Saturday, January 30, 2016

Population Multiplication

One of the most powerful scripture verses occurs in the first book of Genesis. God said to his newly created humanity, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it…” (Gen. 1:28a ESV). Population multiplication has been a source of both blessing and concern for human society ever since man has contemplated the concept of population dynamics and issues related to the increase in human habitation of our planet.

We will discuss the statistical trajectory of historic human population after we briefly review the biblical account of the Israelites, God’s chosen people, in the second millennium before Christ. Joseph was a great-grandson of the patriarch Abraham, the grandson of Isaac, and the eleventh son of Jacob. After Joseph was sold to the Egyptians and carried off to Egypt he became an important ruler in the years to follow. Providentially, Joseph’s brothers traveled to Egypt years later to escape a famine in Canaan. They met the brother they had previously sold into slavery. Eventually, seventy Israelites went down to Egypt on Joseph’s invitation to escape the famine in their homeland. Joseph’s seventy-member family became a nation during their 430-year sojourn in Egypt.

The population growth of the Israelites from seventy souls to more than two million in just over 400 years is a tale of fruitful multiplication almost beyond comprehension. Under the most ideal conditions, the mathematical reality of such growth is astonishing. The original 70 souls could multiply to 17000 after 200 years, given four to five generations per century. In an example of geometric progression, those 17000 could easily become two million (600,000 men) in the ensuing two centuries.

A study of human history reveals few population bursts of this magnitude, even in the short term in a limited area. To be fruitful and multiply does not suggest theoretical population increases on such a scale. Population dynamics is far more interesting and complex than that. For example, when we study human population over recorded history, we discover slow growth best described as more or less linear. Contrastingly, the last 200 years human population sometimes manifested “exponential growth.” This sort of growth becomes ever more rapid in proportion to previous size increases of human population. But it may not hold forever. 

Human population held below one billion in the first tens of thousands of years of human habitation. The population of humanity on Earth initially hit one billion in 1804. In only 123 additional years (1927) the population was two billion; in 32 additional years (1959) we reached three billion; in 15 additional years (1974) we reached four billion; in 13 additional years (1987) we reached five billion, and in 12 additional years (1999) we reached six billion. In just 12 more years (2011) Planet Earth was home to seven billion souls!

The rate of increase has been decreasing in recent decades. Population increases have persisted, however, and may increase for some time. The graph of human population prior to 1800 may be described as roughly linear, but increasing. Population increases since then result from changes in fertility, mortality, initial population, and time. Fertility rates are affected by acquisition of knowledge. They increase or decrease. Mortality has been decreasing with the advance of biotechnology. Man’s increased knowledge and advances in biotechnology are some of the multidimensional gifts of the Creator of humanity. He supplies man with the ability to “be fruitful and multiply and subdue the earth” in a manner beneficial to himself and all living things.



Friday, January 22, 2016

Senescence Reprise

A mid-winter retreat from the cold winter climate of our permanent residence affords an opportunity to connect with relatives and friends. Some siblings have already become permanently ensconced in warm climates. Many personal friends and neighbors from frigid northern states have taken the opportunity to escape to Florida or Arizona, some for a week or two, some for several months. Friend and neighbor escapees are known as “snow birds,” mostly retired folks whose most productive, healthiest years are behind them. In their leisure time they often discuss their latest health crises as well as reminiscences of their healthier, more productive years.

Health crises of retirees are common signals of senescence, defined generally as “age-related changes in an organism that adversely affect vitality and function.” In the past few years I have proposed this term to friends with a request to define the condition. I have discovered the term is hardly known. Sometimes people discuss their ongoing ailments as a clinical badge of honor, but senescence is a term most people seem unable to define. Medical professionals focus on their specialty of treating and healing specific diseases. Patients are encouraged to embrace the hope that with treatment, improvement in their condition is in view. And indeed, modern medicine has produced increasingly wonderful results.

Senescence is not a disease. Rather, it is a tendency of the body to run down under a barrage of gradual organismal deterioration. Research is ongoing in relation to possible causation—intrinsic cell aging. As such, senescence is a topic of focus for scientists, health professionals, humorists, psychologists, philosophers, and even theologians. What are the theological implications of senescence? There are several scriptures which refer to the human tendency toward senescence. We do not offer them as proof texts, but as supporting biblical commentary. Psalm 90:10 (ESV) states: “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.” This is a poetic, allegorical commentary with a startling element of truth.

Eugene Peterson’s The Message translation of Ecclesiastes 12 combines humor with the stark reality of old age. In a series of three posts from 2013 we considered the topic of senescence and closed one entry with a commentary from the Ecclesiastes passage:

Our universe has been created by God with the tendency to run down. In parallel, our physical existence is also prone to deterioration. Energy converts from a higher to a lower level of useful energy in many physical processes. A study of physical and chemical processes operating in our world of today demonstrates that the Second Law of Thermodynamics, sometimes called the Law of Decay, is actually a benefit to life as we know it. Some commentators may posit that this Law of Decay overlay is a weakness in the operation of our universe, and by extension, our planet. But the Law of Decay is not a weak link in the scheme of creation. God pronounced his creation good and very good as it unfolded according to the Genesis account of creation. God’s operating universe is purposeful, even when our acquaintances draw the opposite conclusion. The truth of this statement may be difficult to accept in times of difficulty, physical disaster, human senescence, senility, or death. It may be difficult to appreciate any outcome not in accordance with our frail ability to understand.

The subject of the benefit of the Law of Decay deserves thoughtful study beyond our ability to discuss it in one or several brief posts. During the New Creation spoken of in the 21st chapter of the Book of Revelation, more divine purpose will be revealed to the redeemed in Christ. The “weaknesses” of this creation will be revealed as strengths of God’s divine plan even though its apparent weaknesses appear incompatible with our human plans. We close with the term “senescence” on our mind. May God grant us wisdom to accept his mind.  



Monday, January 11, 2016

Inclusive Worldview

Our way of envisioning and explaining life and the world surrounding us, our personal traditions and past and present external reality is called worldview. Our total experience revolves around our worldview, even when we are unaware of the concept or its meaning. In this post we continue with statements offered by The Truth Project worldview workshop on one of the many dimensions included in their worldview discussion—the vision of science and its ongoing discoveries.

Science is not an isolated segment of life’s reality. Rather, science integrates with every aspect of our experience. It helps explain human history, man’s present experience, and the projected trajectory of future human experience. In this light we approach discussion of natural phenomena. Dr. Stephen Meyer was quoted concerning a “fundamental reality” discovered in the nucleus of every living cell. This reality relates to cellular information in the the DNA molecule which directs the building of proteins, the copying of information, and the transfer of the coded information. Any building process, whether within the cell or in the physical construction process of an office building complex in our community, must follow building sequences in the correct order. Acknowledgement of the building Designer is inescapable.

With respect to evolution of life forms, specifically what is known as “molecules to man” evolution, Charles Darwin made a famous statement. He claimed that a complex organ such as an eye (and by extension a complete organism) could not form from a long and gradual succession of small changes. His theory would absolutely break down if a gradual succession were not in evidence. In real life, Darwinists must acknowledge that there are no examples of intermediate forms linking one species to a different species. David Berlinski, noted mathematician and senior fellow of The Discovery Institute think tank which advocates purpose and intelligent design in the natural world, has estimated that 50,000 separate morphological changes would be involved in transforming a sea animal to a land animal.

Evolutionists are not convinced that arguments such as the ones posed by Berlinski or scientists such as Stephen C. Meyer or biochemist Michael Behe have significant relevance to the complex arguments for or against evolution, or for or against design. We encourage serious personal investigation of these issues. Respect for the truth or falsity of evolution is heavily linked with individual appreciation for the reality of the naturalistic worldview over against the reality of the theological worldview. We acknowledge that individual views of the universe as a closed system (denial of all supernatural causes within our universe) is only one end of the opinion spectrum of origins reality. At a different position on the opinion spectrum, evolutionary creationists (theistic evolutionists) believe that God guides the “molecules to man” evolutionary process. Creationists occupy the opposite end of the spectrum.

Divine action to enable evolution as a guided process is at odds with geological evidence. A theoretical linear graphic of the historical progress of evolution does not manifest gradual upward movement. Instead, a succession of steps characterizes the graphic. The vertical features on the steps indicate sudden appearances of new species. The horizontal steps illustrate stasis—no significant change. Sudden changes indicating the appearance of new species at spaced intervals interspersed with long periods of stasis are the norm. Gradualism is not in evidence. “Evolution” is evidenced if we examine the total record of life in the past four billion years: Life has changed, of course. However, the condition of the evolutionary highway is bumpy, not smooth! The Cambrian Explosion of life may be the most significant “bump.”

Evolutionary arguments for transitions from one species to another are weak, at best. Environmental changes or selection pressures are evident in Darwin’s finches or the development of numerous dog breeds. But such changes return to normal when environmental or selection extremes are reversed.

Worldview issues related to evolution and other biological realities relate differently to human experience than worldview issues related to ethics, government, or societal structure. The latter issues are addressed by the special revelation of inspired scripture. Science issues relate to general revelation, the record of nature and how we interpret evidence from the world of nature. The evidence points to the God of creation.  


Saturday, January 9, 2016

Worldview Apologetics

Our science/faith blog is hosted by the Ankerberg Theological Research Institute (ATRI), an apologetic ministry for the truth of Christianity. Included in Dr.Ankerberg’s apologetic approach are strong affirmations of the Christian theistic worldview. In all Christian ministries, a proper theistic worldview is one of the foundations of the faith experience. 

During the last decade, Del Tackett, former president of Focus on the Family Institute, developed the popular Truth Project, an in-depth worldview instructional workshop integrating core biblical principles in every area of life. I was privileged to lead a three-month Truth Project workshop in my own church in 2006. The topics included philosophy, ethics, anthropology, history, sociology, and government, among other topics. Two sessions were devoted to science. The apologetic value of science is vital as we discuss worldview. The Truth Project’s total subject matter affirms a broad-scope scriptural worldview.

We commend Dr. John Ankerberg for integrating science in his apologetic television programs over many years. Dr. Stephen Meyer, theistic intelligent design advocate, and Dr. Hugh Ross, an astrophysicist recognizing divine “fine tuning” of our universe, have been guests on the John Ankerberg Show on many occasions. Both of these men are scientists and Christians of high repute.

We reviewed our personal notes from our 2006 Truth Project science sessions. Many topics were identical or similar to our past posts. Following are some brief outlines of the main points from the literature supplied by The Truth Project authors and from personal notes:

In the naturalistic worldview, our universe is conceptualized as a cosmic cube—“The Box.” Carl Sagan said “The cosmos (the box) is all that is, ever was, or ever will be.” But the Christian worldview is that God acts from outside the box. He transcends the time and space dimensions of this universe. But God also manifests himself within the box. This manifestation makes for a “noisy” box! The heavens are alive with evidence of the glory of God and God’s design features in the natural world. Thus, the “noise” of the box declares his handiwork (Psalm 19:1).

Romans 1:20 affirms that God’s invisible qualities are seen from what “has been made.” As truth seekers, we are implored to be evidentialists in our approach to apologetics. We repeat—the noisy box declares his handiwork.

Since evidence for a beginning of our universe has been scientifically demonstrated owing to the observed expansion of the universe, we note that a universal beginning signals a Beginner—a Creator. If the universe were infinitely old, the universe should have run down to a zero energy state because of what we know as the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Therefore, the universe began with the Creator.

We must be cautious about the claims of secular scientists such as Carl Sagan who claimed, “We search for TRUTH no matter where the search will lead.” This is a deceptive statement. When a fine-tuned, beautifully designed universe points to a  divine Designer, naturalistic scientists reject the idea. Such scientists must limit themselves to truth claims concerning cause and effect within the cosmic box—what happens, and why it happens. Instead, they have ventured into philosophical statements such as “the natural world is all there is.”

In the past few decades, secular science professionals have inserted another term in addition to hypothesis, theory, and law. It is not a classic term like the others. The term is “FACT.” Facts are something we all just naturally “accept.” If evolution is a scientific theory based on facts we observe about a changing universe, we are enjoined to accept naturalistic evolution. In future posts we examine the claims of a naturalistic worldview, including the claims of evolutionary theory.  


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

God's Biological Processes

“The more we study biochemistry and cellular biology the more we become sure of God’s hand in every biological process.” This statement emerged from a conversation among friends recently as we discussed epigenetics, the topic of our last few posts. To those attuned to the orderliness and apparent purpose underlying biological processes we see operating in the natural world, such statements appear highly plausible.

Many professional scientists make a point of searching exclusively for natural causes and effects when studying biological processes in nature. For these scientists a theological dimension is not included as they address bioscience issues. They do not include a theological context for their observations. Apparent orderliness, purposefulness, and fine tuning of physical constants governing nature’s processes do not deter these professionals from exclusively focusing on natural causes and effects as they investigate, observe, and explain our biological environment. If all scientific conclusions are defined solely on a natural context, we are remiss to disregard the theological context.

Scientists investigate mainly natural phenomena. With respect to the dichotomy of natural vs supernatural, the nature of primary and secondary causation are related philosophical and theological questions. Specifically, empirical scientists study the reality of secondary causes. There would be no secondary causes, however, without a previously acting primary cause. Today’s scientists do not speculate on the nature of primary causes. Our blog has proposed that the Creator of Judeo-Christian scripture is the primary cause of all matter and energy along with physical constants and laws governing matter and energy. Thereafter, secondary causes operate, emplaced by God to sustain all events to follow.

We do not disparage study of natural phenomena or secondary causation. Scientists define their work with respect to natural, secondary causes. They research and describe cause and effect phenomena within the sphere of secondary causation. There is no error in this approach. If there is any scientific weakness, it may be  failure to acknowledge possible active agents at any point in the cause and effect sequence, particularly in the beginning. Scientists do not ordinarily speculate on the Primary Cause. For example, the incredible human genome and epigenome appears to originate in divine intelligence and agency. To those who subscribe to a theistic worldview, biological processes are plausibly linked with past agency of the Primary Cause—God—the Creator of all things.

The Creator has emplaced a marvelous functionality within biological systems. He authored the features of the genome with its coded DNA. He also authored the features of the epigenome of which we are discovering more with each passing year. This is known as secondary causality. God is the author of primary causality and the sustainer of secondary causality. The Christian theistic worldview embraces the ultimate truth of the previous statements.

God’s hand in every biological process? In the Christian/theistic worldview, we perceive God’s hand in every biological process. Christian theists should not be deterred by contemporary scientists’ rejection of a theistic context for their conclusions, knowing that contemporary scientists embrace naturalistic contexts for their conclusions concerning reality. We regret that theological contexts are not inherent in their conclusions concerning reality. But we rejoice that theological contexts are inherent as believers in the God of Creation inspect the world of living things, in particular, the world of humanity.