Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Good Science--Good Theology

What would be the result of incorporating sound science teachings into the educational offerings of our churches? I do not merely speak of the use of a science reference or two in our church Sunday School, youth group, adult Sunday School discussions, or pulpit presentations. Rather, I propose a deliberate effort to strengthen and reinforce theological concepts using a science take-off dimension.

It is possible that such efforts may initially fail. Rightly, our congregations are conditioned to receive theological truths over scientific truths at the instructional level. Members of our churches believe they should be learning about God’s love for man and how we should respond in kind. They are conditioned to think of man as alienated from God by our fallen nature. The remedy for man’s alienation from God is provided by the atoning love gift of the death of the Son, we learn. We are instructed “Ye must be born again” as was Nicodemus who came to Jesus by night (John 3). After this eternal transaction we manifest new life, Scripture says. The New Testament epistles elaborate on the characteristics of new spiritual life.

Enthusiastic reception of the profound gospel message outlined above is the longed-for goal of every spiritual mentor. Many pastors acknowledge that quality of personal acquisition of saving faith is distributed along a broad continuum. Seekers’ experiences range from serious self-doubt to questioning hesitancy to joyful certainty. The highway to belief is not often paved smoothly. Human free will is a significant factor in personal reception of the gospel and practice of spiritual life. Pastors search for effective ways to communicate the gospel. Their goal is that their members establish a relationship with God and embrace his reality in order to satisfy  the fulfillment of humanity.

Recognizing our discussion is multidimensional, let us explore but one dimension—the dimension of science understanding as a support pillar for theological belief. The topic of origins is recognized in both secular and faith-based worlds as scientific. Secular scientists claim their evolutionary theory is scientific. Essentially, they claim biochemical genetic evidence of the commonality of all living things and the power of evolutionary inference settles the questions of common ancestry. The processes of evolution, therefore, do not affirm divine creation events, they state. They affirm naturalistic events. (Theistic evolutionists, now called “evolutionary creationists,” support their argument with the caveat “God is the Creator of all things.”)  But even secular, naturalistic scientists have no answer for the origin of life mystery. The sudden appearance of complex bacterial life on this earth has all the hallmarks of a divine creation event but naturalists and many theistic evolutionists search for a possible naturalistic explanation.

Naturalistic science leads to a different theological vision. Naturalistic scientists have a different interpretation of life origins than theistic creationists. Their science leads to divergent interpretations. Earth’s species are characterized by sudden appearances, minimal change during their tenure on earth, and disappearances. The many abrupt appearances of life on earth are difficult to explain naturalistically. Science has established the “fits and starts” nature of life’s appearances. Evidence of divine miracles as the work of the Creator is soundly affirmed by good science. Theistic creationists perceive ubiquitous creation events, from the origin of the universe, to the origin of life, to periodic creation events of novel phyla and species, including the many instances of orderly and predictable physical properties governing our universe and our daily lives. Our concept of the Creator who authored orderly physical laws and who created past and present life forms suddenly and by divine miracle should be cited by our spiritual mentors as a vital apologetic for theological belief. The Creator has gifted us with capacity to test the veracity of scientific conclusions.

Belief in God is supported by the discoveries of science. Why should we believe in God’s love for each human? Why should we believe the message of the gospel? If we recognize his omnipotence we ought also to recognize his ability to create in the physical realm and in the realm of human existence. His acts of creation are indicators of his care and love for man. When we affirm God’s love by appropriating belief in the scientific evidence of his existence based on the works he has produced. We acclaim that good science leads to good theology. 




Saturday, May 24, 2014

Springtime and Creationism

Spring renewal in the northern latitudes and the acts of creation described in Genesis manifest a few similarities. Both describe new life. Springtime is a renewal of previously existing viability from the previous warm season. Contrastingly, acts of creation in Genesis are initial appearances of entirely new life on Earth. Prior to the creation of humans, millions of species appeared on this planet. When springtime blesses the earth with renewed life, our thoughts may naturally drift toward the initial appearance of millions of species of new life on earth in eons past. For this reason the  appearance of local plants and animals, especially during seasonal renewal, trigger thoughts of many divine creation events sprinkled throughout geological history.

The creation scenario described above is not embraced by the majority of biologists. They see the naturalistic process of evolution driving the appearance of millions of species of earth life, including the very recent appearance of modern man. Descent with modification and belief in LUCA, the last universal common ancestor, is the ruling paradigm to account for the diversity of Earth life. According to a common internet answer site, evolutionists insist the statement “The basic biochemical processes of all organisms is very similar, despite the apparently arbitrary nature of many of these processes” is a paramount support pillar of their evolutionary belief. They view the similarity of organisms as affirmation of belief in naturalistic evolutionary descent. An equally logical conclusion that the omnipotent and omniscient Creator would repeatedly use an identical genetic template is not even considered.

An unguarded “family secret” of the evolutionary community is the tacit admission that the fossil record of earth life reveals exceedingly long periods of changelessness (stasis), followed by the sudden appearance of new species, with no intervening transitional forms. Gradualism does not characterize the fossil record. One of the best apologists for numerous sudden “creation” scenarios for past life on earth is a very famous and popular evolutionist. The late Stephen J. Gould (1941-2002) surprised the scientific world with frequent, candid admissions of an unexpected mystery in evolutionary theory. This 6-14-11 post repeats many ideas Gould used to illustrate his idea of “punctuated equilibrium” (PE):

One example of Gould’s candor is “…a species does not arise gradually by the steady transformation of its ancestors; it appears all at once and “fully formed.” Many apologists for evolution deny such phenomena offer any problem for belief in evolution. Personally, I have discussed this issue with staunch supporters of evolution. It appears that vigorous presentations for evolution are sometimes able to “defeat” poorly crafted presentations for creationism.

In February startling news broke about additional fossil discoveries in British Columbia at Marble Canyon, 26 miles from the original Burgess Shale Walcott quarry. These discoveries overshadowed previously discovered Burgess Shale fossils discovered over a century earlier. There are over fifteen new species just found which preserve the animals’s soft parts in even more stunning detail. Retinas, corneas, neural tissue, guts, and even a possible heart and liver were found. Stephen C. Meyer, author of Darwin’s Doubt, says all of the fossils, including the newest ones, fit into existing Cambrian phyla. “No transitional intermediates have been found.” All the newly discovered animals arose suddenly in the “blink of an eye” geologically. These events could be viewed as creation events. The fossil record tells the same story many times.

Dr. Hugh Ross led a group in August 2013 to the Burgess Shale in the Canadian Rockies. I was privileged to be part of that group. Dr. Ross is currently guest on The John Ankerberg Show with a new set of programs “Step by Step through Creation.” Ross has just produced a new book entitled “Navigating Genesis.” We recommend the volume as an invaluable resource for your library of books combining sound science supporting creation as well as sound theology.

Following is a link to the first of seven posts written in conjunction with last summer’s tour to the Canadian Rockies Burgess Shale Adventure guided by Dr. Ross:


Monday, May 19, 2014

Tacit Knowledge

Michael Polanyi (1891-1976) was a polymath and pioneer in his vision and proposal of tacit knowledge, sometimes known as intuition. This concept went beyond reliance on scientific empiricism in which knowledge is chiefly gained by sensory experiences and experimentation. Polanyi’s famous statement, “We know more than we can tell” indicates his recognition of the gift of intuition in which understanding is gained without conscious reasoning. In common terms, we sometimes say, “I just have a feeling…” Women’s intuition is an expression indicating female ability to know something is afoot without explicit physical clues. These mundane examples may aid our understanding of Polanyi’s fruitful idea.

Polanyi’s insights were valuable for broadening the scope of science philosophy. His ideas shifted away from a commitment to the belief that scientific methods yield truth mechanically. Within the church community many people become suspicious of science when they are criticized for not “getting on board with science,” particularly when pressure is brought upon them, for example, to endorse evolution or global warming. Polanyi may appeal to non-scientific laypeople. His proposals of tacit knowledge support the principle of “properly basic beliefs,” articulated by philosopher Alvin Plantinga: an inner certainty that God exists and can be known and experienced directly. Many experience an inner certainty about God’s actions in creating physical wonders and the beauty of life surrounding us.    

We will return to consider Polanyi in a later paragraph. We shift our attention to the beauty of northern latitude springtime to discover some personal intuition triggered by the wildlife sharing our neighborhood environment. What deeper certainty may we experience as we observe the wonders around us? 

During the winter just past, eleven bird species visited the modest suet feeder suspended from our deck. Now that our trees are bursting into full leaf out, we enthusiastically note the return of dozens of migrant bird species to our wooded wonderland from countries as distant as the West Indies and South America. It is easy to exult in changes manifest in living creatures when spring comes. Our northwest Illinois neighborhood is noted for its array of beautiful birds, living creatures providing wonder and enjoyment. Our avian friends manifest exquisite feather patterns to augment magnificent coloration. Body and wing shapes relate to their habits of flight. Food needs correspond with bill shapes from chisel shaped to short and very thick. Their feet are adapted for grasping prey, climbing trees, or paddling through water in search of food. Birds are objects of admiration for their diverse beauty and multidimensional physical adaptations, not to mention their behavior. Embrace of intelligent design in the avian world seems rational as is belief in the truth of Genesis 1:20: “So God created…every winged bird according to its kind.” 

We use birds in this post as one example to help us consider works of the Creator. The prophet Isaiah asks, “Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?” (Isaiah 66:1-2) These expressions expand our sense of worship. We are encouraged to contemplate the works God has produced. In so doing we extend our understanding of the essence of the Creator.

Michael Polanyi’s tacit knowledge, sometimes termed intuition, is an expression of understanding gained without conscious reasoning. We may not be able to articulate our understanding verbally. Philosopher K. S. Johannesen, commenting on Polanyi’s tacit knowledge proposal, states, “…propositional knowledge, i. e., knowledge expressible by some kind of linguistic means in a propositional form, is not the only type of knowledge that is scientifically relevant.” There is a dimension of knowledge, therefore, that some scientists recognize as scientific without the encumbrance of propositions, however logical they may appear. In preparation for this post I consulted a lengthy article on birds. The article was written by evolutionary scientists whose objective throughout was to reinforce propositions of evolutionary origins and relationships among bird species. The sense of wonder was hidden in a welter of evolutionary propositions. Evolutionary origins and relationships are sometimes obscure, the author conceded. 

Tacit knowledge that a Creator has acted may be scientifically relevant. If we were to give voice to this form of intuition, it is expressed in Isaiah 66:2: “Has not my hand made all these things?” Hundreds of phenomena from the physical and biological world bespeak the past and present action of the Creator. Tacit knowledge (intuition) is relevant science. It may be the inspiration for many other types of relevant science including empirical laboratory science. We give thanks to God who provides the gift of knowledge and truth discovery in diverse ways.   

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Optimal Purpose

In the United States, especially in northern latitudes, winter somnolescence retreats in springtime. During the harshly cold, snowy winter just past, pessimists could speculate most life had perished. A few brave winter non-migrant birds dispel these impressions with their ingenious ability to manage nutritional needs and quench their thirst for liquid water by consuming snow. Finally the non-migrants are joined by dozens of species of migrants, other animals have reappeared, and the plants have sprung back to vibrant life. Green plants, sensitive to precise optimums of temperature and changing moisture and light conditions, commence producing unique leaf shapes, flowers, and fruit with the marvelous physiological processes we may recall from our study of plant biology. Animals set about reproducing their kind. Our neighborhood living things anticipate the optimization of full-blown springtime.
We transition to another example of optimization. Just as temperate climate life depends on arrival of springtime conditions for annual rejuvenation of life, we are reminded that thriving earth life is dependent on the onset of hundreds of time dependent optimizations. During the billions of years of time before life suddenly appeared on this planet, the precise expansion rate of matter in this universe was being divinely fine-tuned. The exact provision of ordinary dark matter and dark energy was also fine-tuned and later enabled the periodic sudden creation of new life forms. Much later, within the last few tens of thousands of years, man in the Image of God also quickly appeared on Earth. His appearance was neither too early nor too late on our planet. The optimum time window for the rapid appearance of humanity had arrived. 

This finely tuned universe—just the right expansion rate, just the right amount of matter, and just the right size—produces many other just right conditions for man to thrive in a brief window of existence on our earthly sphere. For example, earth’s rotation rate has slowed from two to three hours to the current 24 hours since the earth was formed as a solid body. Faster or slower rotation would preclude successful human existence. Earth’s fossil fuel deposits were formed at around the time of the Cambrian Explosion and now provide for modern humanity’s exploitation. Earlier or later arrival of man or earlier or later readiness of these resources would preclude the use of currently plentiful fossil fuels by our society. Different solar stability and solar luminosity in the past would be harmful to current earth life. We occupy an ideal window of solar conditions.

Original proponents of the anthropic principle (the idea that the earth seems to have been engineered for the specific benefit of the human species) have voiced the non-theological proposal that mankind’s existence on earth could occur only in a narrow geological time window. One estimate puts this time window at “less than a few million years,” in reality a mere geological blink of an eye. Another anthropic principle spokesman puts sophisticated global civilizations in an even narrower time window. The Creator of heaven and earth and its unique life forms has devoted huge divine investments of time, power, and resources for the optimal development of our unique home for humanity. 

Man is a special creation of God within this universe. Unlike many secular views which assign no special importance to man with respect to their concept of the evolutionary continuum of life, our view is that of Psalm 8:4: “What is man that you are mindful of him?” According to verse 5, God “crowns (man) with glory and honor.” The chapter voices a theological “anthropic principle:” Man existed in the divine mind long before the creation of the universe. Hugh Ross expresses the special divine importance assigned to man in Why The Universe Is The Way It Is: “Rather than seeing ourselves as insignificant specks in the immensity of the cosmos, we can consider that immensity an indicator of our worth. It seems the Creator invested a great deal—a universe of 50 billion trillion stars, plus a hundred times more matter, all fine-tuned to mind-boggling precision—for us.”

Secular anthropic principle proponents may not be far off in their belief that the window of human existence may be narrow and closing. Scripture tells of eschatological truths that God will install a new creation at some future time (Revelation 21). Physical laws governing our current sphere of creation will be replaced by entirely new laws governing existence in the new creation.

While we await the new creation, we revel in knowledge of many mundane optimizations we experience on this planet. The temperature and light increases we experience in late winter create optimal conditions for the “bursting forth” of plant and animal life in springtime. Spring is followed by summer and autumn. Then we begin another descent into seasonal somnolescence. God is the author of these cycles. They may be annual seasonal cycles, extensive climate cycles of warming and cooling, or exceedingly long term geological cycles bringing optimal conditions for the benefit of man. We recognize the signature of God’s omniscience in all changes.



Friday, May 9, 2014

Precision Characteristics

In our previous post entitled Precision Creation we highlighted the precision of the universe in terms of its “just right” characteristics, including past and present expansion rate, the size of the cosmos, and quantity of existing matter. Recognition of these “just right” characteristics is only the beginning of our understanding of the characteristics of the universe.

We continue discussion of the characteristics of our cosmos by asking why such precision exists. One could objectively describe this precision without explicitly conflating it with the existence or welfare of humanity. Philosophers and scientists challenge themselves by discussing whether the precision even exists without intelligent minds to comprehend its reality.

The last few decades the term anthropic principle has appeared, introduced by Brandon Carter, John Barrow, and Frank Tipler. It is not a formal scientific term, but it has been discussed extensively among scientists. Theologians, scientists, and philosophers have co-opted the term for lively discussion. One definition states the anthropic principle is “the observation that the universe appears to have been engineered for the specific benefit of the human species.”

Expansion rate, size of the cosmos, and quantity of existing matter, important for the  existence of life, especially human life in the universe, merely lays the framework for a broader understanding of the incredible precision and perfection of humanity’s home in a physical sense.

Understanding of fundamental physical constants, numbering in many hundreds, would bewilder non-scientists. Well known constants include the speed of light, masses of sub-atomic particles such as protons, neutrons, and electrons, and the fine structure constant. The latter measures the strength of electromagnetic force that controls how charged elementary particles interact. When we consider that millions of charged particles such as protons and electrons in our bodies as well as in all matter are always interacting, we may understand that any change in this fundamental constant would throw our universe into chaos. The same may be said of hundreds of other constants in our universe.

Laws of physics by which our every day experience is governed are based on the constancy of fundamental physical constants. Hundreds of fine-tuning parameters, unique characteristics of our earth which make our planet habitable, are also based on the changeless consistency of these physical constants.

We divert from scientific analysis of this precision with a caveat. Apart from convincing science, we may rely on intuitive personal insight concerning the divine, purposeful creation of humanity’s home. Falling short of formal scientific “proof,” personal intuition has been the inspiration for many scientists over the centuries. Later, application of more formal scientific method strengthens and confirms our personal intuition.

If I were to return to the classroom as a science educator, I would use a metaphor from the world of athletics for my sports-aware students: “Rules of the game.” Click also on the five “newer posts” following this link:




Saturday, May 3, 2014

Precision Creation

Before man developed telescopes able to clearly image galaxies outside our own Milky  Way, some early scientists and philosophers reasoned that our universe appeared far too small to be the work of God. Scripture writers, on the contrary, did not complain that the apparent visible universe was an undersized creation. An example of a devotional and descriptive scriptural exultation of creation is Psalm 19: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge” (Psalm 19:1-2). The Bible is not a science textbook, but these verses presage the startling truth we have acquired in modern times concerning our universe: The vast universe now reveals itself as a system of incredible physical precision. Our cosmic home is alive with discoverable knowledge concerning the degree of its precision. The 19th Psalm was “scientific” in the sense that it made accurate predictions of a future knowledge base.

Some scientists and philosophers of today voice a different complaint as they observe the immensity of the universe. In his volume Why The Universe Is The Way It Is, astronomer and theologian Hugh Ross reviews the skepticism of some agnostics: “The universe as now measured appears absurdly too large to serve as humanity’s home. Skeptics insist that a Creator, especially the biblical Creator, wouldn’t make unnecessary matter and space or waste creative effort.” These statements cast doubt or diminish the reality of God in keeping with the human characteristic of proclaiming God ought to do things a different way—our own way.

Hugh Ross’s introductory chapter states that theologians and a majority of astronomers agree that the “purpose” of the universe’s existence, structure, characteristics, and history is to provide a suitable home for physical life—humanity in particular. Many agnostic scientists acknowledge a purpose for the universe’s existence. Such issues are difficult to ignore, even if God is not explicitly acknowledged. In light of the frequent discussions concerning purpose in the universe, we ask what evidence exists for a divine purpose in providing a suitable home for humanity? The question is many-dimensional as are the answers. One overwhelming consideration is the issue of intelligent design of the characteristics of our cosmic home. The intelligent design proposal is rejected by naturalists as well as some theists who propose objections to the concept of intelligent design with vague statements that “God is the Creator of all things.”

Both agnostics and theists have wondered why the universe is so large in light of increasing evidence that Earth’s humans may be unique residents of this vast universe. Carl Sagan was convinced that countless trillions of other galaxies in the universe possessed planets with the ability to support life. The probability that there exist multiple other civilizations is not unreasonable, except when we consider that the enormous cosmic size and age of the universe is necessary for human life, or any life, to exist on even one planet. Likewise, the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, the tendency of energy in the universe to dissipate and become less useful, is just one other characteristic of the universe which enables life to exist. Interlocked with these broad characteristics—size, age and energy dissipation—are thousands of other characteristics which seem to point to divine cosmic authorship of a unique humanity established in only a single location. This universe is created with incomprehensible precision in order that humanity could appear at a given time. We are living in the given time.

Returning to the discussion of the universe being either too small or too large, let’s develop the related idea that our expanding universe expands at just the right rate—not too slow, not too fast. In like manner, the total amount of matter in the universe is fixed with great precision to permit the existence of human life. Too little or too much matter would preclude human existence. The scientific rationale supporting this knowledge is beyond the comprehension of most people.

The precision of “just the right amount” of matter in the universe is acknowledged by astrophysicists. Laypersons may understand the precision without knowing why it is necessary. We close with two quotes from Ross’s Why The Universe Is The Way It Is. “This degree of fine-tuning is so great that it’s as if right after the universe’s beginning someone could have destroyed the possibility of life within it by subtracting a single dime’s mass from the whole of the observable universe or adding a single dime’s mass to it.”

In the late 1990s a startling discovery was made. For the most recent half of the universe’s existence, its expansion rate has been accelerating instead of decelerating. Scientists now believe the acceleration is due to the repulsive force of a mysterious, recently discovered “dark energy.” Approximately 68% of the stuff in the universe is  “dark energy.” Therefore, 68% of total cosmic density is composed of dark energy. It could not even vary a tiny fraction of the mass of an electron lest the universe become unsuitable for the existence of life.

We live in a creation of incredible precision. Take away the precision and we take away the possibility of human existence. Precision speaks of a universe of incredible order. More familiar everyday physical laws and physical constants reflect the order of the universe as a whole. In turn we may grasp the magnitude and glory of God who lovingly provides a home for humanity created In His Image.