Why focus on emergentism, a term obscure to most people who profess interest in science? Many initially profess their interest in science. When interested adults discover that some science concepts are difficult and obscure instead of merely interesting and fascinating, they sometimes shrink back. Young people pose a similar scenario. Young children have a natural curiosity concerning events in their environment. Parents and science teachers must insure they do not become overly pedantic with young children. The result could smother the child’s natural tendency to question and thereby hinder the budding scientist.
Adult non-scientists may react to the difficult scientific concept of emergentism in a similar way. John Polkinghorne, a physicist who later became a theologian, has thoughtfully connected many difficult concepts such as emergence and reductionism in two fields of knowledge--science and theology. He has written about reductionism in which a complex system is nothing but the sum of its parts. That is, accounts of everyday phenomena can be “reduced” to accounts of its individual constituents. Everyday examples include events in our kitchens or the workings of our automobiles. If some things are working well (or poorly), there is a cause and effect sequence responsible for their workings. If the meal burns or the automobile stalls, there are causes and effects. We are, therefore, reductionists.
Consider acquired human knowledge in life science. Polkinghorne says although the observable universe contains ten sextillion stars, cosmology is a great deal simpler than human biology. For many questions we pose in life science, we are reductionists. We reduce an effect to a cause occurring at a lower level in the event sequence. In many cases, reductionism functions effectively to explain events. High level events are explained by events at a lower level. In other cases reductionism proves completely inadequate to explain reality.
We now introduce a more difficult science concept. The “emergentism” model had its origin back in the nineteenth century. The Standard Encyclopedia of Philosophy says, “…emergent entities (properties or substances) ‘arise’ out of more fundamental entities and yet are ‘novel’ or ‘irreducible’ with respect to them.” The encyclopedia continues with the example that “consciousness is an emergent property of the brain.” Human consciousness is not “reducible” to the activity of atoms and molecules in the brain. It is fundamentally a mystery. Claiming that consciousness “emerges” does not explain the phenomenon; it merely describes it.
The sudden origin of life and the sudden appearance of new species on earth are additional examples of emergence. Bio-science literature frequently repeats principles describing emergence. For instance: Complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. Also, complex systems, novel and coherent, “self-organize” into novel and coherent systems. Another example: “Sudden evolution.” In the geological history of the earth, paleontologists would describe most evolutionary events as “sudden,” affirming to the record of paleontology told by fossils. Gradual evolution is not a feature of the history of earth life.
Naturalistic scientists poke fun at theistic beliefs held by creationists. They insist upon naturalistic explanations and strive to achieve them. What accounts, therefore, for abrupt changes in complexity in the phenomena of the natural world? Theistic believers leave the door open for belief in occasional miracles of divine intervention. But there are no scientific explanations for divine intervention according to the naturalistic view of science because naturalistic scientists investigate onlynatural phenomena.
Sociologist Christian Smith has written in The Secular Revolution on the subject of the struggle between religious and secular activists for institutional control and authority over the broad field of science. The Christian view of God as Creator permits miraculous interventions in our temporal sphere. Theistic scientists acknowledge some miraculous interventions along the timeline of earth history. Naturalistic scientists, on the contrary, rule such acknowledgements out of bounds. The interventions accord with the scientific search for truth, nonetheless. “What really happened?” is a perfectly valid question for the scientist. Sadly, this question is often subsumed under the philosophy of the strict worldview of scientism.
Many authors have commented on the interplay among science, theology, and philosophy. They have wrestled with these related issues in countless volumes of commentary, asking how science relates to theology. Scientific definitions and descriptions of reductionism and emergence connect with the laws and activity of the Creator. Questions and answers on these topics should engage thoughtful Christians at a profound level.
One colorful English language word has become obsolete as a scientific term. Vitalism was never a theological term used to describe the essence of life God implanted in all living things. It was thought instead to embody a mysterious non-physical principle distinct from physiochemical forces. Early scientists used it to describe organic substances. They thought living material had a vital principle inorganic chemicals did not possess. Another colorful term was élan vital, coined by French philosopher Henri Bergson in 1907.
Humanity has the ability to contemplate mysteries of our universe, including its existence, how it originated, how it sustains itself from moment to moment, and humanity’s place in this temporal sphere. Hundreds of other questions spin off from these basic queries. The unique characteristics of living things is but one example.
We inhabit a nearly infinitely miniscule corner of our enormous universe. Human inhabitants inquire, “Is there a God who created this universe in all its grandeur and immensity? Does he sustain its function? Is he involved in the lives of humanity? What special quality separates living creatures from non-living in this miniscule corner of the cosmos?” Such questions occur only in the neural structures of the human brain. Similar inquiries do not occur in neural structures of any other living creatures populating our solar system. We are unique in this type of inquiry.
What essential difference exists between living things and non-living things?The quantity of matter supporting life on our Earth is vanishingly small when we consider the quantity of matter in the universe which supports no life. Scientists describe life and life processes better than they explain it. We repeat the characteristics of life found in most biology textbooks. It is far more descriptive than explanatory: Living things (1) are organized into cells, (2) manifest metabolism--processes of energy use for construction or breakdown, (3) respond to stimuli, (4) have homeostasis--the ability to maintain their internal stability, (5) grow and develop, (6) reproduce, and (7) change and adapt.
After reviewing a large volume of material it is apparent most life scientists search out a naturalistic cause and effect for virtually every function manifest in living things. Many life processes yield their secrets to this inquiry, but many do not. Reductionism (see previous post) is adequate for many explanations. Many fundamental secrets of life, however, remain unanswered. Bio-scientists confess that many life processes are clothed in fundamental mystery.
In the 19th century the well-established concept called “vitalism” was endorsed by many bio-scientists. Essentially it posited that a “vital spark” or “something special” existed in living things. Vitalists were not necessarily theists proposing God’s sustaining power. They claimed all living things had materials or substances giving them special properties of “aliveness.” The term has fallen completely out of favor among today’s bio-scientists. Daniel Dennett, science philosopher and evolutionary scientist says, concerning vitalism, “The insistence that there is some big, mysterious extra ingredient in all living things—turns out to have not been a deep insight but a failure of imagination.”
The Creator infused the “breath of life.” (Genesis 2:7) We do not subscribe to vitalism as did many biologists the last few hundred years. Naturalistic and theistic scientists alike, however, both acknowledge special qualities living things manifest which non-living things do not. The tiny fraction of physical matter on Planet Earth comprising living things possesses a quality clearly demarcating living from non-living matter. We no longer use the term vitalism, but living matter is distinct from non-living matter. The Creator supplied the “breath of life” for living matter. Modern scientists step around this mystery. They prefer to propose the principles of reductionism or cite the mysteries of “emergent properties”of living things, mysterious properties which emerge at a previously unknown level of complexity.
Broad topics should be approached with cautious care. Scientific reductionism is such a topic. Characteristics of living things is a multidimensional topic often connected with the concept of reductionism. We’ll begin with the characteristics of living bacteria which began suddenly to inhabit the earth several billion years ago. So far as we know, living things exist only in our Solar System. Planet Earth is the only known life site. Scientists agree that life on earth began suddenly several billion years ago in our water world--morphologically simple, but bio-chemically complex life such as bacteria. Scientists have not solved the problem of life’s origin on Planet Earth on the strength of methodological naturalism. They continue, however, to propose a naturalistic explanation for the initial self-assembly sequence of billions of atoms and molecules in bacteria.
One bacterium contains 100 trillion atoms according to one estimate. Morphologically simple in terms of earth’s most primitive life means a single celled bacterium is a relatively simplestructure (except when we carefully inspect the internal structures of the cell). The way the 100 trillion chemical atoms are arranged, however, describes complexity--“biochemical complexity.” Bacterial DNA is bio-chemically complex, not simple. One genus of bacteria contains “only” 159,662 base pairs of DNA and “only” 182 genes. Most bacteria have many more.
What do bacteria have to do with reductionism, we ask? Most definitions of reductionism say, “Everything is to be explained in terms of its smallest constituent parts.” We characterize reductionism as an “explanation” of bacterial life to be somewhat startling. There is so much more unexplainable mystery to the existence of life even at this level of simplicity. Most “explanations” are inadequate descriptions of complex processes or structural complexity, the subject of ongoing research. Understanding structure and function are vital components of the science process. Understanding how a machine works or how a structure functions is a different story entirely.
To explain the underlying forces and energy which caused early earth bacteria of 3.8 billion mya to produce today’s mineral resources from a few simple chemical elements is beyond our capability to adequately explain. To propose that atoms and molecules of early earth bacteria are the “constituent parts” enabling us to understand the essence of how bacterial processes “worked” (and still work) is more descriptive than explanatory. The life forms on Planet Earth as they have appeared in subsequent eons, likewise, seem to obey a mandate beyond the mere physical interactions of atoms and molecules--their smallest constituent parts. Our concern as creationists is the inadequacy of methodological naturalism to arrive at a naturalistic explanation for the unique properties manifest by our earth’s life forms, from simple bacteria to complex humanity. The mystery is much deeper.
Reductionism in its purest form is a naturalistic pillar upon which naturalistic scientists depend. Many scientists struggle to overcome the stigma of scientific reductionism which some Christians use to heap scorn on the endeavor of mainstream science. Reductionism, if defined as a strong component of the scientific principle of cause/effect, can be useful in gathering truth concerning our world. But we must guard against oversimplification with cautious wisdom.
Neurophysiologist Sir John Eccles (1903-1997) maintained “…that the human mystery is incredibly demeaned by scientific reductionism, with its claim in promissory materialism to account eventually for all of the spiritual world in terms of patterns of neuronal activity. This belief must be classed as a superstition…we have to recognize that we are spiritual beings with souls existing in a spiritual world as well as material beings with bodies and brains existing in a material world.”
“Something special” sets living things apart from non-living entities in the physical world. Not only is this true in the spiritual world, but also in physical processes as well. We revel in the “special” trait, feeling that the Creator has implanted a “special” quality to living creatures not attributable to “reductionism.” Ultimately, we discover many scientifically unknowable facts pointing to the work of the Creator.
Hebrew scholars have identified 754 uses of the noun nephesh in scripture. A majority of these uses are translated soul in our English Bible. There are a number of other translations. Soul probably comes closest to the correct meaning for most readers of scripture. We resist the temptation to define the term in English, not to mention the complexities of Hebrew. Suffice to say the term soul extends to a defining characteristic beyond mere physical life--that “something special” possessed by many life forms. Most people may agree that soul is a characteristic of most pets and domesticated animals, but the human possession of spirit (let’s call it God-consciousness), sets humans apart from even the most soulish of animals. The categories of body, soul, and spirit, help us distinguish between simple life forms without a soul, more advanced life forms with body and soul, and humanity in possession of body, soul, and spirit.
Nephesh describes an array of life-forms which manifest a combination of intellect, will, emotion, and volition. These characteristics did not characterize the simple life which persisted before the Cambrian Explosion nor did such characteristics apply to the many complex creatures which appeared suddenly at the onset of the Cambrian Explosion, 530 mya. Moreover, in the approximately 400 million years following the Cambrian Explosion, most animals did not possess soulish characteristics. Many animals of the Cenozoic period, extending from the extinction of the dinosaurs, 66 million years ago until the present, may be most clearly categorized as soulish.
Reasons to Believe scholar Hugh Ross has produced provocative thinking about soulishness in animals and the origin of this characteristic. Ross defines the Hebrew verb bara as a special category of God’s creative activity: the transition from non-existence to existence. In Genesis 1 the verb is used for the creation of the universe (verse 1), the creation of soulish animals (verse 21), and the creation of humans (verse 27). The creation of soulishness, therefore, is in a special category. Evolutionists consider the acquisition of this characteristic a gradual outcome of an evolutionary progression, an outcome explained by natural processes. Evolutionists consider “advances” in earth’s creatures as gradual changes in degree, a slow accumulation of traits having origins in prior generations. Creationists, on the other hand, see soulishness as a divine, creative innovation supernaturally imparted to certain animals but not to others.
Some evolutionary scientists note the discontinuity with respect to cognitive abilities in animals, and between animals and humans. Evolution does not explain the phenomenon. They see the evolutionary notion of cognitive continuity as an error. We broaden our proposal as follows: Our Creator has implanted a special trait in many created animals. The trait has been termed “soulishness.” The soulish trait is actually the product of a transcendent miracle, not the product of an ill-defined, gradual evolutionary process.
Hugh Ross has catalogued the “Top Ten Nephesh” from Job 38-39 for special attention in his volume Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job. As we observe the hundreds of created animals, Job’s list is impressive but certainly incomplete. Most readers would probably list dogs and cats as near the top of their preferred categories of soulishness. Job, however, lists a select group of animals as examples of nephesh creatures. The catalog includes the lion, raven, goat, deer, donkey, wild ox, ostrich, horse, hawk, and eagle. All of these animals appeared on Earth during the Cenozoic, a term which means “new life.” Most of these animals appeared fairly late in the Cenozoic era, mostly within the past 10-15 million years. Soulish animals, therefore, were present prior to man’s creation in very recent times, soulishly interacting with each other. When humanity arrived, these beautiful animals were already present to give pleasure, provide service to him, afford companionship, and contribute a source of admiration and amusement (Genesis ).
On a personal level, I have learned to exult in the wondrous antics of our northwest Illinois wildlife, especially our neighborhood birds which exhibit a riveting degree of soulishness. This 2012 blog entry is worth reposting for the benefit of our readers:
The concept of soulishness in animals other than humans has become a source of personal study and fascination. In several posts during the past few years, we have returned to this discussion. The splendor and appeal of animal life on our planet is powerfully related to the notion that many of earth’s created creatures have a soulish trait unexplained by a naturalistic, evolutionary flow of events. Our rural, suburban, and urban neighborhoods are plentifully supplied with animals manifesting this trait.
We introduce a humorous expression with origin in the habits of likely the most commonly observed rural or urban mammal--the squirrel--in particular, the eastern gray squirrel. When the term squirrelly is used, a wide variety of mostly negative meanings come to mind. Negative connotations include odd, nutty, silly, foolish, sneaky, unpredictable, jumpy, eccentric, and strange-acting. A search for this word’s meanings and its uses was entertaining. My observations have affirmed all of these characteristics in our neighborhood squirrels. Their behavior has given rise to this humorous slang expression sometimes applied to people. Squirrels, however, have multiple admirable behavior traits.
The squirrel is a source of childhood fascination. When young people befriend a dog or cat, it is not surprising that their fascination with animal pets is transferred to the common neighborhood squirrel. Alas, squirrels do not respond to human efforts of domestication, much to the disappointment of children. Rather than responding to kindness as dogs and cats do, squirrels may answer with a nasty nip from the animal’s incisors more adapted to gnawing hard shells of acorns, hickory nuts, and black walnuts. The upside of this childhood disappointment may be parental opportunity for teaching discrimination and observational skills.
On the morning I decided to complete my post on squirrels, I observed one of the squirrels in my backyard red cedar tree. Several weeks ago I had observed an adult pair of squirrels busily constructing their winter den from sticks, leaves, and a variety of other building material in the fork of our tree branches. Now it was time for a pre-dawn foray, perhaps to find their day’s food. Squirrels are diurnal and do not hibernate. They must find food regularly all winter, perhaps from their buried caches. They over winter in their leaf dens and sometimes share their dens with their mates or other family members.
In the category of nutty behavior, last summer I observed a lone adult squirrel performing somersaults for about ten minutes at the base of our black walnut tree. The animal flipped from the trunk to the ground, repeating the action again and again. No purpose was apparent except expression of sheer joy as far as I could tell. Perhaps the animal was celebrating last year’s bumper crop of 8000 walnuts from that tree.
Last year I had piled up a row of several thousand black walnuts on the ground next to my garage. These were the walnuts over and above my personal walnut collection and storage needs. After several months they all vanished, probably carried off and buried to provide winter nourishment during the colder months to follow. Several weeks ago two squirrels, one with a large black walnut in its mouth, entertained themselves chasing each other up and down in my back yard walnut tree. One participant finally settled on one branch and proceeded to gnaw away the thick shell while his partner retreated. He consumed the large walnut in its entirety in about a half hour.
Reference books and articles are filled with the lore of squirrels and dozens of other types of wildlife. We recommend that personal observations be supplemented by the wealth of literature available. One blogger’s comments on squirrels used these animals to illustrate their wonderful traits of persistence, playfulness, preparation, protection, peacefulness, and production. Scripture commentators draw a wealth of practical applications based on habits of wildlife and the wonders of living bodily systems. Christ’s reminders about sparrows instruct us about God’s care for these small creatures and about his care for humanity even more.
Even though these animals do not make good pets or relate to humans as do many higher animals, their ability to relate to other members of their own species, nurture their young, and co-exist with other forest residents puts them into the privileged category of soulishness. Rural, suburban, and urban residents are privileged to enjoy the wonders of living creatures each day of their lives. “God made the wild animals according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:25)
Our brief discussion of the soulish qualities of just one of thousands of species of animals is a reminder of several transcendent miracles including the creation of life itself. The creation of interactive and volitional life forms is a step up the stairway of the transcendent miracles we identify in God’s creation of this universe. Our Creator supplies abundant evidence of his existence, his creative acts, and care for his works of creation.
On the Sunday before Thanksgiving, our church congregation was treated to an inverted treatment of the text of Psalm 65. Verses 9-13 contain Thanksgiving imageries of rare beauty. After commenting on the Thanksgiving verses, the pastor worked backward through the Psalm, highlighting its exultation of the natural beauty of the waves of the ocean, the roaring of the sea, and the establishment of earth’s mountains. Eventually the focus returned to the God to whom we offer praise for the atonement of our transgressions, the goodness of God’s house, the holiness of God’s temple, and the righteousness of the God of our salvation.
We may only glimpse a portion of the glory of psalmist David’s worship vision as he penned this magnificent psalm. It is interesting that David’s worship sequence culminated in a touching passage of thanksgiving for God’s gifts of water, plant growth, abundant pastures, and meadows “clothed” with flocks feeding on plentiful grain.
Let’s quote Psalm 65:9-13 in its entirety from the ESV:
You visit the earth and water it, you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide their grain, for so you have prepared it.
You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth.
You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with abundance.
The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy,
The meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy.
C. H. Spurgeon’s The Treasury of David is a two-volume, four-inch thick set of commentaries on all 150 Psalms. It was written in Spurgeon’s lifetime (1834-1892). Spurgeon quotes many “pertinent extracts” from other authors, but most of the Treasury is his own. Following are three such commentaries, each one dealing with a past, present, or future outlook on some aspect of this psalm:
Hugh Macmillan recalls the historic utterance of Genesis 1, stating “I (God) have given you every herb bearing seed which is upon the face of all the earth.” That is, all the cereal plants—such as corn, wheat, barley, rice, maize, etc., whose particular characteristic it is to produce seed…..
Barton Bouchier produced an eloquent contemporary account of the planting to harvest sequence: “In the brief compass of five verses we have the whole scene vividly sketched, from the first preparation of the earth or soil; the provision of the corn-seed for the sower; the rain in its season, the former and the latter rain, watering the ridges, settling the furrows, and causing the seed to swell and to spring forth, and bud and blossom; then the crowning of the whole year in the appointed weeks of harvest, and men’s hearts rejoicing before God according to the joy in harvest, the very foot-paths dropping with fatness, and the valleys shouting and singing for joy.”
John Calvin refers to the phrase “they sing” in verse 13. Calvin claims the verb sing “admits of being taken in the future tense, they shall sing; and this denotes a continuation of joy, that they would rejoice, not only one year, but through the endless succession of the seasons.” Calvin claims “that in Hebrew the order of expression is frequently inverted in this way.”
We are gifted with opportunities to discover the rich meaning of scripture. Thanksgiving, according to our pastor in his seasonal message, is not merely a personal feeling of being subjectively happy. This feeling is explained at the beginning of the chapter in verse 1: Praise is due to God. Our subjective experience needs an object of our thankfulness. Foremost in verses 1-8 is verse 5, which humbly praises the GOD OF OUR SALVATION.
The words nature, natural, naturalist, and naturalism are English terms sometimes surrounded by confusion. Nature refers to the physical world including plants, animals, landscape, and other features and products of the earth surrounding humankind. Natural denotes that which exists in or is caused by nature. A naturalist is a person versed in natural history, particularly zoology and botany.
If we replace the letter “t” in naturalist with the letter “m” in naturalism, confusion may enter the picture. Naturalism confers a substantially different meaning than may be conveyed in the terms nature, natural, and naturalist. The term naturalism connotes that nature is all there is; nothing exists beyond the natural world. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy claims early proponents of naturalism such as John Dewey “urged that reality is exhausted by nature…” Other sources state that “instead of using supernatural or spiritual explanations, naturalism focuses on explanations that come from the laws of nature.” To those with a scriptural worldview, such a belief comes with lots of baggage.
What then, is the conflict between naturalism and supernaturalism, if any? Naturalism states “nature is all there is.” Supernaturalism, in contrast, posits that God, the supernatural agent, may enter the realm of the natural to impact that realm. Our previous blog post proposed miracles as effects which contravene natural causes. However, we proposed that God is the Author and Creator of wondrous events in both spheres.
God is the Creator of everything. In the beginning, God authored the universal physical laws. These laws are governed by dozens of physical constants. They have applied since the creation event up until the present moment. Scientists have established the factual truth of these laws by multiple scientific experiments and observations.
Lest our readers lose interest in this discussion, we assert that the interaction of naturalism (“nature is all there is”) and supernaturalism (the essence of God and his occasional entry into our human realm) is a source of lively conflict between scientists whose science is fundamentally naturalistic and theistic scientists and laypersons who are willing to allow a supernaturalistic foot in the door of the discussion room. We respect the wonderful methods and discoveries of science, but our concern persists that naturalists and theists have constructed a dichotomy: Science investigates only the natural realm, we are vociferously counseled. The counselors’ voices have become so loud that the entry of “a divine foot in the door,” a caution offered by evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin, is unacceptable even if our investigations signal such possibilities may be profitably investigated.
Many naturalistic scientists propose, as did paleontologist Stephen J. Gould (1941-2002), the idea of NOMA (non-overlapping magisteria)--that the two spheres of reality, naturalism and supernaturalism, be kept separate. If people choose to believe in the supernatural and miracles, that is their private matter and their beliefs should be respected, according to Gould. The effort of naturalistic scientists to disconnect the realm of the supernatural from the natural may promote their belief that the supernatural does not possess the same degree of reality as the natural.
Genesis 1 proclaims “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” He authored the natural world and provided laws which have persisted from the beginning and continue to the present. God has also authored the supernatural world. He supernaturally acts within the natural world on occasion, intervening within persisting natural laws. Either way, it is imperative to recognize that God created bothnatural andsupernatural spheres. We discover unmistakable evidence that the Creator occasionally “re-entered” the sphere of cosmic existence to initiate miracles. Examples include new life forms appearing at the Cambrian Explosion, periodic initiation of other novel forms of life, including modern man, and performance of mighty biblical miracles.
Our blog consistently proposes that naturalistic evolution is a deficient explanation for the array of life present today on earth. Instead, we propose that God has supernaturally and miraculously intervened from time to time in geologic history. On the other hand, natural processes sustained by God, even though not miraculous, are evident in our daily lives. These processes are a source of wonder to be acknowledged by mankind created in the image of God. Most important is recognition that natural and supernatural realms are both elements of God’s created universe.
A miracle is an effect which is not reproducible by the operation of “natural” causes. Each day of our lives hundreds of effects result from causes we call “natural.” The Bible narrative records thousands of events we would categorize as “natural.” A vast majority of Bible events may be categorized as “natural.” Miracles, however, are in a different category. Miraculous events are generated by “supernatural” causes. They generate high interest for readers of the Bible. In these supernatural miracle events, many believe the reality of God’s existence is most manifest.
The postulate of “God’s existence is most manifest in supernatural miracle events” is open for debate. It has been the stand of our blog that the science/faith interface integrates both supernatural and natural. God is author and creator of both spheres. For purposes of our discussion, we define “natural” as “non-miraculous.”
Both old and new testaments record miraculous events for which there are no natural causes. Bible accounts, for example, chronicle very unusual environmental events, healing events involving reorganization of bodily molecular arrangements, and several resurrection events, including the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Miraculous events tend to cluster at great moments in salvation history such as the Exodus or Jesus’ ministry. With respect to Jesus Christ, his birth, life, death, and resurrection are some of the most well established historical events of all time, especially in view of the subsequent rapid spread of Christianity. If one believes God exists, he may more easily accept Jesus’ virgin birth, his miracles, and his resurrection from the dead. Miraculous works affirm God’s existence.
With respect to miracles, let us cite several times in human history when true miracles were common. We allude to God’s extraordinary “in-breaking” to human history in Old Testament times, and God’s extraordinary “in-breaking” to human history in New Testament times during the life of Christ. Miracles are not a common occurrence in our day even though miraculous events are not impossible.
In terms of cosmic history, we highlight several “in-breakings” of miraculous events: (1) the Big-Bang--the beginnings of the time, space, matter, and energy dimensions of our universe (2) the origin of life--the sudden onset of morphologically simple, but bio-chemically complex life (3) the Cambrian Explosion--the rapid appearance of complex life forms in a virtual moment of geologic time followed by the periodic, rather sudden appearance of new life forms in the eons to follow (4) the abrupt appearance of modern man, termed the “Cultural Explosion” and (5) the dozens of miracles recorded in the Old and New Testament scriptures.
We encourage study of miraculous events. Our Heavenly Father is a God of Miracles. He has “in-broken” into geologic and human history. We encourage a personal study of the “in-breaking.” Foremost is the understanding of Hebrews
1:2: “But in these last days he has spoken to us by his son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.” (NIV) Foremost on the miracle list is the action of Jesus Christ as Creator.
God’s astonishing creation act with respect to this universe is the ongoing working system of this cosmos. He has created dozens of incredibly fine-tuned physical constants by which the many laws of our everyday world operate. His creation of the universe was “miracle one” of Genesis 1:1 but the effect of “miracle one” has continued since. The everyday functioning of our world is a source of wonder, but not a miracle as commonly understood. To rank-order (1) the initial creation miracle and (2) the universe’s function since the creation event according to physical constants and laws, we may be unwise to prioritize one as more significant than the other. Both are sources of wonder.
We emphasize the more common natural events which occur from moment to moment as well as supernatural events. As we envision the wonder of God’s created universe--our temporal dwelling place--we realize God is the Creator of all things, the natural and the supernatural.
The popular catch phrase of creationists the past few decades is “fine tuning.” Creationists and Intelligent Design proponents sometimes use the term to strengthen belief in the Creator/Designer’s ability to produce our fine-tuned universe. Unless the term is defined and clarified with examples, it is no more effective than evolutionists fortifying their paradigm merely by the frequent mention of “evolution” in their literature and textbooks.
In the category of examples, we resurrect a term from several decades ago which may focus our thought. Before the days of fuel injection, most automobiles needed frequent “tune-ups” in order to adjust the carburetor to produce the air/fuel vapor for optimum ignition and proper functioning of our vehicles. Automobile fine tuning is now handled mostly by automatic, computer-controlled processes, but our technicians still program the necessary “fine tuning.” Fine tuning is defined as making small changes in a system to make its functioning exactly right. While this object lesson from the world of automobiles helps our understanding, its lesson about the meaning of exactly right falls woefully short.
Athletes also strive for “finely tuned” performance levels. Even In championship athletics, fine-tuned sports performancesfall woefully short of examples for the fine tuning of our universe. Do we think Peyton Manning’s many touchdown passes comes close to an exact precision performance? What about 2013 major league home run champion Chris Davis’s blasts off the bat or Michael Jordan’s ten NBA scoring titles? In each case, these finely tuned athletic performers are at the top of their game. For our home universe to function, however, we need a degree of fine tuned precision exponentially exceeding human performance levels.
Scientists have grasped the necessary degree of cosmic precision only in the last few decades. With respect to our human experience we cannot relate to such a degree of precision. For any sort of life to exist anywhere in our universe, such precision is necessary. The needed precision may be described as unimaginable. Even the numbers quantifying our national debt may be more understandable! Even though many scientists are not theists, they acknowledge that scientifically speaking, it’s far more probable for a life-prohibiting universe to exist than a life-sustaining one. “Life is balanced on a razor’s edge,” most scientists say.
Stephen Hawking has calculated that if the rate of the universe’s expansion in its earliest moments had been smaller by even one part in a hundred thousand million million, the universe would have collapsed into a fireball. Even now the balance between attraction and repulsion forces in our presently expanding universe must be tuned to a miniscule mass. Hugh Ross states if one were to remove or add a single dime’s worth of mass to this vast cosmos the balance of this observable universe would be thrown off and physical life would not be possible.
British physicist P. C. W. Davies has estimated that if the strength of gravity or of the weak force were changed by only one part in ten followed by a hundred zeroes, life could never have developed. Davies states there are at least fifty physical constants and quantities--for example, the amount of usable energy in the universe, the difference in mass between protons and neutrons, the ratios of the fundamental forces of nature, and the proportion of matter to antimatter--that must be balanced to an infinitesimal degree for any life to be possible.
For the people in the pews, these statistics may seem incomprehensible beyond imagination. Our prayer is that informed pastors could make a study of some of the more esoteric concepts and translate them to provoke wonder for their people in the pews. For example, the statistical wonders of athletics and the wonders of everyday existence are important, but the wonder of required precision necessary for the dozens of physical constants governing our universe (we have called them “rules of the game” in past posts) outdistances human athletic feats by multiples of powers of ten.
In particular, our athletically talented young people may be impacted by the sports imagery in this archived post:
Life, especially human life, is balanced “on a razor’s edge.” The characteristics enabling life to exist in our universe are numerous and incredibly complex. Imagine the existence of a lifeless universe. It would still demand conditions of exceptional “fine-tuning.” No sentient beings would be present to observe these fine-tuned conditions--a fascinating scenario for the contemplation of modern philosophers. Beyond this, the existence of life balanced as it is on a razor’s edge, is a marvelous reality in itself, made even more marvelous by its dependence on a considerable set of razor’s edge conditions.
The term fine tuning has been commonly used by scientists for only about fifty years. Fine-tuning relates to physical constants, fundamental characteristics of environmental reality, expressed as physical quantities which cannot deviate from an exact value. Examples are consistent masses of particles in the atom or the unchanging speed of light. Both are examples of physical constants. Often the fine tuning concept speaks to whether or not life in our universe is possible. If it were possible to alter the fine tuned characteristics of matter and forces around us, we are told, life on earth would be impossible.
An understanding of this issue is more difficult than we might imagine. Only fifty years ago laypersons were not thinking deeply about the fine tuning of our universe. Today there ismore interest and understanding of these topics. Our population has developed more sophistication concerning fine-tuning. Ironically, many people have tilted away from appreciation of divine authorship of our enormously fine-tuned cosmos. Instead, in the face of proliferation of evidence for divine authorship of the grandeur and magnificence of our cosmos, the past twenty-five years have seen intense cultural resistance to the fine-tuning concept from many in the secular scientific community. Some members of the Christian community including evangelical colleges have even disparaged the concept of intelligent design, endorsing the idea that science proceeds to explanations without recourse to the supernatural.
During the mid-20th century Moody Science films became popular. Without naming the concept of “fine-tuning” as it has become known today, (the term was not in use then) these films were a precursor of today’s better-known fine-tuning concepts. Embedded in my memory are recollections of God of the Atom, Dust or Destiny, God of Creation, and Where the Waters Run at rallies in the late 1940s and 1950s. Modern DVD reproductions today yet proclaim “Moody Science Classics have unfolded the miracles of nature’s mysteries while showing how the wonders of creation reveal the majesty of God. School-aged children through teens as well as parents and teachers will gain a fresh appreciation for the Creator and the intricate details of His handiwork, as presented in these award-winning programs.”
Fast forward to the 1960s. In 1961 Robert Dicke proclaimed that our universe must be fine tuned for life to exist anywhere in the universe. Other famous secularists such as Fred Hoyle proclaimed similar ideas. These thinkers realized something additional needed to be invoked to explain other unknown mysteries. Stephen Hawking is another secular scientist often quoted and respected. Theistic scientists and philosophers such as Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig have weighed in with their contributions.
In 1973 Brandon Carter introduced the idea of the anthropic principle to the world. Two versions came into prominence—the strong anthropic principle (SAP) and the weak anthropic principle (WAP). The former bears more resemblance to Christian teleological concepts of a universe with divine purpose. The latter is more dependent on the contingency that life is dependent on the development of our universe as carbon-based.
In our day simple answers to God’s existence and authorship of this universe are not found in the evidence supplied by the genius of either secular or theistic thinkers. Strong evidence comes from our knowledge that life is balanced on a razor’s edge. Our lives and personal existence do not exist on either edge of a dull or defective razor. May we acknowledge that life’s existence is not random, unpredictable, or uncertain? Our existence is produced creatively by an omnipotent God.
Each day of our existence we trust the physical conditions of our environment to prove “predictable” and “as expected.” We do not propose that weather forecasters should never err or that our weather should always be to our personal liking. Nor do we expect that our daily selection of clothing should be cleaned, pressed, folded, and conditioned to perfection or that our food be prepared perfectly to our personal liking as if by magic. There is, however, a theoretically achievable ideal standard of perfection for each of these daily activities. Realistically, we are content with a high level of performance if not perfection.
Our hopes for the “predictable” and “as expected” extend to the operation of more serious physical laws--requirements of everyday reality. We function daily with the physical laws of energy flow, forces, and motion in continuous operation. In this sphere of existence we are constrained to rigidly obey all operative physical laws without question. The predictable physical laws governing energy, forces, and motion are divinely set in place for our physical welfare and comfort. We experience serious trouble or tragedy when we fail to conform.
What if the physical laws were not predictable? We ask readers to imagine the outcome of gravity randomly operating at half or double its usual force. What if the production and flow of heat from our home’s furnace, water heater, or cooking range should begin to function differently or unpredictably? Imagine that friction between our shoes and the ground or between our automobile tires and the highway would suddenly operate in a completely different manner or not at all? This would be tantamount to being immersed in a “twilight zone” of unreality. Predictability and expectance would cease to exist.
During my tenure as a classroom science teacher one of the most instructive albeit less than satisfying lessons occurred on occasions when the classroom demonstration or experiment did not “work.” Students were conditioned to having their experiments “work.” They were disappointed with their teacher’s explanation that the “non-working” experiment was actually working quite perfectly. Under the conditions operating at the lab table all physical laws were operating normally, we explained. But because our lab set-up did not possess necessary conditions due to unknown deficiencies in our procedure, the desired result was not achieved. The most serious science students were more challenged by such failures than those who viewed science as entertainment.
One entertaining but realistic statement we frequently make is, “In a perfect world…” In a perfect world no weather forecaster would ever err, no clothing would ever be mishandled, and no food would ever be prepared in any less than a perfect manner. Human free will, however, does not function within such a shield of perfection because humans were not created to operate within such a condition. Our free-will challenge of living and operating volitionally and creatively would vanish.
In our more serious responsibility to adhere to physical laws, defined and constrained by hundreds of physical constants, humans have less leeway for choice if we wish to ensure our physical safety. Physical laws such as the law of gravity must be obeyed to certain narrow tolerances. For example, stepping off a low stepstool may not result in a physical problem. Jumping down from a tall stepladder, however, could result in injury; falling from a ten story building would almost certainly result in death.
Our universe is founded upon constant and predictable physical laws and physical constants under which all physical phenomena must operate. In these terms, we live “in a perfect world.” Our sense of wonder at this universe should focus upon this perfection. Man makes poor choices related to personal preferences in weather gear, clothing, or food. He also makes poor choices with respect to water safety at the beach, avoiding gravity-related mountain climbing accidents, or sliding and falling on slippery surfaces. Harm or injury from the operation of majestic physical laws governing our daily lives should never be attributed to an imperfect or unpredictable set of universal laws.
A comprehensive study of the hundreds of physical laws and physical constants should focus on God as the author of those laws and constants. The physical laws are perfect as is the God who created them. Here is a link to my previous post on physical constants:
This post title is a deliberate attention-getter. Radiation is seldom used in this context of creationism. The term commonly signals some sort of energy transfer carried by electromagnetic waves. For example, light is a form of natural radiation composed of electromagnetic waves. Radio and television waves are man-made electromagnetic radiation similar to light with substantially different wave lengths. In the context of paleontology and origins science, however, a radiation signals a completely different phenomenon. Radiations are a vital part of evolutionary theory.
In contrast with the traditional evolutionary concept of gradual change in earth’s life forms, naturalistic scientists need a mechanism to explain why most evolutionary episodes actually occur relatively suddenly. The suddenness may be represented graphically by steps on a stairway. A linear representation of a gradual incline does not represent how life has developed on earth. Several years ago an evolutionary scientist proposed biological origins analogs to the “Big Bang” physical beginning of our universe. He called the phenomena “Biology’s Big Bangs.” Here is a link to my past post:
Evolutionists see the development of the present complexity of life on earth as a naturalistic random process driven by traditional evolutionary mechanisms such as mutation and natural selection. To strengthen their evolutionary paradigm biologists have developed new theoretical explanations for the “fits and starts” processes powering evolution, including gene flow, genetic drift, and others. However, only “natural selection” is likely to adapt a population to its environment, they hold. In this popular phrase, the key word is “natural.” It just happens “naturally.”
Re-enter the term radiation. Under the banner “evolutionary radiation” there exists a secondary term in evolutionary literature. It is called “adaptive radiation.” The Wikipedia definition reads, “Adaptive radiation is a process in which organisms diversify rapidly into a multitude of new life forms, particularly when a change in the environment makes new resources available and opens environmental niches.” The key term in their definition: rapidly.
We have highlighted the startling radiation of the Cambrian Explosion, the sudden proliferation of new animal phyla with no reasonable antecedents preceding them in the fossil record. Evolutionists assign other geologically sudden appearances to the category of radiations marking the arrival of fish, reptiles, land plants, insects, birds and mammals. For those interested in more specifics, you may consult resources detailing the Cambrian Explosion, the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event, the Mesozoic-Cenozoic Radiation, and the Cretaceous Radiation.
Most radiations are characterized by sudden changes of past life forms in the geological columns we observe. Believers in naturalistic evolution are untroubled by these many rapid appearances. They claim (1) sudden appearances, (2) lack of legitimate antecedents, (3) missing transitional species, and (4) stasis of existing species do not weaken their theorized evolutionary paradigm. Stephen C. Meyer decries the obvious error in mistaking a hypothetical scenario for an adequate explanation.
We now introduce the new term creationist radiations into our personal blog glossary. The numerous sudden appearances of animals and plants as recorded in the paleontological record, including the very recent advent of fully modern human beings in the image of God, strikes creationists as a sequence of divine creation events. To those who “think creationally,” not evolutionarily, the proposals of creation events and supernaturally initiated design are not difficult to endorse using discoveries and principles of science. Our newly-minted term creationist radiationsrefers to rapid creation events on earth producing the glorious diversity of new forms of living things.
Psalm 104:27-30, when combined with physical evidence of divine creation and design, is a powerful two-edged sword of affirmation for a creationist mentality. This passage speaks of God’s provision of food for earth’s creatures. It suggests periodic extinction events on this planet, and God’s creative Spirit to renew the face of the earth (to re-create) following the multiple extinction events over eons of geologic history. This powerfully suggestive passage harmonizes theology and science:
(Living things) all look to (God) to give them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things. When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away your breath, they die and return to the dust. When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth. (Psalm 104:27-30 NIV)
Mentality: “The characteristic attitude of mind or way of thinking of a person…” This internet definition focuses on human attitudes, processes of thought, and beliefs across a broad range. When we attach the term creationist, we construct an interesting term--“creationist mentality.” We must guard against defining the topic of creationism too narrowly. Our recent posts have highlighted the term frequently. We respond that the topic of creationism as it addresses life and species origins, a topic of specialty for many scientists, is a topic of never-ending interest for many of our non-scientist readers. We desire to broaden the definition of creationism.
To reinforce our last point, we repeat one of our favorite definitions of creationism offered by Mark Noll, evangelical historian: “…creationism by rights should define a divine mind at work in, with, or under the phenomenon of the natural world.” Defined as such, we acknowledge that the natural world provides the umbrella for our daily activities of work, family life, social interactions, and recreation. In short, the natural world provides the setting for all our activities. We do not confine our study of the natural world, therefore, to a specific interest in the study of “nature,” wonderful as that is. Our moment to moment existence integrates the wonder of our physical surroundings.
Are we aware of the “divine mind at work” in the presence of living and non-living things around us and our body’s sensory links with everything and every person in our surroundings? How does the term “creationist mentality” connect with our daily existence? Origins topics such as the time line of historic creation events and the length of Genesis creation days, fascinating as they are, lose their immediacy when we spotlight the present. Our awareness of creation in the present provides our lives with satisfying richness and fullness.
Historic origins studies and timelines of events over eons of time retreat to secondary importance as we concentrate on motivating forces of life in the present.
Old Testament prophet Isaiah was God’s spokesman speaking primarily to men of his own time, delivering a “forthtelling of God’s messages” of repentance for Israel’s present, as well as more familiar well-known “foretelling of God’s actions” in the future. Isaiah was not interested in the historical timelines of creation events in the distant eons of time. A majority of his book addresses events of his own time as he conveyed the messages of God to Israel of the 8th century BC. Isaiah’s “creationist mentality” must have been powerfully motivating as he delivered God’s message to the people of his day. The prophet cites supernatural creation in many parts of his book, not as lessons in historical geology, but as motivators for reverent holiness in God’s people.
Consider the force of Isaiah 45:18 (NIV): “For this is what the Lord says—he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited—he says: I am the Lord and there is no other.” The Apostle Paul, in an unusual scriptural account of an exchange with the pagan men of Athens (Acts 17:24 NIV) also applies “creationist mentality” as a motivator for repentance and righteous living: “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.” Paul’s powerful sermon continued, “‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’” (Acts )
Isaiah and Paul referred to past creation events without making their message solely a lesson in origins geology. They used “creationist mentality” as inspirational triggers for joyful and upright living in the present. We encourage readers to work toward influencing public perception of the heavily loaded term creationism, not only within our church fellowship circles, but also outside our personal church community. We have described Holy Scripture as a creationist text based on our knowledge of past and continuing realities of divine creation events. Perhaps our description of “creationist mentality” makes the terms creationism and creationist more appealing.
The professional science community studies and describes the functions of living systems from simple to advanced, from bacteria to humanity. It has also provided advanced knowledge of physical processes governing our world. The scope of their discovery is overwhelming. Science educators have communicated this knowledge to our young people at their appropriate levels of understanding, from primary school to middle school, and from secondary school to college and beyond.
A theistic worldview superimposes a strong creationist flavor to the knowledge of bioscience and physical science. First, we define what we mean by creationist in this context. Evangelical historian Mark Noll has penned a succinct definition of creationism. Noll says, “The word creationism by rights should define a divine mind at work in, with, or under the phenomena of the natural world.” Noll’s definition prudently broadens the definition.
Secular textbooks do not acknowledge a “divine mind” at work in the natural world, particularly in the world of living things. Secular biology textbooks, however, trumpet evolution as the guiding force channeling the trajectory of life’s history. Their message is unequivocally religious in tone.
Some may object to use of the term “religious” in this context. Perhaps authors of modern textbooks object, because religion and science have been described as consisting of widely separated realms. Such objections would depend primarily on their singular definition of religious, ignoring several alternate linguistic definitions. Religious commonly relates to belief in divinity according to one familiar definition. An alternate definition states, “Strictness of fidelity in conforming to any practice as if it were an enjoined rule of conduct.” Still another describes religious as, “belief in any cognitive content held as true.” Many other modern definitions of religious do not include the divine or the supernatural.
Knowledge of the beauty, structure, function, and behavior of Earth’s living things as well as the physical universe is an occasion to glorify the God of Creation. These traits and features provide us with opportunity for intuitive perception of a deeper reality. Thousands of science professionals have unlocked the secrets of our magnificent cosmos and the intricacy of its living inhabitants. Those who see God as Creator, Designer, and Sustainer of all cosmic systems are appropriately termed creationists.
Secularists disparagingly mock creationists, claiming the recognition of a “divine mind at work” (Mark Noll’s eloquent phrase) is a religious intrusion into the naturalistic realm of science. Creationists, they claim, impinge on the sphere of secular naturalism they wish to preserve for the domain of science as they conceive it. When the ancient prophet penned Isaiah 40:26 and many other majestic creation passages he was fully aware of the multidimensional concept of the theology of creation. Broad concepts of creationism and the theology of creation are often poorly appreciated even by leaders in our churches. We link a previous post:
A recent survey (A Survey of Clergy and Their Views on Origins) conducted by BioLogos reported the results of 743 telephone interviews with clergy of all Christian denominations in churches of all sizes. Pastors were polled on their views of creation and evolution. The survey reported on many related issues as perceived by the pastors.
Young Earth creationism is espoused by 54% of American Pastors--19% with absolute certainty and 35% who expressed qualified certainty. Progressive Creationism describes 15% of pastors--7% of these are absolutely certain while 8% express qualified certainty. Theistic Creationism is the position of 18% of the pastors, of whom 3% are absolutely certain and 15% claim qualified certainty. One more category was termed Uncertain by the pollsters: The remaining 12% of pastors believe God created life, but admit they are not certain how. (In the general population another category would undoubtedly be represented: those who believe in naturalism--the view that there is no God who created the universe. The cosmos essentially self-assembled, they claim. This represents the view of atheists, but not the view of pastors.)
Our blog has frequently discussed the three main positions described above and what their adherents believe with respect to creation and evolution. Those positions represent approximately 87% of pastors in the survey. It is our opinion that the general population has a somewhat different opinion profile. Between 40% and 50% of the population subscribes to the young earth creationist view of human origins. This indicates a strong view of creationism. The remaining population subscribes mostly to a view of theistic creationism, according to many sources. The views of creationism are not changing significantly.
The questions of evolution and creation are significantly intertwined. Did God create life, or did life self-organize? Did creation events take place only in the last 10,000 years? Did life develop slowly and gradually over millions of years? Did life develop in step-like fashion over millions of years? (This would point to creation events.) What process does evolution describe, and how does (or how did) it occur? Such questions are integrated with our theological and scientific beliefs. The integration is not like simply blending two chemical entities to create a homogeneous mixture. It is far more complex.
If we call ourselves creationists, do we displace our embrace of science? If we embrace science, do we displace our embrace of creationism? Our embrace of creationism has affected our embrace of science, according to the scientific community. But should it? This blog has advocated the soundness of scientific method according to a theistic world view. In the last four hundred years, most Christians in the sciences believed that the scientific method supports a theistic world view.
The strife between creationists, epitomized by the results of the BioLogos survey, traces its roots to a phenomenon of the late 19th century. Stephen C. Meyer, in his concluding chapter of Darwin’s Doubt, places the blame on what is now termed the “New Atheism,” described by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and others. According to Meyer, the “New Atheism” is not really new. It represents “a popularization of a science-based philosophy called scientific materialism which came into currency among scientists and philosophers during the late nineteenth century in the wake of the Darwinian revolution.”
Scientific materialism was an outgrowth of the Darwinian Revolution. It denied evidence of supernatural design in nature, especially in the world of life forms. Sadly, the same scientific materialism even denied ultimate purpose in human existence. Christians should reflect on the marriage of their belief in evolution, driven by mutation and natural selection, to the theistic worldview as expressed in biblical creation passages.
We are thankful that a large majority (69%) of Christian pastors do not adhere to evolution. But by the same token, we are saddened that 31% of the population subscribes to evolution or is uncertain of the evidence for divine acts of creation in our world of living things, including the world of human beings. And we are uneasy with the young earth creationists’ out-of-hand rejection of legitimate science findings with respect to supernatural acts of creation over long time periods. Our prayer is that our agreement on God’s divine acts of creation overwhelms our disagreements over the time frames of creation.