Monday, May 30, 2011

Dubious Science

The BioLogos Foundation has burst on the scene, self-described as “the leading organization dedicated to the task of showing that the natural sciences and Christianity can co-exist in a manner that is mutually supportive—each enriching the other, in a harmonious relationship.” The Foundation is also one of the leading, high profile advocates of theistic evolution. Francis S. Collins was the moving force for BioLogos’ formal launch in 2009, inspired by the intense interest generated by his 2006 publication of The Language of God (A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief). It was supported by a grant from the Templeton Foundation. Collins had become famous for spearheading The Human Genome Project, completed in 2003. It mapped the entire array of genes of the human genome from a physical and functional standpoint, marking one of the greatest scientific achievements of all time.

The peaceful co-existence and harmonious mutual enrichment of the spheres of science and faith is a noble, exciting objective. BioLogos deserves praise for pursuing this mission. I am energized by such a lofty goal and saddened by the perception of conflict between science and Christian faith. Many church leaders and church members have refrained from using science as a formal apologetic tool. Some even shy away from using object lessons from the world of science, thinking that by avoiding these subjects they could be more faithful to scripture only, an approach they deem safer and less controversial. As a former science educator, sometimes I may have overplayed my devotion to the apologetic force of science. The campaign at this level is not without risks.

What could be the objection to an organization such as BioLogos, whose stated goals have been articulated so brilliantly by its leaders? Francis S. Collins, having claimed evangelical Christianity as his personal belief system, has wielded enormous influence among some members of that community, if not in the wider community of Christians and in the secular world. As a prominent scientist, he wields enormous power in spreading his beliefs, but not without risk. Professional athletes who use their forum of fame to promote their faith run a similar risk: their fame could corrupt the substance of their message. They could even promote a false message. The doctrines promoted by people of high achievement sometimes bear little relationship to the truth of their message. This is illustrated by the fascination of the public with what celebrities do and say.

Francis S. Collins has earned the right to be a spokesman for science. Science, as an all-inclusive term, however, is one of the most misunderstood subjects in our society. If someone asked me how I view science, I would preface my answer by saying my personal career as a science educator was entirely satisfying. Then I would say that as a Christian, I view the findings of science to be powerfully supportive of my theology: Creation sings the glory of the Creator. My added caveat, nonetheless, may surprise my listeners, perhaps not seeming to play tunes from the same musical manuscript: Like any human enterprise, the practice of science is often impelled by the subjectivity of its practitioners; it is often overly driven by philosophical considerations; its conclusions may be channeled by a personal or group agenda; its findings are often filtered through the worldview of the scientists; its pronouncements are overly driven by consensus.

BioLogos Forum is one of the most high profile organizations promoting theistic evolution. Their brand of theistic evolution may be described as “extreme Darwinism” or the “strong evolutionary hypothesis.” Briefly reviewed, that means every creature, including humans, descended from common ancestors through naturalistic processes. Transcendent creation events (the miraculous origin of a species, including humans) or intelligent design as an explanation of the natural order is not part of the BioLogos organizational belief. Man himself descended from the simplest LUCA (last universal common ancestor) following the origin of life about 3.8 billion years ago. The life origins process BioLogos describes is a naturalistic process, and does not differ from the processes described by naturalistic, secular scientists in any respect.

In previous posts I have explained the naturalistic foundations of any belief in evolution, whether totally naturalistic or included under the banner of theism. In upcoming posts I will further review why I feel theistic evolution, and indeed, any evolution, is dubious science, even though it is embraced by virtually the entire scientific community. I will explain why numerous findings of secular science support a creationist perspective: sudden and unexplained appearances of diverse forms and features at a vast new level of complexity, with no antecedents in the fossil record. There is no satisfactory gradualist, evolutionary explanation for this phenomenon, so prevalent in the fossil record. These facts provide a prominent caution signal as we consider the claims of evolution under the banner of science.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Intelligent Design's Ancient Roots

Stephen C. Meyer, author of Signature in the Cell, has refocused attention on whether Intelligent Design qualifies as a scientific proposal with roots in the early history of modern science. He points to many early scientists whose investigations were motivated by recognition of design features.

 We hear incessant claims from secularists that ID is neither science nor scientific. These claims emanate from a variety of sources including theistic evolutionists. Meyer argues persuasively that both origins (historical) and operational (experimental) sciences deserve equal billing as scientific investigations. Charles Thaxton, an early proponent of design, offered these ideas decades ago. Evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould also claimed that evolution, a historical origins science, should be acknowledged as science because its scientific “testability” was tantamount to its “explanatory power.” Gould, of course, offered very different explanations of origins than Intelligent Design proponents. People who choose to believe in evolution have found Gould's arguments persuasive.

Intelligent Design also has powerful explanatory power, inherent in the term itself. But ID does not presuppose naturalism. The modern scientific community excludes it as a scientific proposal on these grounds. A large segment of the public accepts the edict of the community of scientists on the matter, obediently following them in painting ID with the brush of non-science, or even pseudoscience. Theistic evolutionists also forcefully deny Intelligent Design. Francis S. Collins, in his popular book The Language of God, zealously promotes theistic evolution to the community of creationist evangelical Christians. He says, “One does not invoke intelligent causes when undirected natural cause will do.” He opines that, “Intelligent Design is ironically on a path toward doing considerable damage to faith,” and follows that with his claim that, “It is headed instead to the bottom of the ocean.”

There are other questionable assertions made by Collins in The Language of God. He states, “While ID is presented as a scientific theory, it is fair to say that it was not born from the scientific tradition.” Unfortunately, Collins does not search back far enough to discover the roots of inspiration for the development of modern science in the early years of the Scientific Revolution. Since then, scientists were driven away from their early roots of inspiration. Sociologist Christian Smith writes that the “scientific objectivity” which became the paradigm for the pursuit of all knowledge in an academic revolution in the late 19th century, “redefined religious concerns and perspectives as irrelevant if not detrimental to the mission of higher education.”

What does this mean? From about 1870, science drifted more quickly toward naturalism. The drift eventually impacted education and other elements of our culture. Soon after the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species, actions of an Intelligent Designer no longer had much explanatory power within scientific academia. However, a study of the early years of the Scientific Revolution reveals a very different reality. Stephen Meyer, in his important 2009 volume Signature in the Cell, points out that many early scientists such as Johannes Kepler, Louis Agassiz, Carl Linnaeus, and Robert Boyle, suggested the activity of “a most intelligent and designing agent.” Isaac Newton wrote, “This most beautiful system of the sun, the planets, and comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful being.”

These statements do not prove the truth of Intelligent Design theory, but they demonstrate the inaccuracy of Collins’ claims. He incorrectly reports, “Intelligent Design burst on the scene in 1991.” Meyer counters, “Clearly, the idea of intelligent design had played a formative role in the foundation of modern science. Many great scientists had proposed specific design hypotheses. This seemed to suggest to me that intelligent design could function as a possible scientific hypothesis.” Meyer wonders why many contemporary scientists have rejected this idea out of hand.

In the last half-century of scientific discovery, evidence for design has become ever stronger with each passing year. Even secular scientists acknowledge the discovery of hundreds of fine tuning parameters possessed by our cosmos. The wonder of the DNA code and its function has been revealed to our generation. Scientists now have more justification than ever before to investigate the Intelligent Design hypothesis. But a well built roadblock labeled Naturalism Only has been erected by the science community at large. It is ironic that truth discovery may be suppressed under the banner of science.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Is Creation Fallen?

Last Sunday my worship experience was heightened by the offertory vocal This Is My Father’s World. Consider the following exultant phrases referring to the creation, especially during this month of May as the countryside springs to verdant life: All nature sings…I rest me in the thought of rocks and trees, of skies and seas—His hand the wonders wrought…The birds their carols raise…The morning light, the lily white declare their Maker’s praise…This Is My Father’s World…He shines in all that’s fair…In the rustling grass I hear Him pass…He speaks to me everywhere. Fundamental truths about how the creation speaks of the glory of the Creator are not overshadowed by the poetic talents of the lyricist.

At home after the service I reviewed the texts of a long list of titles in the hymnal’s topical index under the heading “God—Creator and Creation.” My hymnal supplies a supporting scripture passage with each of its 818 hymns. Titles such as All Creatures of Our God and King (verses 1-3), Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee (verse 2), and Let All Things Now Living (verse 2) are linked with scriptures such as Psalms 8, 19, 24, 104, 148, and Romans 1:20. John Calvin called the physical creation “the theater of God’s glory.” Psalm 139 speaks of deep truths concerning the genetic completeness of the unborn. This insight is prescient--thousands of years ahead of its time. Bio-scientists have discovered the complex secrets of genetic inheritance only in the last 50 years.

Who would not revel in this physical creation as a manifestation of God’s glory? Yet, some theologians see this creation in a very different light. One well-known evangelical minister has written “Because of sin, no part of creation now exists as God originally made it…It was spoiled…subject to God’s curse instead of His blessing.” Many evangelical theologians see creation as spoiled by sin. I must respectfully disagree. There is no scripture clearly instructing us to that effect. The human race is spoiled by sin. At least one Bible commentary claims the Romans 8:19-22 “groaning and birth pains” refers to the Jewish expectation of Messiah’s arrival as deliverer, not to a creation groaning under sin. More generally, all believers anticipate the ultimate redemption of our bodies and souls. This will occur in the New Creation described in Revelation 21-22. We will be delivered from the First Creation existing today into the future New Creation now being prepared (John 14:2).

Had the characteristics of the First Creation fundamentally changed when man initially sinned, a large array of physical changes would have occurred. This would have amounted to additional divine creation events. Genesis 2:1 states that God rested from his works of creation after heaven and earth and man were formed. In the “altered by sin” scenario, herbivorous animals would have become carnivorous animals. Molecular genetics would have been altered. Predatory behavior would have appeared for the first time. Laws governing plate tectonics and laws governing meteorological events would have changed. Earthquakes, tornadoes, and floods would have occurred for the first time, bringing potential or real death. Looking back at the long geological history of Planet Earth, such events had occurred for millions of years.

The fine tuning of our cosmos provides us with the ordered system in which we now exist. Creation brings glory to The Creator, giving us cause to worship Him. It is not a fallen creation, but this creation is inhabited by fallen man. Misguided stewardship of this creation results in human discomfort and death. We may take comfort that the future New Creation will be superior to the present creation. The New Creation will be free of discomfort and death.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

What We Don't Know

Even the secular world praises the Old Testament Book of Job as an inspired work of literature. The Liberty Bible Commentary claims, “Scholars agree that it is much easier to praise the work than to understand it.” For Bible commentators who pride themselves in making clear the interpretation of Scripture, this claim has implications. The Book of Job deals with natural tragedies--what they mean, why they occur, and perhaps broader questions of why discomfort, grief, tragedy, and sin could even exist at all. There are numerous scientific descriptions and insights. Job confessed he did not understand many of the wonders described and could not answer the questions posed.

In Chapters 38-39, God speaks to Job out of a violent storm. Earlier Job had lamented his bodily condition and his personal fall from favor. The Lord reviews creation events during the early formation of Planet Earth, asking if he understood those events or even the wonders of animal behavior. Essentially, Job was unable to give a coherent response. Perhaps this exercise was God’s way of showing Job that many of His works and ways will never be fully understood.

The violent storm of Chapter 38 (“whirlwind” in KJV) from which God spoke must have reminded Job of the meteorological disasters which had destroyed his flocks and children. Later, even his body was reduced to a pathetic, pitiful shell of its former self by Satan with God’s permission. Job was a righteous, upstanding man whose deeds did not merit retribution. In modern parlance, it was an example of bad things happening to good people. Many would be quick to proclaim that only an unfair God would allow such injustice. Much modern thinking insists that events should occur only according to our own personal concepts of right and wrong. In our day we seldom hear any of our leaders pleading for wisdom from the mind of God.

Job’s family and fortune fell victim to a probable tornado, a firestorm of some sort, attacks from Sabeans and Chaldeans, and finally, personal bodily disease inflicted by Satan (Job 1-2). These events were permitted by the Lord. If God, the Creator, is in sovereign control of our universe, we must acknowledge that any event is under his purview. Human free will is also permitted by God, operating in every human continually. If asked, every person would choose to retain free will. The same people would likely want God’s system of justice to conform to their own. This is evident in commonly heard statements that a “just” God should do this, or wouldn’t do that.

Earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, and floods have occurred in 2011 in our Second Law of Thermodynamics world, along with the far more common tranquil events. The latter outnumber the violent, tragic events by orders of magnitude. The tragic episodes have understandably received overwhelming publicity, riveting our attention for extended periods on those relatively infrequent, isolated events. Human nature craves information about bizarre and fatal incidents. Media reports of the more normal, ubiquitous life-sustaining conditions would be received with a broad, collective, public yawn.

After his possessions and family members were wiped out, Job stated “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away.” Even after his later loss of health, “Job did not sin in what he said.” After many chapters in which he debated with his friends and with God and finally yielded to God’s sovereignty, his wealth and family were replaced. His initial statement about the Lord giving and taking away could now be reversed. The events of Job 1-2 could now be said to have led to fulfilling God’s higher purpose. We may speculate on what that higher purpose was, but we may never understand it from a human standpoint. Job was not vindicated by his righteousness, but by his recognition of God’s sovereignty. God triumphs over Satan. God triumphs over evil. At the end of time, the triumph is not only in the hearts of believers, but also in an ultimate sense as outlined in the Book of Revelation 21-22.

Within God’s plan there is a purpose for natural disasters, sometimes called “natural evil.” We rightly mourn over their effects. In our wisdom, we would forbid such events. Unwelcome personal difficulties, even tragedies, provide a tempering and refining opportunity unknown to us, but known to God (Romans ). We will never fully understand tragedies such as Haiti, Japan, or Alabama, not to mention lesser tragedies. We could, however, identify with this statement of Job, uttered even before God replaced his family and possessions:

I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42:1-6 NIV)

Monday, May 9, 2011

Groaning Under Sin?

Whenever tragic natural disasters occur, particularly those resulting in loss of human life, many rush to explain those events through the lens of the sin of Adam and Eve in Eden. One website expressed this belief held by many Christians: “God created a perfect world where there were no disasters because there was no sin. This world was spoiled and changed when humanity sinned.” Romans 5:12 is an oft-quoted passage to justify the claim that physical death and by extension, fatal disasters, occur because Adam sinned: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin…so death spread to all men, because all sinned…” With belief in an ancient earth, the “no death/no disasters” creed is impossible. Throughout the lengthy geologic history of earth, there have been many natural and cataclysmic events which resulted in death and disaster for the creatures living on earth.

Scripture makes no explicit statements to support a claim of a perfect death-free and disaster-free world prior to the sin of Adam. Romans states death spread to all men because of Adam’s sin. In the context of Romans, this verse refers to spiritual death which only humans can experience. In addition, Romans 8:19-22 is offered to support a “groaning” creation. This colorful word appears in many different translations of Romans 8. Its frequent citation is an example of the dangers of “proof texting,” the use of a short passage, often a single verse, to justify the acceptance of a doctrine or belief. A contextual study of the entire book of Romans makes clear the overwhelming purpose of the book: to offer a comprehensive account of Christian doctrines related to redemption through Jesus Christ. The book of Romans speaks of man’s spiritual death and alienation from the Creator caused by sin, and outlines the God-provided remedy for that sin and death.

Broad scope scientific knowledge of the operation of our natural world produces a wide-angle picture of reality. Since the creation event of Genesis 1:1 our universe has been governed by the Second Law of Thermodynamics. That term may bewilder the average person, but it is an important, fundamental concept, wholly worthy of our effort to understand. In a sense, the universe may be said to "groan" under this law.

Our universe has a tendency to “run downhill.” Energy tends to dissipate, to become less useful. Physical systems naturally tend toward greater disorder. This tendency is manifest in hundreds of ways in our everyday life. Sanctified hermeneutical imagination leads us to propose that the "groaning" creation of Romans 5 could refer to this fundamental scientific law as a spiritual object lesson. The law has been operative since the beginning. Scientific descriptions of the Second Law may cause some people to see its operation as a “bad” thing. But without it, human existence as we know it would be impossible. We could not consume energy to power our automobiles, nor could we digest our food, to list only two examples.

New Testament scriptures deal primarily with the phenomenon of man’s spiritual disorder. But the condition of the physical creation parallels the spiritual. Romans states “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay” (NIV). Scientifically, this surprising verse is ahead of its time. It appears to refer to the termination of the physical characteristics of this universe at the onset of the New Creation of Revelation 21-22. In the spiritual realm, there are several startling verses suggesting that the spiritual redemption of man was also in the mind of God before the beginning of time (I Cor. 2:7, II Tim. , and Tit. 1:2). This implies that the omniscient God knew man, gifted with free will, would fall into sin and would need redemption. Man’s Garden of Eden sojourn of innocence likely did not last very long. Physical and spiritual decay are now both a feature of this universe. Man willfully chose his own spiritual decay; God had already imposed the physical decay long before.

The Apostle Paul lamented, in Romans 7, that even though he was redeemed by Christ, he still had a tendency to sin. He was susceptible to its harmful effects even though he was a redeemed Christian. Just as the physical creation “groaned” under the Second Law, in his flesh Paul "groaned" under the temptation to sin. He looked ahead to the New Creation of Revelation 21-22 where there would be no Second Law to govern physical reality. Neither would there be any law of sin and death (Romans 8:2).

Tragic deaths from natural disasters result from the operation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. We must be mindful, however, that the benefits of the Second Law far outweigh its harmful effects. At the original creation event, long before man was placed on this planet, God imposed the Second Law because He chose to have the universe operate that way. Some Christian authors envision our universe as it presently exists merely as a preliminary stage leading to the ultimate defeat of all sin and death--a condition yet to arrive at the onset of the New Creation.

Many cataclysmic events of prehistory provide multiple benefits to our existing civilization. Some of those events created multiple die-offs of living organisms and later forged their remains into the energy resources we extract from earth in our time. These cataclysmic, “disastrous” events were not caused by Adam’s sin. To blame natural disasters on Adam’s sin is to trivialize the greater disaster of alienation from God. Observation of natural disasters provides us with the wisdom to cope more effectively with living in a world governed by a prevalent law--the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

God Is In Control

In 1874, Mary A. Baker (1831-1921) penned a hymn which remained popular into my childhood years. The dramatic hymn “Master, the Tempest is Raging (Peace! Be Still)” posed a sharp contrast between a raging tempest and its peaceful aftermath. Even though the hymn’s imagery is that of a tempest at sea, one line refers to “The Master of oceans, and earth, and skies.” All of them, according to Baker, “shall sweetly obey Thy will…” The hymn refers to parallel New Testament passages in Matt. 8:27, Mark 4:41, and Luke 8:25. On one occasion the disciples feared for their lives while sailing on the Sea of Galilee. Christ rebuked the winds and the sea became calm. The amazed disciples wondered what kind of man could perform such a miracle.

The Old Testament relates stories of God-sent hail, fire, and windstorms. God, therefore, is able to act both as initiator and mitigator of natural disasters if He wills to do so. God possesses mastery over the natural world because He created it. But this does not mean we are free to judge a particular event in nature to be a transcendent miracle superseding the many established physical laws, or even an event carrying with it a unique message for man. Physical laws, governed by underlying physical constants, were set in place by God to provide an ordered and predictable universe at the initial creation event described in Genesis 1:1. Transcendent miracles such as the physical creation of man in God’s image, the plagues which devastated Egypt, healing the withered hand, or Christ’s bodily resurrection are unusual and infrequent events.

Most “miracles” are transformational miracles. Reasons to Believe founder and scholar Hugh Ross explains that transformational miracles occur frequently. Ross uses the term “transformational” miracles to describe geological and meteorological processes which refashion earth to make it ultimately more habitable and beneficial to man. Availability of energy resources and our climate’s ability to sustain agriculture by distributing fresh water resources are only two of many possible examples.

Transformational miracles provide some intense events understandably unwelcome. The Alabama tornadoes of April 2011 provide a poignant example. Floods, strong winds, extreme temperatures, and seismic events related to plate tectonics cause temporary grief and even loss of life. An effort to understand the broader picture surrounding these events proves productive. For example, our earth’s equator receives a great deal of solar energy compared with Polar Regions. Heated air rises and flows toward the poles. Polar air flows back toward the equator, twisted and turned by a rotating earth. This brief account describes a complex interaction of warm, cold, moist and dry air. Most of the time, our weather is placid and mild, or changeably interesting. But on occasion, such interactions result in violence and tragedy. Nature obeys God’s changeless physical laws.

To suggest that God sends natural tragedies to reward us for sin may be tantamount to pronouncing that God’s blesses the practices of a pagan society’s farmers when rain waters their crops. Both statements may be regarded as non sequiturs. We would be remiss, however, not to acknowledge that God is ultimately in control of our world. The truth of this statement is manifest in multiple ways each day if we make the effort to study in depth and appreciate the processes of the physical world God has created. Mankind is gifted with the scientific ability to understand the characteristics of the world we inhabit, to avoid the dangers it poses, and to wisely harness God’s ordained laws for our benefit and enjoyment.

Within this context we may understand the deeper meaning of Genesis 1:28: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it.”