Saturday, December 31, 2011

Fundamental Changes?

Some creationists propose that from the time the creation was completed by God as described in Genesis 1, it has undergone some fundamental changes in its physical operation. They argue these changes occurred as a result of man’s sin and subsequent alienation from God in the Garden of Eden after a period of sinless innocence of unknown duration. This idea appears frequently in the writings of creationists who believe the earth is only six to ten thousand years old.

No one knows the duration of man’s innocence before the introduction of sin into the fabric of man’s experience. The Genesis 1 account of the creation of “living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds” also tells of the creation of “man in our image, after our likeness.” All of these events take place on day six of the creation narrative. Theologians tell us “in our (God’s) image” means man is a willful, intellectual, rational, moral, and spiritual being. As the only living being created in God’s image, man is distinct from all animals.

Based on the many events of day six described in Genesis 1:24-31, we may confidently conclude the time elapsed was substantial. Toward the end of that time frame the Genesis passage reviews the general instructions God gave to the humans created on day six. They were to be fruitful and multiply. They were to fill the earth and subdue it. They were to have dominion over every living thing.

The second chapter of Genesis shifts its narrative focus. It is a day seven account occurring after all God’s acts of creation were complete. It relates more detail of the creation of Adam. It tells of his placement into the garden of Eden God had prepared (Gen. 2:8). Adam was instructed to work and keep the garden, eat certain plant foods, and avoid eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam was given the task of naming the beasts of the field and the birds of the heavens. Finally, to Adam’s delight, Eve was created.

Then comes the heartbreaking story of the initial human fall into sin and man’s alienation from God. Satan the tempter was cursed and life would become far more difficult for Adam and Eve than ever before as a result of their new fallen, sinful state. They would eventually die a physical death. Their spiritual death, far more serious, was already a reality.

Three brief chapters do not answer even a small fraction of questions we may have concerning earth and human history. The Genesis 1-3 passage provides information God considered essential for us to know: God created the universe and all living things on earth, and sadly, man fell into sin of his own free will. Given my personal choice, I would want a library of many inspired volumes detailing creation events answering when? how? and where? questions and a host of others. In God’s wisdom the creation narrative is quite succinct.

Many sincere Christians delight in dramatizing the effects of the fall of man into sin. They say it has resulted in animal death and animal predation which did not exist before the fall. In addition, they claim the physical laws governing the operation of nature’s geological and meteorological forces have been altered to permit violent, tragically fatal earthquakes and storms which would not be a part of our world had sin not been injected into the cosmic mix. They assert that a loving, all-powerful, good God should not and would not permit suffering and death for any of His created creatures. Their comments apply to the world they suppose existed for the limited time before the spiritual fall of Adam and Eve. But even in that short-lived world, if it existed as they suppose, it would be difficult to realistically envision a condition where no death or no decay were possible for any creature.

The great age of the earth has been established by sound mainstream science using dozens of independent methods. This is not godless, atheistic science. Wholesale death is evident in the record of paleontology among countless quadrillions of creatures within tens of millions of species existing on earth since life forms suddenly appeared 3.8 billion years ago. Suffering and death of our favored pets or beautiful wildlife are not conditions we wantonly celebrate. But to negate a divine purpose for events we cannot begin to understand with merely human wisdom is to set ourselves above the wisdom and purposes of God. The world of Genesis 1 was described as good or very good on multiple occasions by God as He looked upon His completed works. Such is the world we inhabit yet today.

Hugh Ross, in a new volume entitled Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job (Baker Books 2011) reports his startling perspective: “If I were to name one controversy with greater power to inflame passions than all others associated with creation, evolution, and judgment, it would have to be whether any animals experienced death prior to Adam and Eve’s sin. In my experience this issue is far and away the most divisive aspect of the dispute over the age of the earth and length of creation days.” If the No Death before the Fall paradigm of our young earth fellow Christians is accepted as factual reality, it is then an easy step for them to allow an earth only several thousand years old.

Genesis 1-3 speaks of the role of God as Creator of all things. In brief, it also speaks of man’s fall into sin and the consequences of that fall. We may rejoice in scientific discovery of how God has designed the cosmic operating system of our current dimension of time. In modern times our God has lovingly provided multiple opportunities for the discovery of “…the fixed laws of heaven and earth” (Jeremiah 33:25).     

Friday, December 23, 2011

Psychological Arrow of Time

Time may be considered either a coffee table discussion topic or an esoteric subject of interest mainly to scientists and philosophers. Coffee table conversationalists sometimes say, “Time flies!” or they complain about their day “dragging.” Similar comments are meant to poke fun at our subjective state of mind. But we all know the passing of time is inexorably steady.

Scientists are fascinated by the first two popularly discussed arrows of time: thermodynamic and cosmological. They relate to two overwhelming descriptive physical characteristics of our universe--ongoing decay, and ongoing expansion. A third arrow of time may also be of interest to the psychologist. It is called, appropriately, the psychological arrow of time. Humans remember their past, accumulating more memories of past events as they age. We do not remember the future, but we have an innate sense that time moves linearly from our memory-rich past to our memory-absent future. We could diagram this process using an arrow moving left to right across the page.

Popular agnostic physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking agreed that our present existence is dominated by our linear, forward-moving time dimension. Hawking and others are also fascinated by another time dimension he named imaginary time. Some scientists diagram time concepts showing two perpendicular lines. Our present time dimension is represented by a line moving only left to right, past to future. It is intersected by a perpendicular line crossing at only one point, the present. That perpendicular represents imaginary time which could travel infinitely far in either direction, not just one direction as required by our time dimension, “limited” as it is by a beginning and an ending.

This idea has promise for suggesting how our dimension-enriched God could operate and interact with humanity. His time dimensions (let’s call them imaginary) could operate outside our dimensions, but also at any point within our time dimension. The incarnate Christ willingly operated within our time dimension, but after His resurrection He also operated in other time dimensions, without the limits our restrictive time dimension imposes. This could explain many post-resurrection appearances and miracles.

For the present, humanity must be content with the opportunities and limitations of our present time dimension. We must be content to observe the progression of the psychological arrow of time and its relationship with the other arrows. Our present is positioned between a retrospective past and an anticipated future. This universe has experienced a beginning, and therefore a beginning of our time dimension. Scripture also states our arrow of time points to a conclusion of time as we know it. Consider this majestic passage: “Lord, in the beginning you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. Even they will perish, but you remain forever. They will wear out like old clothing. You will roll them up like an old coat. They will fade away like old clothing. But you are always the same; you will never grow old” (Hebrews -13 NLT).

This Hebrews passage cites the beginning and ending of our time frame. It also states God is changeless. He existed before He “laid the foundation of the earth” and was the pre-existing Cause of the created order. He is “always the same.” God “will never grow old.” If there is such a thing as imaginary time, this passage illustrates it. Many scripture translations use the phrase “everlasting to everlasting” to describe God in Psalm 90:2. The arrow of time in the dimension where God abides has no beginning or end. These ideas would provide for interesting conversation around a very large urn of coffee.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cosmological Arrow of Time

The cosmological arrow of time signals a constantly expanding universe. As we observe this phenomenon we have a sense of time moving forward. Our universe was smaller in time past; as it grows larger we move into the future. This observable fact logically points to the inescapable conclusion that our universe had a beginning. Scripture indicates God created everything that exists at the beginning--matter and energy along with our dimensions of space and time.

The Bible refers to the “stretching out” of the heavens at least eleven times in five different Old Testament books. Theologians and scientists who regard themselves as concordists would claim these passages refer to the modern discovery of the early 20th century that the universe undergoes continual expansion. Concordism is the belief that scripture and scientific facts may be harmonized. Strong concordists would claim that a passage such as Isa. 45:12, “…My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts,” is a statement of scientific fact. The meaning of the “stretching out” imagery seems unmistakable.

Expansion of the universe at a precise rate provides the opportunity for life on Planet Earth and the eventual arrival of humans. Not only does the expansion enable us to sense the passage of time, but it also provides exact conditions without which life of any sort would be impossible. Expansion rates since the creation event could not have been even slightly less or slightly greater. The required precision of the expansion rate is dependent on the mass density of the matter originally created. Because all matter possesses gravitational attraction, too much or too little matter (mass) present since the beginning creation event would in turn cause too little or too much gravitational braking following the Big Bang creation event. For roughly half of the universe’s existence, the expansion rate was gradually slowing.

In recent years another discovery has been made relating to the expansion of the universe. A mysterious “dark energy” is now acting to accelerate the expansion of our universe. The same rules apply for the required rate of expansion. It now appears the precision required for life-sustaining expansion is even greater than in the former decelerating universe. The term precision acquires new meaning in this context. The precision required is exponentially greater than for any physical system man has ever devised.

Had the expansion rate been slightly greater no planets, stars, or galaxies could have formed at the right times and places. The universe would contain only diffuse gas and dust. This scenario would have resulted from too little mass density. On the other hand, had the expansion rate been slightly less only life destroying giant stars and black holes would have formed because too much mass was present. Someone may ask, “How much extra mass is too much, or too little?” The answer: Less than the mass of a single dime in the entire universe.

If I were teaching this concept to young people I would make use of sports analogies. When we shoot a basketball toward the hoop, a too-short or too-long attempt results in failure. The shot distance must be accurate within a small range. When we swing at a baseball, an under swing of a few millimeters results in a fly ball out; an over swing of a few millimeters results in a ground ball out. Only a near perfect swing results in a home run. Most successful athletic outcomes demand similar precision. The young person should understand that the precise expansion rate required for a successful universe is many billion times greater than the precision required in an athletic contest.

Dozens of other characteristics of our planet must be fine-tuned to an unimaginable degree. We are discovering many additional fine tuning requirements for life with each passing year. This degree of fine tuning points to the Master Designer. In the demanding swirl of life’s mundane events, many people find such information incomprehensible or boring. Others discover new ways to worship the God of Creation and to understand the beauty of His loving provision for man.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

2nd Law Outcomes

Statements from skeptics that a loving, benevolent God should not permit decay, pain, suffering, evil, or death do not indicate their basic understanding of the advantages of living in a world governed by the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. Such declarations are motivated by their desire to incriminate God. Scientists, in particular, should be among the last to decry the benefits of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics frontloaded by the Creator into the operating system of our universe at its beginning.

The 2nd Law is sometimes called the Law of Decay. What, we may ask, could be good about a universal tendency for systems to decay, for ordered things to become less ordered? The skeptics, putting themselves in the place of God, sometimes ask why God did not create, according to their guidelines, a “perfect” world where no decay, pain, suffering, evil, or death could exist.

On another level, what could be good about having to keep a garden in order? or maintaining good relationships with our family? or avoiding conflicts with neighbors? or preventing any type of suffering? or working for the good of others? In the perfect world demanded of God by skeptics, there would be no responsibility to exercise human free will or autonomy because every good action would already be pre-accomplished for us. Human free will is a gift of enormous value from our Creator. Such lack of responsibility would not prove personally satisfying.

Human autonomy, and the autonomy of our physical cosmos to operate with the purpose for which God created it, is a double-edged gift. The benefits of the 2nd Law are overwhelmingly positive for the human race. There are virtually no human physical activities which do not involve some application of energy consumption, energy conversion, or energy flow which are not an illustration the Law of Decay. Too often we cite our deteriorating automobiles, homes, or bodies as a deleterious effect of this law. Indeed, these situations are unwelcome handicaps. In other examples, the 2nd Law enables us to think, digest food, stay warm, work, and travel from place to place.

One outcome of the operation of the 2nd Law is the depressing deterioration of our physical bodies and our ultimate death. We would do well not to trivialize the tragic impact of the death of our physical body. Many Christian writers attribute death--the death of all creatures--to the sin of our first parents in the Garden of Eden. Credible scriptural support for this concept is lacking. In the scope of God’s plan for this temporal sphere of existence, scripture indicates the sin of Adam resulted in the spiritual death of all men. Animal death is not indicated: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” (Rom. ESV). The context of Romans 5 is spiritual death and reconciliation. Animals do not sin, so their death could not have resulted from their own sin. Moreover, animal life and death had existed on this earth long before Adam--for many millions of years. Plentiful microbial death on the early earth was the outcome of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics operating since creation. This large scale death has provided generous resources for the sustainment and enrichment of our modern life.

Instructive discussions of these issues have been provided in Why the Universe is the Way It Is by Hugh Ross (Baker Books, 2008): “This universe with all its features, laws, and dimensions represents the perfect theater for enactment of God’s redemptive drama. By its physical constraints, God limits the spread of evil, encourages the spread of virtue, and demonstrates his great love for humankind. According to the Bible, this temporal universe provides an essential proving ground to test each human heart (in the spiritual sense) and prepare those who pass the test for life in a completely new realm, one that includes all the features we long for and more—the perfection we can barely imagine.”

Why would an all loving God subject humans to “the tribulations and tragedies of this present world?” Hugh Ross continues, “One partial answer may be that if evil and suffering are temporary and humans eternal, then each person’s encounters with these troubles and griefs may serve as preparation for some high reward not possible otherwise. This consideration might also imply that humans are part of God’s strategy to bring about a total and permanent triumph of good over evil.”

Finally, Hugh Ross asks, “Why didn’t God just place Adam and Eve in the New Creation to start with?” Ross continues, “It appears that unless humanity is exposed to and tested by the greatest possible temptation, the most compelling attraction of evil, in the first creation—the rewards, pleasures, and relationships of the new creation cannot be made both perfect and permanent.”

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Time and the 2nd Law

Stephen Hawking discusses three arrows of time in his popular 1988 volume A Brief History of Time and subsequent updates. He defines an arrow of time as “something which distinguishes the past from the future, giving a direction to time.” One of the three is the thermodynamic arrow of time. The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is one of the most fundamental characteristics of our created universe. It has operated in the past and still operates in our present, giving us a sense of time moving relentlessly forward. Our understanding of this law helps us comprehend how God established the operational rules for our universe at the initial creation event.

God set up the time dimension of our universe at the creation event described in Genesis 1:1. It stands to reason that the creator of our time dimension would also create other fundamental characteristics to enable successful operation of our universe. In particular, He established abundant life-friendly characteristics. The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, also known as the Law of Decay or the Law of Entropy, serves as an umbrella for hundreds of other life-friendly characteristics.

The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics states a fundamental reality. In our cosmos, all systems naturally proceed from a state of higher organization to a state of lower organization. Paint ages and peels; plants die and decay; hot water cools. Sometimes an apparent increase in order in an isolated system results from a reduction of order in some other system. Total order of the combined systems is reduced. For example, restoring an old, broken down, deteriorated automobile in the repair shop results in a localized increase of order when we look at the finished, restored vehicle, but the resources of the repair shop and outside vendors are diminished. When we look at the overall picture, the Law of Decay operates.

In this case, the Law of Decay (a reduction in the usefulness of resources) sounds like a bad thing. In this instance the Law of Decay works to our advantage. The owner of the restored vehicle may now drive down the street proudly, consuming fuel as he travels along. The gasoline is reduced to exhaust vapors and becomes useless as its heat energy dissipates, but it has provided a mode of transportation. The owner of the restored vehicle is happy to make these sacrifices.

Another example is provided by the consumption of food by living things. Food is a highly concentrated source of energy. As our bodies digest and otherwise metabolize food products, energy is produced. We are able to think, stay warm, and move about. The Law of Decay again works to our advantage. If the law did not operate, neither would we. One college biology professor, in his supplementary notes to students, stated if the process of energy transformation to lower states did not take place the organism would be dead!

Do we live in a world of decay? Yes, we do. For the most part, however, the Law of Decay works to our advantage throughout our lives. Carried to the law’s ultimate conclusion, eventually all organisms die. This includes the heartbreaking deaths of human beings. We function in the ongoing, linear dimension of time where the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics functions constantly. Stephen Hawking states the inexorable progression of increasing disorder helps us sense the passage of time: “Disorder increases with time because we measure time in the direction in which disorder increases.”

Holy Scripture deals with the subject of our universe’s bondage to decay in Romans 8:18-25. The Apostle Paul may or may not have been thinking in a modern scientific manner in this passage. He could have combined common sense observations of increasing disorder in his physical world with spiritual insights he had received by revelation. It is quite certain that “…our present sufferings are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us” refers to our present existence compared with our future existence in an eternal, perfect, new-dimensional existence. The colorful imagery of “…the whole creation groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time (Rom. 8:22) could apply to our future deliverance from 2nd Law physics to a future New Creation reality where our current physics will no longer exist.

Decay and death have been present on this earth from the initial creation to the present. God created the Law of Decay as surely as He created our dimension of time. The decay has resulted in many beneficial energy transformations; the death of quadrillions of creatures has resulted in production of plentiful resources for our modern life. Of course, the deaths of billions of humans created in the image of God are not events to celebrate. Such deaths do, however, represent deliverance from conformity to the 2nd Law to something even better and more glorious yet to come for the redeemed in Christ.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

From Start to Finish

Jesus Christ’s startling utterance “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 22:13) could not refer to the beginning and ending of Christ’s existence, for He is eternal. Rather, the passage refers to the beginning and ending of this present dimension of time in which Christ “holds all creation together” (Col. 1:17 NLT). Christ pervades all past, present, and future reality. He brought the matter and energy of our universe into existence as well as its dimensions of space and time. He unfurled the dimension of time at the start and He will roll it back up at the finish when time as we know it will end. In this sense He is the Alpha and the Omega.

Scientists have diverse and fully persuasive evidence that the beginning of time as we know it occurred 13.73 billion years ago. God in three persons existed before time began and was uncreated. This proposal does not yield to any rational human explanation. The uncreated God is the cause of our created cosmos. Time is linear in our cosmos. This means time proceeds in one direction with causes preceding their effects. Humans have the feeling of time slipping from one moment to the next. Within time we are always in the present even though we may contemplate the past and the future.

Some people do not care to contemplate these matters. Others speculate philosophically on issues such as “circular time” which allow for possible reincarnation or experiencing the future before the past. This is suggestive of a philosophy termed “eternalism” in contrast with “presentism” which views the present moment moving into the future, leaving the past behind. This was the view of early church theologian and philosopher Augustine (354-430 AD). He also conceived of God as transcendent, outside of time, as well as existing within our time dimension.

This esoteric discussion may be more important than the average church member realizes. If Jesus Christ created the time dimension in which we live, giving it a beginning and an ending, He must also have had a divine plan for the operation of matter and energy within our created dimensions of space and time. Secular science findings may enlighten us with respect to the characteristics of time and the realm in which we live. Many modern findings of science dovetail with scripture insofar as scientific issues are touched upon by the authors of sacred scripture.

An example is provided by a popular 1988 runaway best-seller authored by brilliant agnostic physicist Stephen Hawking. In A Brief History of Time Hawking’s Chapter 9 is titled “The Arrow of Time.” In a future post I will address his discussion of three different “arrows of time.” These are defined as “…something that distinguishes the past from the future, giving a direction to time.” Each of Hawking’s arrows of time could be connected with concepts mentioned in scripture about how our universe operates.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Bookends of Time

We are firmly embedded between the “bookends of time.” The “books” between the bookends contain a record of events in our temporal sphere--earth history from the creation event until the present as well as events yet to come before the end of this present age. The arrival of the New Creation described in scripture brings an end to our current time frame and ushers in a timeless eternity. We might also describe the events of the pre-Genesis creation account as timeless.

From a scientific perspective the beginning and ending of our present dimension of time is not a far-fetched concept. Secular scientists agree that our present time dimension originated at the initial creation event of this cosmos. Many scientists are distressed at the idea that time had an actual beginning. This acknowledgement carries with it a tacit admission that there was also a Beginner. The concept of a Beginner runs counter to the secular reasoning that everything in our universe may be explained naturalistically. The troubling reality of a Beginner lurks inescapably as secularists contemplate the reality of the beginning of time, space, matter, and energy. Likewise, any discussion about the end of time may provoke a feeling of unease.

Many cosmologists have referred to the separation of three space dimensions and one time dimension from ten or more dimensions an instant after the Big Bang creation event. We could call this the “beginning of time.” The remaining dimensions still exist but remain tightly curled up, inaccessible to us. They are not a part of our human experience of dimensionality.

What about the “end of time?” Chapter 21 of the Book of Revelation tells us our time dimension ends at the onset of the New Creation. The experience of God’s redeemed people in the New Creation will be unimaginably different from the here and now. Speculation on the quality of our existence in the New Creation is woefully inadequate. We know there will be no sorrow, death, crying, pain, or evil. The pleasures of this timeless eternity will be far beyond our present ability to comprehend.

Since the 1960s when Big Bang cosmology replaced steady-state theory, scientists nearly all agree that time had a beginning. But they may have more problem with the concept of the end of time as we know it. Scripture such as Isaiah 34:4 speaks of the heavens being “rolled up like a scroll.” Most theologians agree that Isaiah is apocalyptic, referring centuries in advance to the end times described again in the book of Revelation. The imagery of Isaiah and Revelation 6:14 is reminiscent of secular cosmologists’ descriptions of the uncurling of space and time dimensions at the beginning of time. At the end of time the “curling” of dimensions is reversed: in Isaiah and Revelation the spatial dimensions of the sky are “rolled up.” Time comes to an end.

The verses of Isaiah and Revelation are not offered as proof texts. They are, nevertheless, suggestive: “And the sky was rolled up like a scroll and taken away. And all of the mountains and all of the islands disappeared.” (Revelation NLT), God created our time dimension. Time had a beginning; time will have an end. Jesus Christ said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” (Revelation 22:13)