Friday, May 27, 2016

Evidence of God's Existence

Does God exist? This question may be uttered somewhat softly. Most people have considered the question in their minds, but have less often verbalized it. Perhaps this is because few people in our circle of friends wish to be noted as doubters on the issue of God’s existence. A large majority profess to believe in God’s existence. Such a belief is supported by a philosophical ontological position: the nature of being and the entities of being. Ontologists defer from specific questions concerning the reality of God. Ontotheologists deal with the question of God with somewhat more specificity, but exclude a more vibrant consideration of the existence of a personal God of Creation. It is the latter concept of God we highlight with our leading question, “Does God exist?”

Pew Research Center in a “Religious Landscape Study” in 2014 discovered that 89% of Americans believe in God or a universal spirit, but only 63% are absolutely certain that God exists. With each passing decade these percentages are declining. There is wide disparity in these figures among different demographic groups. These statistics cover a broad spectrum of theological belief systems. Orthodox, traditional belief in the existence of the God of Judeo-Christian scripture is less than the above statistics indicate.  

Recognition of the existence of God is an important theme of scripture. This recognition was easier for the people in the age of the Bible. In Old Testament times God was manifest to the Chosen People through cluster miracles at key times of God’s self-revelation. These miracles made it easier for people of that day to recognize the existence of God either by directly witnessing divine action or by listening to first person accounts of people not far removed from the events. In New Testament times the events of Christ’s miracles, death, and resurrection as well as early miracles of the disciples provided other instances of redemptive significance and direct credibility for the existence of God.

The message of biblical revelation is primarily one of God’s redemptive mission to man. Notwithstanding the historical immediacy of God’s incarnation in Jesus Christ, even in New Testament times recognizing God’s existence was a challenge for some early Christians. The writer of Hebrews offered a deep instructional thought for early Christians as well as for us in the 21st century: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 NIV). God’s existence was a subject for consideration two thousand years ago. Other translations use a verb of being, is, in place of exists. Still others use an adjective, is real after the verb of being is.

Some modern arguments for the existence of God are philosophical; others are more scientific. The philosophical arguments are substantiated by reason. These arguments appeal to the human intellect. They do not supply proof beyond any doubt, much less physical proof. Scientific arguments may relate to physical evidence more closely than evidence provided by rational argument. Some arguments for the existence of God are termed ontological, cosmological, teleological, moral, and ethnological. Cosmological and teleological arguments may be judged more scientific in terms of their need for supporting physical evidence. Just as philosophical arguments may be the source of disagreement, so may physical evidence supplied by science be interpreted in different ways. Proof for God’s existence is a nearly impossible standard to achieve. We must judge by the strength of our reason and the reliability of our evidence and interpretational skills. Our personal answer to “Does God exist?” is dependent on many variables.

The premise of our blog has been to demonstrate the relationship of science and faith. This does not signal that science provides evidence for proof of God. We have already commented that proof is a difficult standard in the world of science. Science philosopher William Lane Craig has written, “We know almost nothing to be true with certainty.” Perhaps we could restate Craig’s observation by claiming that proof is an almost impossible standard to achieve. Evidence for support of a proposition is much easier to discover. As evidence for our propositions increases in quantity and quality, we move closer to the proof standard. Proof for God’s existence may be impossible but evidence for God’s existence could be strong and persuasive. It is incumbent on each person to examine evidence from a multitude of observations and accordingly come to a personal conclusion. The intrinsic notion of God is present in man. Acceptance of the truth of this notion based on evidence becomes a matter of personal choice.      

In 2007 we were offered the opportunity to produce this science/faith blog. Enthusiasm for our project has only increased. We realize how science strengthens our faith as well as how faith enriches science discovery. In our vision the two are intertwined, not to be perceived as unrelated domains. In the future we plan to review a number of evidences for God’s existence and other realities of our physical world. In the absence of proof for God’s existence, we must focus on the effectiveness of plentiful evidence. 




Sunday, May 22, 2016

Why So Invested?

Why am I so invested in the origins issue? This question has been posed to me over many years by a friend with whom I have carried on a longstanding, fascinating discussion concerning the difference between evolutionary theory and creationist belief. There is strong distinction between evolutionary theory and creationist belief because evolution of life forms is a statement of proposals by scientists while creation is primarily a concept promoted by theologians. There is a considerable crossover relationship between the terms evolutionism and creationism, however. Each term has connection to the other if only because their inherent meanings are diametrically opposed. In the past few years the terms have been linked by the introduction of an interesting term: “evolutionary creationism.”

The individual referenced in the opening paragraph defines himself as an evolutionary creationist by virtue of his frequent intonement that “God created all things.” How and when God did this is uncertain, he states. Evolutionary creationists believe in LUCA, the last universal common ancestor from whom all living things, including humanity, have descended. LUCA was most likely a one-celled organism on the primordial earth.   

In theology different forms of the term translated create assume a variety of meanings in biblical Hebrew. They connote the production of a new entity or at least, a different entity. Subtleties of meaning have been discussed by interpreters at length.

We return to evolutionism as it is studied by bioscientists guided by a bedrock tenet of the science profession—methodological naturalism (MN). Philosophers of science have installed MN as an operating principle of all science research and discovery. No scientific conclusions have been advanced without strict adherence to this MN pillar. Figuratively engraved on the pillar is the statement, “Science investigates only natural causes.” Supernatural explanations are excluded.

There is no significant difference between the operation of evolutionary processes in the evolutionary creationist’s view and the naturalistic evolutionist’s view. There is one distinction. The evolutionary creationist envisions evolution as a God-guided process while the naturalistic evolutionist sees evolution as an unguided process. “What is the difference, then?” I inquired. If evolution is guided, does the guiding process demand procedural input from the Creator? If the answer is affirmative, it appears that the Creator’s input provides the signature of an intelligent agent producing an intelligently designed entity.

Theistic evolutionists (aka evolutionary creationists), however, are strongly opposed to the theory of intelligent design (ID). In this way theistic evolutionists embrace an inconsistent and contradictory position. The record of historical geology provides evidence of numerous conversions from one species to a separate, different species. No human was present to document the process, to record the sequence of events, or to detail what actually happened. This stunning process of change from one species to another is called “speciation.” Remarkably, the speciation process left no fossil record of intermediate stages enabling modern evolutionary biologists to provide details of the process of change from one species to a different one. If a series of gradual transitional specimens were evident in the fossil record, the theoretical process of evolution could be credibly explained. Instead, we possess a fossil record appearing graphically as  steps on a stairway rather than a gradual incline. There are no truly transitional steps and no transitional specimens exist. Modern evolutionary biologists share the frustration of missing transitional fossils with Charles Darwin who noticed their absence a century and a half ago. 

Evolutionary creationist friends with whom I have exchanged views for many years have embraced methodological naturalism (MN) as their guiding principle—a heuristic, epistemological protocol, procedure, or method of bio-science professionals. They aver that MN, in excluding the supernatural in their practice of science is of great benefit. MN, they claim, indicates the genius of modern science and is one of the main reasons modern science has produced such fruitful results. Perhaps they fear overuse of the “God-of-the-Gaps” answers sometimes offered as explanations for events in the world of nature: if they fail to understand a given event governed by a natural cause they may proclaim, “God did it miraculously.” Reasonable, thoughtful creationists do not offer this answer. We must not defer to a supernatural cause when a natural explanation is indicated. The Creator has emplaced natural laws to operate in virtually all everyday phenomena. Questions concerning the origin of life and the origins of species, however, are clearly in an elevated realm of reality.

We acknowledge both frequent natural events and rare and unusual supernatural or hypernatural events after the universe began. Natural events governed by Creator-emplaced natural laws at the beginning enable virtually every event in our environment. Modern methods of science are able to discover and explain these phenomena and utilize them for the benefit of all humanity. The wonders of modern technology are not miracles, although older generations may enthusiastically claim them to be. This is the sense in which MN has enabled modern science to produce such fruitful results: God does not need to produce ongoing supernatural miracles either in the technology laboratory or in accounting for the wonders of human bodily function. There appear, however, rare and special events along the timeline of earth history, including the origin of life and speciation, which do not yield to explanation by natural processes. Rather, a supernatural explanation may be in view. Bioscience professionals may be well advised to crack open that door of possibility when they encounter the many unknowns of the speciation process.        

I am so invested in the origins issue because it would be a serious error to examine the origin of life or the origin of species and fail to recognize and acknowledge strong evidence for historic supernatural acts of creation. In our view, evidence for supernatural action in life origins issues is powerful. At the very least bio-scientists, including the community of evolutionary creationists, should leave the question open in view of the baffling and constant need for revision and repair of evolutionary theory. The trade secret of bioscience is that evolution is still presented to the public as a proven scientific theory notwithstanding the demise of mutation and natural selection as solid principles of evolutionary theory and the emergence of other troubling questions. Evolution is emphatically not a slow accumulation of random changes.

My friends have pronounced my critique of evolution as “not science, but rather a blend of science and biblical and natural theology.” To this accusation we plead “guilty as charged.”    


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Evidence or Proof

Our beliefs depend extensively on our reliance on evidence. Concerning our belief in the reality of God’s existence, it is commonly recognized that the issue of evidence is a frequent request among those who inquire about the reality of God. Direct physical evidence does not exist, but there is indirect physical evidence of the existence of God. The acceptance of indirect physical evidence for God by people who doubt his very existence is a subject about which there is plentiful controversy. Some arguments concerning evidence are acceptable to some, but unacceptable to others. For example, the teleological argument, the argument from design, generates a spectrum of acceptance ranging from full persuasion to unbelief. 

Traditionally, many were persuaded by the “argument from design” articulated historically by several noted commentators. One was William Derham, publisher of Physico-theology as early as 1713. His commentary included “the demonstration of the being and attributes of God from the works of his creation.” He was followed by William Paley in 1802 who later published his famous watchmaker analogy as one version of his “argument from design.” Early natural theology promoted by Derham and Paley exults that many natural phenomena yield to the question: “Isn’t it amazing how…” with the conclusion “God did it.”

Modern Natural theology proceeds a step beyond the exultation, “Isn’t it amazing how…” Many observers view ID as an example of natural theology; others object. Our view: this is a moot point. Promoters of the intelligent design concept defend the reasonableness of their conclusion that our planet’s features powerfully argue for the intelligent origin of our entire physical system, macrocosmos to microcosmos. Beyond the popular impression of ID as unenlightened and unscientific, upon careful study many find ID theory to be logically persuasive. In defending their methods of truth discovery, proponents of ID cite their use of recognized scientific methods such as careful gathering of evidence, hypothesizing, reasoning by deduction, induction, and abduction, and offering reasonable conclusions about the nature of reality.

Many professional scientists argue for the exclusion of arguments for natural theology or ID based on the premise that science professionals use methodological naturalism (MN) as an uncompromising principle of science discovery. This principle forbids consideration of supernaturalism in any form to explain the reality of our galactic physical system. Noted intelligent design theorist William Dembski observes, “MN is a regulative principle that purports to keep scientists on the straight and narrow by limiting science to natural causes. In fact it does nothing of the sort but constitutes a straightjacket that actively impedes the progress of science.” Dembski’s characterization of MN as a straightjacket describes the battle between different world views rampant in our world today.

Two major world views are classified as theistic and naturalistic. Believers in the theistic worldview trust in an infinite, personal God who initially created a finite, material world. Their view of reality includes recognition that God has also infrequently acted in the present natural world to produce some supernatural events. They acknowledge, for example, that the origin of life, the Cambrian Explosion of sea animals and other sudden appearances of major animal and plant groups, the creation of modern humanity, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, have the hallmarks of supernatural creation events. These rare events occur within a world where almost all events are governed by natural laws emplaced by God upon our universe at the beginning, 13.8 billion years distant in time. Some theists argue that God’s methods of creation include organic evolution. They have become known as evolutionary creationists.

Let us consider non-evolutionary theistic creationists. They maintain the evidence for supernatural intervention is stronger than evidence for naturalistic, unguided evolution. Evolutionary scientists in contrast, whether theistic evolutionists or naturalistic evolutionists, believe the evidence they cite based on inference from evolutionary genetics is the stronger scientific theory. Seldom discussed among science professionals is the role of personal philosophy and worldview channeling them to their conclusions.

Evidence presented in the course of origins arguments is far more often cited than the  overused term proof. In describing the nature of reality, evidence is relatively easy to cite. Defending one’s arguments using evidence takes special skills. Arguments concerning evidence in questions of science could be strong or weak. The persuasiveness of an argument also depends upon the characteristics of the listener. Skills of the arguer and skills of the listener may be at different levels. The standard of conclusive proof is difficult, if not impossible to propose, except in mathematics. The standard for convincing evidence is somewhat looser. Proof for God’s existence is impossible. Evidence of God’s existence could be strong, but are seldom presented as certain proof. Instead, the arguments are suggestive. The evidence for one’s arguments could become stronger or weaker with additional discoveries.

Cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin has stated, “It is said that an argument is what convinces a reasonable man and a proof is what it takes to convince even an unreasonable man.” With respect to the cosmic beginning, Vilenkin continues, “With the truth now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape, they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning.” The cosmic beginning suggests a beginner. Therefore, the evidence of a beginner— God—is strong. Matter does not merely originate by itself. We let our readers decide if the well known event of the cosmic beginning is proof or evidence  of the existence of God.       



Thursday, May 12, 2016

Creation's Plentiful Wonders

Our English language words and terms possess a wealth of meanings. One of the most difficult features of the English language is its multitude of vocabulary words. One example concerns words like create, creative, creation, and creationist. Let us consider the term creation. It could entail the action of production, or it could entail the physical result of production—all that exists. One meaning has an action verb, the act of creating, as its anchor. The other meaning has a noun, creation—something that exists—as its  focus. 

Departing from fascination or confusion about semantics, we contemplate the creation at this special time of year. After winter’s frigid harshness, we recognize the wonderful seasonal changes becoming manifest in our dynamic creation. Cautious not to overuse verses of Scripture as proof texts, just before drafting this post we encountered Psalm 33:5: “The earth is full of his unfailing love.” As we observe the environment of our surrounding creation we ask, “How is this verse and similar ones to be applied?” How does our earth environment, the creation, demonstrate the unfailing love of God?

During personal devotional moments, I observe the wonders of nature, especially during springtime seasonal renewal and offer praise to the Creator for the beauty of the leaf out phenomenon in late April or early May, the annual arrival of migrant birds from their winter habitat bringing back their unique songs, and even the renewed presence of insects with arrival of the first few warm days. In deeper moments of contemplation I consider what was happening in the root systems and inner bark of bare-branched trees during the winter’s sub-zero cold, what motivated some birds to migrate south while others remained for the midwestern winter, and how insects hiding in forest leaf debris over the harsh season were preserved to burst out in flight when warm spring days returned. Check a related past link on plant rebirth:

We are reminded of many cross references in Scripture some of which may apply. For instance, Psalm 33:5, declaring that “The earth is full of his unfailing love” may connect with I Timothy 6:17. In that epistle the Apostle Paul instructs Timothy to put (his) hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. We cross reference these verses in a personal paraphrase: Our earth manifests God’s unfailing love by providing us with everything for our enjoyment.

Teachers, parents, and pastors should encourage their clients to revel in God’s provision of “everything for their enjoyment.” At this writing the midwestern return of springtime is in full swing. Some may opt merely to enjoy the warm springtime sunshine and sustaining showers. As a former science classroom science instructor the temptation is strong to explain environmental events from a scientific perspective. Our Father has enabled understanding of the wonders of his created works through the means of scientific method. For this gift we give thanks.

Our points in this brief post fall under the category of modern natural theology which posits that we may support belief in the existence of God without reference to divine revelation such as Scripture. We cite the wonders of creation as reinforcement of our belief in the Creator and his actions in creating our world. Between our embrace of natural theology and scientific method we are enabled to identify many wonders of our natural world, including causes of seasonal changes and the explanation of chemical changes in living things as they descend, then re-emerge from winter’s harshness. In the past few hundred years we have been privileged to tap benefits of the scientific revolution. In the last century we have also seen a revival of interest in natural theology. Believers in the Creator of all things support their belief with both science and natural theology.      






Thursday, May 5, 2016

Creative Punctuations

In 1972 a new concept became popular among evolutionists. It was called punctuated equilibrium (PE). Niles Eldredge and Stephen Gould popularized the term. This revolutionary idea was a surprise to many in the public who had become accustomed to the concept that gradual change within species and a slow transition to other species was a centerpiece of the paradigm of evolution. Punctuated connotes rapid change. Punctuated equilibrium defines the well known modern knowledge that the sequential appearance of new species on Earth is step-like and sudden. Part of the theory provides, moreover, that a consistent pattern of stasis—no change—is ubiquitous and dominates the fossil record of earth species after their appearance.

Equilibrium in the term PE is more difficult to explain. We will define it as “a pattern of ongoing, continual development.” Planet Earth has been blessed with the continual sequential appearance of millions of unique species as the timeline of earth history has unfolded. Earth’s species appear suddenly, experience stasis for long periods, may go extinct, and are replaced by new species. Charles Darwin noticed this feature of the fossil record and was troubled by it.

It is doubtful that Eldredge and Gould had the phenomenon of the initial appearance of life on our planet in mind when they coined the famous term PE, now a staple of evolutionary literacy. J. William Schopf discovered the oldest microfossils on Earth in 1993 in Australia, consisting of primitive cyanobacteria. They are found in rocks 3.8 billion years old. Biochemist Fazale Rana in Origins of Life posits that “Earth’s first life is no different qualitatively from photosynthetic and chemoautotrophic microbes alive today (which) strongly indicates that a remarkable degree of biochemical complexity appeared simultaneously with life’s first occurrence on Earth.” Schopf states in The Cradle of Life, “No one had foreseen that the beginning of life occurred so astonishingly early.” Schopf’s Australian microfossils might be considered the original punctuation—the startling sudden appearance of biochemically complex life with no precursors.

The next punctuation we address is the famous Cambrian Explosion which began about 540 mya. The Cambrian Explosion may be regarded as the premier punctuation episode in all of biology. One writer colorfully described the event as a “riotous biological bash.” Several dozen new phyla (unique body plans) appeared suddenly within the narrow geological window of only several million years. The new phyla included countless hundreds of species. Phylum evolution would be far more spectacular and significant than species evolution. Evolution and diversification of phyla is not as frequently considered in writings on evolution as is species evolution. Some writers claim the Cambrian Explosion may have consumed up to 100 million years, or that the Pre-Cambrian era supplies a few precursors sufficient to generate the profusion of Cambrian phyla and far more numerous Cambrian species. Evidence for these proposals is weak.

With respect to speciation (the production of a new species) which evolutionists must explain, we quote Stephen C. Meyer who describes the highly unlikely scenario of transition from one species to another. He claims speciation, the transition of one species to another, involves an incredible sequence of biological changes: the simultaneous production of (1) new proteins, then (2) new cell types, followed by (3) new tissues, (4) new organs, (5) new body parts and finally, (6) a new organism. The evolutionary sequence of changes necessary for the evolutionary transition from one species to another stretches belief. Transition from one phylum to another becomes even more implausible.

The transition of post-Cambrian animals in the ensuing millions of years to fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and more recently, to mammals has the imprint of Eldredge and Gould’s concept of punctuated equilibrium. Life emerged step-like: original appearance, stasis, and often followed by extinction. In some cases, life forms persist for many millions of years virtually unchanged. The famous coelacanth, a fish found deep in Indian Ocean waters is an example. It was believed to have gone extinct 66 mya.

Traditional explanations of speciation explained by mutations and natural selection have retreated in favor of cladogenesis, allopatric speciation, peripatric speciation, anagenesis, and phylogenetics. We make no effort to describe these terms. They are subjects of lifetime study in the field of origins science. Many explanations of species transitions relate to isolation of the original species owing to introduction of geographic barriers or environmental changes due to climate alteration or natural disasters. Explanations of how such changes trigger and support speciation, however, are speculative and uncertain, even imaginative. Inference becomes the evolutionary theorist’s best friend.

We do not wish to ridicule or disparage bioscientists’ efforts to study the complex question of origins. Our blog favors periodic divine acts of creation. Non-creationist researchers are sincerely committed to their paradigm of evolution and in many cases devote a lifetime of research to their project. A minority of professional biologists approach the fossil record of life on earth as believers in acts of a Creator to explain the punctuations of the now-famous proposal of punctuated equilibrium. Scientific research by theistic creationist scientists is appropriate to propose and infer acts of supernatural creation, especially in the field of origins science. Attempts to answer the how and when questions is important for both naturalistic and creationist scientists. Both groups are intent on discovering truth in the arena of life’s origins.

We close with a discussion of only one of the approximately ten million extant living species on Earth. That species is man, described in Scripture as having been created in the Image of God. The modern human species is widely set apart from lower hominid species in intelligence, ability, and presence of soul and spirit. Historians identify a cultural explosion in recent tens of thousands of years. It was characterized by symbolism in art, language, rituals such as funerals, and other behavioral changes. This cultural explosion sets modern man, known today as homo sapiens sapiens—anatomically modern humans—apart from the confusing hodgepodge of hominids predating humanity in the last several hundreds of thousands of years on Earth.

Could the punctuated equilibrium of Eldredge and Gould be applied to the relatively rapid appearance of modern man? Many questions remain unanswered, but we consider modern man’s sudden appearance on Planet Earth as the premier creative punctuation initiated by God.