Monday, June 30, 2014

Knowledge Validation

Epistemology is a study of knowledge. Searching the topic further, we find that our knowledge must be validated. We must strive to achieve justified true belief. We strive to be sure our beliefs are true, not merely our opinions. Brief statements about knowledge, validation, and justified true beliefs are inadequate to describe topics about which philosophers have produced plentiful writings to help us locate correct thinking. Knowledge is a more difficult concept than we suppose.

In matters of the science/faith interface we may investigate how science relates to our faith. Science is a vehicle leading us to knowledge of our natural world in many different fields. Knowledge of physical, biological, and earth/space sciences has expanded exponentially in our lifetimes. Going back roughly 400 years, the scientific revolution greatly expanded our knowledge of the universe. In terms of the interface between science and faith, has science increased our knowledge of God? Or is our science a self-contained sphere of knowledge, neither enhancing nor detracting from our God-awareness and God-knowledge?

Is the existence of God affirmed or weakened by the knowledge of science? We posit that the existence of God is strongly affirmed by the discoveries of science. Therefore, knowledge of the discoveries of science as well as knowledge of how science works validates our knowledge of God’s existence as well as the fact that God created all things. Not only did God create, but we have knowledge of how God created. For example, we have knowledge that there was a beginning of our universe in an infinitely small speck. We have knowledge of how the universe has developed since that beginning. Our knowledge confirms the orderliness of the created universe. Atoms, the particles out of which the visible material of the universe consist, in turn are composed of an orderly array of subatomic particles. The particles possess fundamental forces called strong, weak, electromagnetic, and gravitational. We do not fully understand these forces beyond the truth that they are necessary to hold our  universe together in an orderly way.

Some information about our universe is still unknown. Discoveries in the last two decades have advanced our knowledge. For instance, there is a mysterious unseen “dark energy” which comprises a large fraction of the mass/density (68.3%) of the universe. We know, however, that the amount of dark energy along with dark (26.8%) and visible (4.9%) matter must be fine tuned to an incredible degree of precision in order that the expansion of the universe may allow life to exist.

With respect to life, evolutionary science does not have an explanation for the origin of life in our universe. The Judeo-Christian Bible claims God created life. It is one of the fundamental mysteries confronting the naturalistic science profession. In terms of physical processes governing matter, most interactions of matter ultimately yield their secrets to the discovery processes of science. Discovery of the secrets of the beginning of life on earth is a notable exception. Many scientists optimistically speculate on the probability of life on even one or perhaps many other planets circling the trillions of other stars in our universe. With each passing year, dozens of additional fine-tuned characteristics necessary for life on even one other planet are described. The probability of life on any other planet in our universe becomes more incomprehensibly remote with each passing year.

Since the days of Charles Darwin, bio-scientists have created their elaborate theory of molecules to man evolution whereby modern man evolved from LUCA, the “last universal common ancestor.” Every organism, according to the theory, evolved from one common living organism at some time in the past four billion years. Darwin wrote “Therefore I should infer from analogy that probably all the organic beings which have ever lived on this earth have descended from some one primordial form, into which life was first breathed.”

Humanity has been characterized by a tendency to propose their own intellectual constructs. Our blog has compared creation proposals with evolutionary proposals along earth’s lengthy timeline to explain the beauty and complexity of life forms and life processes. Evidence for creation events to explain the many rapid appearances of magnificent and diverse life forms is plentiful. The ancient Cambrian Explosion is one of many examples. In contrast, evolution depends on repeated hypotheses of evolutionary branching transitions resulting in speciations.

Our quest for knowledge of origins must strive to achieve the standard of “justified true belief.” Some may offer their opinion that “justified true belief” applies to their embrace of organic evolution. Opinions on evolution may connect broadly with a naturalistic world view. Or, we may endorse supernatural creationism for our explanation of life origins. We must insure that our belief that God’s existence and his power to create connect standards of validation and “justified true beliefs” to our claim of knowledge.  



Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Is Text "King?"

What does the text say? Pastors refer to the biblical text. They repeat this question when introducing their preferred pulpit topics. A favored topic giving voice to this question during pulpit studies on Genesis is the important question of origins. Not only do pastors deal with the question of the divine creation of the universe, but also time frames for the creation of the universe, the earth as a separate body, and the sudden appearance of complex bacterial earth life. More detailed studies deal with the onset of multicellular life during the Pre-Cambrian, the startling explosion of diverse, complex life during the Cambrian, the progression of animals and plants making their appearance on the planet in the eons since then, and finally the creation of humanity in God’s image. These topics are difficult, hot button issues.

In dealing with the question “What does the text say,” we offer a caution: Interpretation of the Bible text assumes even more importance.

Detailed textual treatment of any subject frequently opens with an introductory chapter. In scripture, nothing in the introductory statements is false or misleading, but the text may cry out for more detail. The introduction serves a specific purpose. Its purpose may be merely to provide an appetizer to set the stage for consumption of the main literary meal. Discovery of details of the creation story is still ongoing. 

Genesis 1-2 provides a brief textual account of the creation of the universe and the appearance of life on our planet. Verse 1 begins the account: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Chapters 3-4 follows with a chronicle of early human families. In terms of thoroughness, my personal desire includes a quantitatively expanded version of events in Genesis 1-4. Nevertheless, we do not second guess the human writer of Genesis or question the abbreviated length of the Genesis narrative. God inspired the human author to produce the desired length as well the appropriate content.

In terms of the origin of the created universe and operation of our cosmos as it continues today, we ask if the text of the first few chapters of Genesis should be regarded as king? What does “Text Is King” mean in this context? May we use the divinely inspired, authoritative text of the opening chapters of scripture to establish a detailed timeline for creation events, to determine if the creation days were 24-hours long, or to answer other specific questions about creation that occur to us? We respectfully state that in this sense, a singular interpretation of text is not king. We long to read extended additional chapters of the story of creation. But the Bible does not provide extended informational chapters on the subject. The authoritative meaning of God’s inspired introductory creation account in Genesis 1-4, however, is utterly undiminished. Genesis 1-4 reads as introduction to a wonderful creation narrative. It introduces fundamental truths.

Beyond the introduction of core truths of the creation saga in the early text of  Genesis, detailed truth discovery awaits us. The terms special revelation and general revelation are not used in scripture but these familiar concepts are derived from the Bible. Special revelation predominates in scripture—the message of God’s redemptive love for man and how he reaches out to humanity. In our day the Word of God communicates special revelation primarily through textual historic records of God’s dealings with humanity and the revelation of Jesus Christ to man by his incarnation. In contrast, general revelation is the message told concerning the Creator by his created works and clarified by our discovery of specifics concerning operation of the physical creation. Famous passages from Psalm 19 and Romans 1:20 describe instances of general revelation.

Some theologians conflate textual special revelation with interpretation of details concerning physical creation events, linking doctrines of salvation and our relationship with God with general revelation. Some believe their favored interpretation of Hebrew language subtleties is beyond error with respect to physical creation events. The several meanings of “yom” (day) provide an example with respect to duration of creation days.

Is text “king?” Our multidimensional God reveals himself in multidimensional ways. We need not stop off at the text of Genesis 1-2 and pronounce our interpretation “king” with respect to topics of physical creation. To do so would limit our knowledge of both God and God’s created works. The above-referenced scriptures from Psalms and Romans refer to the general revelation of God in creation. It remains for man to discover rich information concerning details of creation events. In our modern age, plentiful knowledge has been gained from correctly interpreted science. Detailed specifics of Genesis 1-2 events are now accessible. As science methods improve we acquire more and more information concerning the age and history of the universe, our solar system, and Earth life. Our blog has stressed the sudden appearances of life forms and the basic changelessness of species after they appear. We have described these events in bio-history as divine creation events in conformity with the introductory chapters of the Book of Genesis.     



Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Convincing Proofs

Luke the physician, author of the New Testament Book of Acts and the gospel named for him, was apparently an evidentialist. Even in Luke’s day doctors were required to be skilled diagnosticians able to observe and report carefully. We are unsure what sort of medical training physicians received in the days of the early church. We assume physical effects were linked to causes in Doctor Luke’s office even in those nascent days of medical practice.

The King James version uses an interesting phrase to support belief that Christ rose from the dead: “…he showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3 KJV). Translators have used “infallible proofs” in Luke’s account of Christ’s resurrection. Faced with doubt and disbelief many were startled by Christ’s resurrection. Early followers of Jesus needed reassurance that the event really happened. Most people trusted numerous eyewitness testimonials cited by Luke. Other modern translations such as the NIV use the term “convincing proofs” instead of “infallible (not subject to error) proofs.” The meaning is very clear. Luke’s evidence for Christ’s resurrection is convincing.

Romans 10:9 attributes the resurrection of Christ from the dead to the work of God. The miracle of resurrection from the dead is a transcendent miracle, perhaps the most “spectacular” sort of miraculous event, surpassing more common transformational and sustaining miracles. Transcendent miracles supersede established physical laws by which the world operates every day. When we believe in a transcendent miracle, we also believe in the God who performs the miracle: “That if you confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Roman 10:9 NIV).

In Bible times we encounter many people who did not believe in God. Even the miraculous works of Christ did not persuade them. Luke 16:31 refers to people who would not believe or repent even though someone were to rise from the dead. Such a miracle may persuade a non-believer to become a believer. However, there is no guarantee that witnessing a miracle, or many miracles, is sufficient to convert from  non-belief to belief. Free will, one of God’s surpassing gifts to man whereby we choose to believe or disbelieve, is still operative in every human.

Our science/faith blog assumes that for many observers, faith in God is strengthened by knowledge of wonders revealed to us from the world of science. Others believe many interrelated phenomena are to be regarded as events that “just happen.” This is the view of naturalism, that “nature is all there is,” and that God does not act. Intuitively many observers conclude that God is the author of our spectacularly ordered universe.

There is no guaranteed path to faith even in the face of the best reinforcing evidence for belief in God from the world of science or any other world. As Doctor Luke stated, we have confidence in “convincing proofs” as we study evidence for the transcendent miracle of Christ’s resurrection. The degree of our confidence in the proofs depends on our personal willingness to believe. We study the evidence of sustaining, transformational, and transcendent miracles. Then we decide whether or not the evidence tilts us toward belief in the reality of God and the reality of creation events spoken of throughout scripture.



Saturday, June 14, 2014

Privilege vs Mediocrity

Guillermo Gonzales and Jay Richards produced a book and DVD in 2004 entitled The Privileged Planet: How Our Planet Is Designed For Discovery. These skillfully written resources are a welcome rebuttal for the naturalistic science community’s belief that planet Earth is nothing special in view of the likely presence of billions of planets in our Milky Way galaxy which may possess water—a prerequisite for life. The late Carl Sagan (1934-1996) optimistically speculated there may be as many as one million civilizations similar to ours. Such beliefs pique human imagination and are still popular today. Sagan was a master communicator who popularized science.

As a classroom teacher one of my queries to students was whether they believed there was advanced life anywhere else in the universe. Most students answered in the affirmative. When asked what they thought their science teacher believed they answered even more positively in the affirmative. They were surprised to discover I did not believe in life anywhere else in our vast universe. One reason I offered included my suspicion that if any other intelligent beings exist among the many planets surrounding 50 billion trillion stars within the billions of other galaxies in the universe, it seems strange that not even one intelligent signal has been received to confirm their presence since the Creation described in Genesis 1:1. I offered my opinion to class members prior to some of the more recent persuasive arguments offered by astrophysicists such as Guillermo Gonzales, Hugh Ross, and others on the subject of Earth’s uniqueness.

The Privileged Planet concept has been developed to demonstrate the utter impossibility that life could exist on any other planet in the universe. This uniqueness is not easy to understand unless one studies the issues thoroughly. Brief discussions fall woefully short. Planet Earth possesses over 200 design characteristics all of which must be present in order for Earth to manifest life. The enormous size of the universe, its expansion rate, its quantity of matter and dark energy, and the number of stars are necessary parameters enabling unique Earth life. That Earth supports life, human life in particular, is no accident of chance. Knowledge of the uniqueness of Earth, humanity, and life in general on our planetary home is an occasion to offer worship of the Creator and our love for him.

Carl Sagan in his popular 1980 Cosmos television series did not exult in the uniqueness of our planet and human life. His opening statement “The cosmos is all that is, or was, or ever shall be” contains multiple theological and scientific errors. The second phrase does not remind us that science had identified a beginning of the universe long before the Cosmos programs—the beginning of time, space, matter and energy at a finite time in the distant past. The third phrase reveals a theological error: According to the Book of Revelation our dimensions of time and matter will come to a close at the onset of the New Creation (Revelation 21). The initial statement, “The cosmos is all that is,” propounds a theological ignorance of the spiritual dimensions of God’s existence outside the dimensionality of human existence.

With respect for Sagan’s ability to popularize science, we add a caveat. Science is a naturalistically based discipline according to the dictates of many professionals in the field of science. Those professionals verbalize respect for Stephen J. Gould’s principle of NOMA (, deliberately separating the world of theology from their view of science. This separation is a metaphysical error of unprecedented dimensions.

Copernicus was a Christian who frequently referred to God in his works. He straightened out astronomical concepts: the sun was the center of the Solar System and the earth revolved around the sun. But his name came to be attached to “The Copernican Principle,” also ironically known as “The Mediocrity Principle.” The Earth is not as important as it once seemed because it was no longer envisioned to be at the center. Translation: Earth is merely one part of an enormous universe. As such, it was deemed to be insignificant. We reject such reasoning. Earth is a “Privileged Planet.”

In God’s wisdom, he provided an utterly unique Solar System and a unique Planet Earth. Naturalistic thinking deflects us from the uniqueness of planet Earth. Copernicus was a believer in God. It is unfortunate the definition of the “Copernican Principle” suggests that Earth is far from unique. In reality, Earth is unique beyond comprehension!      


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Earth Motion Myths

A recent motor trip to the east coast afforded the opportunity to contemplate the simple motions of planet Earth—rotation and revolution. While traveling east by automobile, clock times advance one hour each 800 miles at our latitude of 40 degrees. For a trip of that length we need to advance our clocks one hour. If we travel east by air we must advance our clocks six or seven hours on a 10-hour flight. Traveling west we must set our clocks back. Our clock adjustments do not signal any actual change in the speed at which time passes. Rather, the clock adjustments help humans reckon clock time on a spherical planet. Mid-day lunch should occur around noon by our clocks no matter where we live. Regular events such as work time, meal time, or sleep time traditionally occur as a consequence of living on a spherical planetary globe. We set our clocks to correspond to these events. 

God’s creative plan for the formation of a habitable spherical planet as man’s abode included the motions of rotation and revolution. A central star is the body around which planets revolve. Presently we have discovered about 2000 rotating planets revolving around stars in our region of the Milky Way Galaxy. In our galaxy alone, scientists believe there are tens of billions of planets. More planets are discovered each year. The possibility that any one of these planets has characteristics necessary to support earth life is incomprehensibly remote. Earth is a unique planet with hundreds of life-supporting requirements, all of which must be present. The presence of liquid water is merely the opening page of a catalog of “musts.” Scientists identify more life-enabling characteristics necessary for earth life each passing year. The belief of secular scientists that inevitably we will discover a life-supporting planet which actually possesses life becomes less likely even as discovery of more extrasolar planets multiplies.

The myth of a flat earth has been spread by some secularist attempts to denigrate religious believers. In reality, very few people historically believed in a flat earth. Exceptions were believers in mythology. Surprisingly, most early thinkers correctly identified the shape of the earth as spherical. A few believed in the reality of earth rotation. Others proposed incorrect explanations of sky motion. The geo-centrists, proponents of the Ptolemaic system, thought the stationary, non-rotating earth was at the center of the cosmic system and that heavenly bodies such as the moon and sun revolved around us. These conclusions were based on visual observation that bodies seem to circle around us. This view generally prevailed until Copernicus (1473-1543) introduced the heliocentric system.

One early Indian thinker, Aryabhata (456-550 AD), envisioned earth’s rotation and attributed star motion to our own real rotational motion. His vision of the sun traveling around earth, however was errant. Aristarchus (310-230 BC) was an early believer in heliocentrism—the sun is located at the center of the universe with the earth revolving around it. His ideas were revived by Copernicus in the early Modern Age. Traditional beliefs were not easy to discard. Some early church leaders saw the new cosmology as a threat to their interpretation of what the Bible taught. In the years following Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, and Isaac Newton made refinements to Copernicus’s cosmology.

Knowledge of why we must turn our clocks forward or backward when we travel long distances east or west on our planet is an extra challenge for the student. Observations of day lengthening and night shortening as the beginning of summer approaches, or day shortening and night lengthening as winter approaches adds extra interest. Likewise we attempt to explain seasonal changes, why the moon changes its shape, how eclipses occur, or why each star appears to revolve around Polaris once each day. We may ask why the moon’s elevation above the horizon is lower in summer and higher in the winter, or why the sun sets in the southwest in winter, but in the northwest in summer.

Teachers and parents may inspire curiosity about how myths have been dispelled and our accurate knowledge of astronomy has been achieved. We must teach our students to be good observers of the wonders surrounding us. God is the author of the wonders of the cosmos. As we learn more about our natural world we learn more about the Creator.