy. Some creationists object to the term because it implies a destructive explosion. In reality it was an event of incredible fine-tuning, triggering events governed by fine-tuning ever since.

(2) Opposition to the concept of an ancient, 4.5 billion year old earth. Concerned listeners believe scripture geneologies are essentially complete, providing the age of the earth by simple addition of life spans, despite scholarly findings to the contrary. They reject all of the substantive evidence affirming an earth of great antiquity. These listeners frequently connect lengthy time frames with belief in evolution.

(3) Opposition to the idea of any physical death in the universe before Adam's sin. Concerned listeners believe Adam's sin resulted in the initial incidence of physical death on earth. They subscribe to the theological construct that animal death before the sin of Adam undermines Christ's atoning sacrifice for man's sin. Scientific evidence for abundant death of earth's life forms extending back billions of years is summarily rejected in order to preserve this theological construct.

As I read these listener comments and questions, it is clear their concerns are motivated by several factors, including: antipathy to all science which does not confirm their beliefs; devotion to their personal, long-standing beliefs; opposition to perceived contradictions of the Bible's "plain" teachings; and marked suspicion of interpretational frameworks other than their own.

We must not minimize the powerful forces which motivate both young earth and old earth believers, and we do not question the sincerity of any of them. Sadly, the disagreements are far more serious than the diverse opinions one may encounter at a weekly Bible study over a scripture passage which may be unclear. YEC/OEC differences are often deep-rooted and intense. Sometimes they produce suspicion and mistrust. All Christians have access to the same Bible, the same depth of biblical scholarship, the same historical research, and the same scientific findings. But their conclusions about origins and creation theology diverge greatly. This divergence is a hallmark of the human factor which operates in every sphere of our experience.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Creation/ID Jury Bias

In a legal system, juries are impanelled to hear evidence and pass judgment on a case according to the facts presented. When a jury is being selected, prosecutors are entitled to a certain number of challenges enabling them to exclude certain people from the jury panel. The legal term is challenge for cause. For instance, potential jurors in a capital trial who oppose the death sentence, or who have pre-judged the guilt or innocence of the defendant may be excluded. The defendant is thereby more likely to receive a fair trial.

The recognized truth of creation or intelligent design proposals is subject to “decisions” of scientists. In the courtroom of modern science, questions involving origins are decided by scientists. The public is conditioned to accept the verdict of the scientists based on their confidence that science verdicts are reliable. Science, however, is a human enterprise. Its methods and the truth of its conclusions depend on the bias of the scientists. This blog has often praised the benefits of scientists’ discoveries. We continue to affirm them. But we must always be mindful of the pervading human element in science.

By their own admission, scientists, especially evolutionary scientists who control the public microphone and educational media, are slanted toward metaphysical naturalism, also known as philosophical or ontological naturalism. These scientists do not believe in the existence of a creator. By extension, they do not acknowledge the possibility of intelligent design in either the cosmos or in our planet’s living systems. They would always, therefore, deliver a verdict in favor of naturalism, no matter how compelling the evidence pointing to design.

Even theistic scientists tacitly operate under the governance of methodological naturalism, offering their research results as if no supernatural explanation could even be proposed as a scientifically viable account for any observed phenomenon. Naturalistic scientists justify methodological naturalism, loudly complaining that the suggestion of supernatural intervention anywhere along the timeline of history should be excluded as an unscientific “God-of-the-gaps” solution.

Scientists committed to philosophical naturalism make up the origins jury. Their pronouncements on the credibility of creation and design have been heavily reported to the non-scientist population since the days of Charles Darwin: Fiat creation and intelligent design did not occur because no creator exists; neither design nor function can be attributed to a supernatural entity. In a 1996 survey by the journal Nature, only 5.5% of biological scientists reported belief in God. In other fields of science, belief was somewhat higher, but substantial majorities expressed disbelief in God. We must acknowledge the bias of scientists serving on the origins jury. In a civil court such a jury would not be impanelled.

Another complicating factor was the “judicial” ruling of scientists that consideration of possible actions of a deity in the physical realm is a religious question and, therefore, not even within the jurisdiction of their courtroom. The question of the appropriate scope of scientific investigation is exceedingly complex.

This state of affairs may be responsible for the frequent use of an oxymoronic phrase: atheistic science. Creationists use this term to express their displeasure over the conclusions of scientists on origins questions. Science is a method for discovering knowledge. But those practicing science could be atheistic, agnostic, or theistic. In each case their scientific conclusions could be colored by their worldview.

Science as a means of acquiring knowledge has made momentous strides in the past 500 years. As a former science educator, I enthusiastically acknowledge the exciting discoveries of science. But the human element in science, neither completely negative nor completely positive, must not be overlooked.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Philosophy-driven Science

Recently I continued a long-running conversation with my cousin concerning the philosophy of science. His emailed statement merits examination: “Philosophers of science typically understand the epistemological and philosophical dimensions of science--presuppositions, values, what kinds of knowledge claims are being made and how they are justified…” He claimed the philosophers may understand this better than the great majority of scientists.

Evolutionary scientists make claims with confident certainty. They tend to disparage honest questioners as if the questions have been settled long ago. Believers in creation and intelligent design, of course, also make claims with great certainty. My cousin has inquired whether I could ever change my mind about the claims of evolutionary theory. As an evidentialist, I responded in the affirmative. I also answered that I feel the evidence for design is becoming stronger in the face of weaker inferential evidence for evolution.

Philosophers ask “What are the underlying principles of our knowledge, our belief system?” Most people inside and outside the church do not think deeply enough about what they believe and why they believe it. Their logic and reasoning are weak or break down altogether. Underlying their belief systems are numerous preconceptions and presuppositions.

One of the most significant presuppositions is the belief that God does not exist; the natural world is all there is and perhaps, all there ever was. A natural outgrowth of this presupposition is the belief, now well-established by the science community, that science cannot investigate supernatural causation in any sphere. Even discussing the possibility of such a cause and effect is excluded in the science laboratory. Those topics, they say, belong in a religious setting.

Behind this scenario is a hidden agenda. Desire for discovering truth may be subsumed under the promotion of this agenda. Daniel Dennett, an atheist philosopher of science whose writings often focus on evolutionary biology, makes no secret of the predominance of philosophy-driven modern science. Dennett writes, “Here science and philosophy get completely intertwined. Scientists sometimes deceive themselves into thinking that philosophical ideas are only, at best, decorations or parasitic commentaries on the hard, objective triumphs of science, and that they themselves are immune to the confusions that philosophers devote their lives to dissolving. But there is no such thing as philosophy-free science; there is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination.”

The Apostle Paul cautions us about the abuse of philosophy which may be in the same category as agenda-driven science. “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” (Col. 2:8 NIV) I advocate the study of philosophy to enhance our insights into truth acquisition and error avoidance. Science itself can be used in an abusive fashion or, as God’s gift, it can be used for the good of man.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Intuition and Induction

The intuitive identification of an intelligent mind at work in the design and purpose of our cosmos and the living things which inhabit it seems highly justified. From an article in Conservapedia on Intelligent Design comes this quote: “An inference of design first springs from intuition—subconscious pattern-matching that alerts the mind to a pattern that reflects a purpose or pre-existing intention.” The article continues, “Therefore, at a basic level design detection is a matter of common sense, an intuitive determination we all make based on our everyday experiences with intelligently designed things.”

Intuition is defined as “an immediate apprehension of truth, or supposed truth, in the absence of conscious, rational processes.” Intuition is an excellent starting point for our investigations of the real world, such as investigations of questions of origins. It could, or should, trigger a more formal process of investigation of our world. Some may call the more formal process an application of “inductive science,” the type of science many view as “traditional science.”

As an evidentialist, I have confidence in the function of intuition, but only as a prelude to more formal investigative processes of science, such as inductive science. Detection of the presence of intelligent design is possible along a wide range of human inquiry. For instance, in forensics, there are many instances where conclusions of intelligent design, causation, or purpose, are non-controversial. In a murder investigation, we may ask if the death was accidental, or apparently caused deliberately by the planning and actions of an intelligent agent? Archaeology provides another example. Is the excavated object merely a rock, or is it a portion of pottery apparently fashioned mindfully? And is a purpose clearly evident? If so, intelligent agency is indicated.

Those who doubt supernatural agency in designing living things with purpose and ability to function, often request physical proof for a designer, claiming evidence for a creator does not exist. They think this strengthens their assertion that creation and design proposals are not scientific. (They also exclude, by their own definition, anything from the realm of science unless it can be considered a “natural” phenomenon.)

Origins study is an example of historical science, a study of past events. No one was present to observe the events and no experimental evidence substantiates what happened. Intelligent design can be affirmed with far more certainty than can historical molecules to man evolution driven by the processes of mutation and selection. The purposeful messaging, replicating, constructing, and regulating capacities of cellular DNA are apparent for all to see. Persuasive evidence for the mechanisms of evolution is not. Broadly defined, science means knowledge--to “know.” We know intuitively and inductively. There is much to know when we examine the evidence for intelligent design in our world.