Friday, May 20, 2022

A Prayer from Horatius Bonar

Fill thou my life, O Lord my God, i
n ev’ry part with praise,
That my whole being may proclaim Thy Being and Thy ways.
Fill every part of me with praise; let all my being speak
Of Thee and of Thy love, O Lord, poor though I be and weak.
So shall no part of day nor night from sacredness be free,
But all my life, in every step, be fellowship with Thee.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Apologetics: The Information-Design Argument (or, Why Life Can't Arise by Chance Alone)

All Christian positions on creation (including Theistic Evolution) insist that Darwinian Evolution is incorrect—that is to say, regardless of how Genesis 1 is interpreted, there are significant reasons for believing that life could not possibly have evolved by sheer chance alone. Even if evolution were allowed as a mechanism for some aspects of creation, the weight of mind-boggling improbabilities stand against the idea that pure randomness could be responsible for the complex, ordered systems of life we see around us. As the Intelligent Design model suggests, the combination of complex order with the significant unlikeliness of biological life (a combination referred to as “specified complexity”) points strongly to the inference that this system was designed by a higher intelligence.

The Practical Impossibility of Nonliving Chemicals Combining to Form Life on Their Own

It is commonly taught that the first primitive versions of microscopic life began on Earth some four billion years ago, when the right arrangement of chemicals happened, by random chance, to come together in just the right way. However, even among the most hardened atheists in the scientific community, the odds against this happening are acknowledged to be so astronomical as to lead them to call it a ‘miracle’: “An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that…the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle.” – Francis Crick

- Even the simplest living things require vast amounts of ordered organic data, each set of which have their own specified complexity of arrangement in order to permit life:
   - Amino acids, which for life require a selective left-handed orientation
   - Proteins/enzymes, which must be exactly ordered and folded in the right way
   - DNA and/or RNA, which is coded to a mind-boggling level of complexity—“Each nucleus…contains a digitally coded database larger, in information content, than all 30 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica put together.” – Richard Dawkins
   - Membranes, specified to various kinds and structures

- No modern experiment, despite all our knowledge and our ability to rig the exact conditions, has ever come close to creating a living cell from nonliving chemicals. Even the most famous attempt, the Stanley Miller experiment of 1953, is now widely discredited:

   - Miller only produced a few amino acids, which are the simplest level of the necessary molecules. Yet even when he put significant pressures of selection and design into the experiment, he could not produce the right distribution of kinds, nor anything close to all the needed amino acids (he only made about 5% of the required types), to say nothing of the wildly unlikely task of getting them to combine into proteins.

   - Further, Miller’s assumptions about early Earth’s atmosphere are now thought to be completely wrong. Under the current understanding of the actual conditions, the main organic chemicals produced by the experiment would be formaldehyde and cyanide, both of which would kill life rather than create it.

- Noted scientist Fred Hoyle’s assessment of the likelihood of life emerging from nonliving chemicals on its own: It is about as likely as a tornado whirling through a junkyard and successfully assembling a working 747 airplane.

Irreducible Complexity in Biological Systems

In Darwin’s day, it was assumed that lower levels of life—such as a single cell—were not very complex, thus the natural production of one seemed like no great feat. Today, however, we know otherwise. Not only is a single living cell filled with immense amounts of complex, ordered data, but even its most basic structures are highly complex.

- “Simple” structures, like a bacterial flagellum, are apparently built from irreducible parts—their component parts would need to come into being at the same time, fully-formed and in conjunction with one another in order to perform a task necessary for survival.

- When one considers the macro-cellular level of highly-specified bodily organs, the problem of irreducible complexity only magnifies: a natural development over many generations would include a vast majority of time in which they were essentially functionless.

- Writing of cellular systems, scientist Franklin Harold writes, “We must concede that there are presently no detailed Darwinian accounts of the evolution of any biochemical system, only a variety of wishful speculations.”

The Challenge of Speciation

Darwinian evolution suggests that natural pressures alone can make use of random mutations that eventually compound to develop into whole new families and genera. While the routine adaptations of micro-evolution have been observed in the natural world, this kind of macro-evolution has not.

- Random mutations are almost universally harmful and have not been observed to add substantial information to an existing genome, which is precisely what would be needed.

- Natural selection allows for micro-evolutionary adaptations within a certain scope, but to aggregate those changes into producing whole new genera appears immensely difficult. Consider the failure of intense selective breeding over thousands of years to produce a single new species—a dog is still a dog, and even the most exclusive breeds, when returned to natural settings for several generations, return quickly to the normal features of their species.

- Observed patterns of natural selection tend to favor the stability of the statistical mean of a species’ traits rather than pressing change at the fringes; thus we have evidence of many current species remaining unchanged from their first appearance at the lowest fossil levels.

Inconsistencies in the Fossil Record

Despite more than two centuries of combing the fossil record for evidence of Darwinian evolution, that record has posed at least as many problems as confirmations. The essential difficulty is that species tend to appear all at once in the fossil record, without a clear trail of transitional forms leading to their development.

- The Cambrian Explosion—in this famous example, all the major body types of animal phyla appear together in a geological blink of the eye, without clear connections to previous forms.

- There is also a significant lack of transitional forms in models of human origins. A large and unexplained gap remains between austrolopithicenes and the Homo genus, and some scientists have made the case that the variety of early “species” of humans in the Homo genus, like Neanderthals, are essentially the same species as modern humans, with regional variations.

- Although genomic history (which is a science still very much in its infancy) is appearing to confirm some evolutionary assumptions, other recent data is calling old assumptions into question.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

The Evangeliad (25:4-7)*

Section 25:4-7 (corresponding to Matt. 17:24-27)

Back they all came to Capernaum-town;
And when Peter went out, there gathered around
The collectors of the half-shekel tax.
Addressing Peter, they started to ask:

"The temple-tax, now--does your master pay?"
"Yes," replied Peter, "my master does pay."
But he gave them no coin at that request,
And returned to where Jesus took his rest.

Jesus knew the question Peter had faced,
And asked him to reflect another way,
For that tax was for the service of God,
And Jesus himself was the Son of God.

"Whence comes the tributes and tax for a king?
From his sons or others? What do you think?"
"From others," said Peter uncertainly.
"Then the sons of the king--the sons are free.

But," Jesus continued, "let's not give offence;
Go down to the shore and cast a line thence.
The first fish you catch, open its mouth;
You'll find a shekel for me and yourself."

So Peter went down, took a fish from the sea,
And from the coin there, paid the temple-tax fee.
Thus Christ fulfilled duty in everything,
And creation paid tribute unto the king.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Photo of the Week

O love divine, how sweet thou art! When shall I find my longing heart
all taken up by thee?
I thirst, I faint, I die to prove the greatness of redeeming love, the love of Christ to me.
Thy only love do I require, nothing on earth beneath desire, nothing in heaven above:
Let earth and heaven, and all things go, give me thine only love to know, give me thine only love.

- from a hymn by Charles Wesley

Monday, May 16, 2022

Quote of the Week

"Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present."

- Marcus Aurelius, second-century Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher

Friday, May 13, 2022

A Prayer from Philip Doddridge

Search me, Lord, and try me. Get to the root of this disease which spreads itself over my soul, and heal me. Show me my sin, Lord, that I may see its horror. Show me Jesus in such a light that I may look upon him and mourn, that I may look upon him and love. May I awaken from this lethargy into which I am sinking, and may Christ give me a more abundant spiritual life than ever. Alive in him, let me recover the ground I have lost—and then gain yet more! Amen.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Apologetics: The Design/Fine-Tuning Argument (or, How Science Proved God)

How Modern Physics and Cosmology Unearthed One of the Strongest Proofs for God

In the past half-century, physicists and cosmologists have begun noticing one of the oddest attributes of our physical universe: the fact that, if one were to predict probabilities for the values by which the universe is structured, our universe comes out as being wildly unlikely. Specifically, it appears that the values of physical constants are fine-tuned to an extraordinary degree: precisely set at values that enable the universe to host life. Any slight variation in any one of those values (and there’s no scientific reason why they couldn’t be different) would result in a universe dramatically hostile to life. These oddly fine-tuned values are known as “anthropic coincidences.”

Quotes on the Anthropic Coincidences:

Discover magazine: “The universe is unlikely. Very unlikely. Deeply, shockingly unlikely.”

“All the seemingly arbitrary and unrelated constants in physics have one strange thing in common—these are precisely the values you need if you want to have a universe capable of producing life.” – Patrick Glynn, former skeptic

“I do not believe that any scientists who examined the evidence would fail to draw the inference that the laws of nuclear physics have been deliberately designed with regard to the consequences they produce.” – Fred Hoyle, astrophysicist

“A common-sense and satisfying interpretation of our world suggests the designing hand of a superintelligence.” – Harvard astronomer Owen Gingerich

“Though man is not at the center of the physical universe, he appears to be at the center of its purpose.” – Robert Augros and George Stanciu, authors of The New Story of Science

“This kind of fine-tuning would be totally unexpected under the theory that random chance was responsible. However, it’s not unexpected at all under the hypothesis that there is a Grand Designer.” – Robin Collins, physicist & philosopher

“The exquisite order displayed by our scientific understanding of the physical world calls for the divine.” – Vera Kistiakowski, MIT physicist

“As we survey all the evidence, the thought insistently arises that some supernatural agency must be involved. Is it possible that suddenly, without intending to, we have stumbled upon scientific proof for the existence of a Supreme Being?” – astronomer George Greenstein

“It is hard to resist the impression that the present structure of the universe, apparently so sensitive to minor alterations in numbers, has been rather carefully thought out…. The seemingly miraculous concurrence of these numerical values must remain the most compelling evidence for cosmic design…. Through my scientific work, I have come to believe more and more strongly that the physical universe is put together with an ingenuity so astonishing that I cannot accept it merely as a brute fact.” – Paul Davies, physicist

Examples of Anthropic Coincidences:

- Fine-tuning of the cosmological constant (the energy density of empty space): this value turned out to be surprisingly small (scientists were expecting it to be large), but it turns out that it needs to be small for the universe to hold together. Stephen Weinberg (an atheist physicist) calls it “remarkably well adjusted in our favor.” This example of fine-tuning is reckoned as being one in a hundred million billion billion billion billion billion.

- Fine-tuning of the gravitational constant: a miniscule shift in this value would result in gravitational forces that would destroy life as we know it. The combination of this fine-tuning probability with the one above is about the same chance as correctly picking out, at random, one specific atom from all the atoms in the entire universe.

- Fine-tuning of the original phase-space volume: this fine-tuning is reckoned as “one part in ten billion multiplied by itself 123 times”—a number impossible to write down in full, since it would require more zeroes than the number of elementary particles that exist in the entire universe (according to Oxford physicist Roger Penrose)

- Other examples include the value of the masses of protons and neutrons, the strong nuclear force, the three-alpha process (by which elements necessary for life are produced), the electromagnetic force, the vacuum expectation of the Higgs field, the flatness of space, the number of spatial dimensions, and many more. (Lists of anthropic coincidences tend to number at least a dozen, and sometimes as many as a hundred specific instances.)

Possible Scientific Rebuttals:

- Grand Unified Theory—perhaps there’s an as-yet-undiscovered theory that binds all these values together and explains why they are the way they are.

The trouble with this idea is that even if such a theory were discovered, it simply pushes the startling improbability of the situation one level higher: one would still be faced with the apparent design of the universe.

- Weak Anthropic Principle—the fine-tuned values in our universe really are not that remarkable, because if our universe had been anything other than this remarkably unlikely one, we wouldn’t even be here to notice it.

John Leslie had a memorable rebuttal to the Weak Anthropic Principle: imagine that you had fifty expert marksmen facing you in a firing squad, with all guns loaded and aiming at you from point-blank range. The guns go off, and you find that you’re still alive!—the wildly unbelievable result was that none of the bullets hit you! At this point, a skeptic comes by and says, “It’s really not that remarkable that you weren’t hit, because if you had been, you wouldn’t even be around to notice it.”

- Multiverse Theory—maybe there are actually many universes out there, and ours is just one of a vast number (possibly infinite) of other universes, each with different values. If that’s true, then the weak anthropic principle makes sense—somebody has to end up living in the lucky universe, and it happens to be us.

The main trouble here is that the multiverse idea is a true leap of faith. It is something that can never be tested or verified, it can only be believed (is it then a truly scientific idea?). For many skeptics, it’s just a fanciful way of getting out of the obvious inference of cosmological fine-tuning: they don’t want to admit that our universe looks very, very much like it was designed by a superintelligence, so the only way to beat those ridiculous probabilities is to invent enough alternate universes to make the wild math even out.

As physicist Stephen Barr says, “In an effort to avoid the hypothesis of God, scientific materialists are frequently driven to hypothesize the existence of an infinity of unobservable entities…. It seems that to abolish one unobservable God, it takes an infinite number of unobservable substitutes.”