Friday, May 20, 2022
Thursday, May 19, 2022
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:
- 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:
- 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
- “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
Tuesday, May 17, 2022
Monday, May 16, 2022
Friday, May 13, 2022
Thursday, May 12, 2022
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 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.”
Wednesday, May 11, 2022
Tuesday, May 10, 2022
Monday, May 09, 2022
Friday, May 06, 2022
Thursday, May 05, 2022
Wednesday, May 04, 2022
Tuesday, May 03, 2022
Monday, May 02, 2022
“Circumstances may appear to wreck our lives and God’s plans, but God is not helpless among the ruins. […] He comes in and takes the calamity and uses it victoriously, working out his wonderful plan of love.”
Friday, April 29, 2022
O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need for further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, so that I may know Thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, ‘Rise up my love, my fair one, and come away.’ Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long.
Thursday, April 28, 2022
There’s a series of popular myths out there that science has slowly, piece by piece, overturned Christian beliefs about science, the earth, and the universe. Two of the most common myths are:
1.) “Christians thought the earth was at the center of everything, so that the structure of the universe pointed to the significance of humanity. This Christian belief was proven false by the scientific discoveries of Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo.”
2.) “Christians thought the biological uniqueness of the human form was a sign of its significance as being created ‘in the image of God,’ but most scientists now believe that Darwinian evolution has disproved any such biological significance in being human.”
The trouble with this narrative is that it just isn’t true:
1.) The central position of earth in the universe was never a tenet of Christian doctrine.
- You won’t find it anywhere in the Bible—nothing more than poetic descriptions of the sun and moon circling the earth, which was not a scientific claim, but an observable phenomenon of the way we perceive day and night.
- While most ancient and medieval people did believe that the sun, moon, and stars revolved around the earth, our planet was not seen as being especially significant because of that fact. Rather, the earth was seen as a kind of unglamorous base level of reality, and it was the heavens that were seen as perfect and as containing the ultimate meaning and destiny of all creation.
- So while Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo (all Christians, by the way) did reset the cosmological assumptions of their age, there was no principle of Christian doctrine that was ever affected by not having the earth at the center of the universe.
- Rather, the discovery that the universe is actually unthinkably vast compared to the earth is what you would expect to find, given what the Bible really says on the topic, and Christian theologians were predicting a universe that was infinite in scope before any of those astronomers came around (Nicholas of Cusa, 15th century).
2.) There are a lot of open questions about the validity of a purely naturalistic form of Darwinism, but to start with, the very premise of Argument #2 above is flawed: whether or not one were to accept evolution, it’s simply not the case that Christianity ever hinged the significance of human beings to their biological form.
- To be made ‘in the image of God’ (and God, remember, is spirit, not a biological entity) does not simply refer to our body, but probably rather to the spiritual characteristics he has bestowed on us—rationality, morality, creativity, etc.
- Even the earliest Christians often noted how similar we were in bodily form to the rest of animal creation. Basil of Caesarea (4th century) liked to point out this biological kinship, underscoring the point that according to Genesis 1, humans are created by God as part of the day of land-animal creation.
- The Bible clearly points to our significance being our spiritual likeness to God, made in his image, endowed with “spiritual life” (zoe) and not just biological life (bios), and because we are the objects of his love—but not to any matters of biological form.
In fact, classical Christian doctrines have actually made several startling predictions about the universe that have been proven true by scientific measurement just within the past century.
1.) The universe had a beginning, and that beginning was a moment of “creation ex nihilo”
2.) Time itself came into being at the moment of creation
3.) The universe contains a fundamental openness to “free will”
4.) Every level of reality will display order, beauty, and complex design
Each of these used to be viewed with incredulous skepticism by most scientists, from the ancient Greeks up to the 20th century, but the overwhelming majority of scientists now accept them all.
- Most scientists who were skeptical of Christian doctrine thought it was a ridiculous idea to say that the universe had a beginning. It seemed much more natural to assume that it had always been there, in one form of another. But with the growing acceptance of the “big bang” theory, scientists became convinced that the Christian doctrine actually had the right sort of idea all along. (It’s worth pointing out that many Christian thinkers do not accept major portions of “big bang” cosmology, such as the long time frame postulated since its occurrence, but even so, there’s a certain irony in the fact that it destroyed scientists’ previous assumptions by suggesting that there was a moment when creation suddenly burst into existence, almost as if by the will of a Maker.) Cosmologists also now largely agree that the universe’s beginning came out of a “singularity” of some kind—a point occupying no space, but of infinite density, such that it becomes essentially a “creation out of nothing.”
- Scientists also now tend to believe the mind-bending realization that time did not exist before the universe’s beginning. Rather, following Einstein’s theories, space and time are bound up together in a single framework, and both sprang into existence together. Saint Augustine postulated this idea, taken from the Bible’s teaching about God’s eternal nature as being outside of time, all the way back in the 4th century.
- Most scientists used to think that nature was essentially deterministic—that is, that it was governed completely by irrevocable laws that predicted with exactitude where every particle in the universe would be and how they would interact. Thus, there could be no “free will.” However, after the discovery of quantum mechanics, scientists now concede that indeterminacy is built into the fabric of the universe, to the point where now some even refer to the smallest particles as appearing to have “free will.”
- After Darwin’s theory came out, scientific researchers expected to find that complex order was an emergent property, developing out of simpler and simpler levels of order the further down you went, until, at the base level, you could prove that it emerged out of the chaos of pure random chance. But what they’ve actually discovered in the past century and a half turns out to be the opposite: the further down you go, you find more order built into the system, at just as high a level of complexity (this is true of genetics, molecular biology, particle physics, quantum physics, and every other discipline studying small-scale, underlying scientific realities).
Scientific theories are judged based on their predictive abilities. Given these four radically counterintuitive predictions (as well as the earlier-mentioned prediction of a vast universe rather than a small one), all of which are now generally agreed to be true, classic Christian doctrine as a scientific model has performed remarkably well.
Wednesday, April 27, 2022
Tuesday, April 26, 2022
Monday, April 25, 2022
Friday, April 22, 2022
Just a note to my readers that I'm adjusting the schedule I've used on this blog for the past couple years. With my commitments to my PhD research and publishing books, I've found it more difficult to produce time-intensive content for my blog. I'll continue producing new material (like my Evangeliad installments) and material that rewards deep reading and thinking (like my apologetics series), but I'm going to shorten my schedule a bit and only post five days a week instead of six. (Observant readers will note that I've recently been failing to produce all six every week anyway.) The Monday through Thursday slots will remain unchanged, but I'll be combining my Friday and Saturday slots. This simply means that most Fridays will feature a classic prayer and a piece of art (of the sort previously featured on Saturdays), but will also offer occasional material of other kinds when it's available--essays, hymns, and so on. Having completed my set of video devotionals through Easter, I think I'll discontinue that series for now.
A brief update for my faithful readers on some other notes: my PhD is nearing completion, and so I hope to be able to defend my doctoral dissertation by the end of the calendar year. I'm also working on a new book project which is currently in the review/approval stages with a publishing house, and if it gets picked up, it would appear sometime in 2023. I may also have a few pieces running in Christian magazines and websites in the coming months, and I'll post those links as they become available. Thanks and blessings!
Thursday, April 21, 2022
Over the past couple years, I've been producing some apologetics material for my church, and with my Historical Theology series fully posted, I thought I'd start offering the apologetics pieces here. Apologetics is the defense of the faith, generally by making rational arguments from supporting disciplines like philosophy, history, and the physical sciences, as well as offering well-grounded explanations for Christian doctrines which have come under question by modern skeptics. These talks are sermons which were delivered in my church. Most come from Sunday morning services within the past year, but occasionally I will post a talk from a Sunday evening session or from a more informal weekday presentation (these latter two formats tend to address more technical aspects of apologetics issues). Whenever possible, I will offer an outline of study notes along with the audio lecture.
Wednesday, April 20, 2022
Tuesday, April 19, 2022
Monday, April 18, 2022
Friday, April 15, 2022
Monday, April 11, 2022
I'm taking a one-week break from blogging over Holy Week. I will, however, still produce my devotional video. It'll post on Friday as usual, but as it focuses on the lectionary readings for Sunday, it might be advisable to wait until Easter to use it.
Friday, April 08, 2022
Thursday, April 07, 2022
For our Thursday piece this week, I wanted to share this extended extract from the Romanian Orthodox theologian Dumitru Staniloae. It expresses, in terms that I find quite beautiful, the possibilities inherent in being formed into the image of Christ--of becoming what Staniloae calls, in the words of his tradition, a saint. I keep this quote near at hand, because I hold onto the (admittedly unlikely) hope that someday God might, by his grace, grow me into such a person as this. It's a rather high ideal, but a lovely one.
"In the saint, there exists nothing that is trivial, nothing coarse, nothing base, nothing affected or fake, nothing insincere. In him is the culmination of delicacy, sensibility, transparency, purity, reverence, and attention before the mystery of his fellowmen […] The saint grasps the various conditions of the soul in others and avoids all that would upset them, although he does not avoid helping them overcome their weaknesses. He reads the least articulate need of others and fulfills it promptly, just as he reads their impurities also, however skillfully hidden, through the delicate power of his own purity, exercising upon them a purifying action. From the saint there continually radiates a spirit of self-giving and of sacrifice for the sake of all, with no concern for himself—a spirit that gives warmth to others and assures them that they are not alone. And yet there is no one more humble, more simple, less artificial, less theatrical or hypocritical, no one more natural in his behavior, accepting all that is truly human and creating an atmosphere that is pure and familiar. The saint has overcome any duality in himself […] He has overcome the struggle between soul and body, the divergence between good intentions and deeds that do not correspond to them, between deceptive appearance and hidden thoughts, between what claims to be the case and what is the case. He has become simple. Therefore, because he has surrendered himself entirely to God, that is why he can surrender himself entirely in communication with others. The saint always lends courage, and at times, through a humor marked by the same delicacy, he shrinks the delusions created by fears or pride or the passions. He smiles but does not laugh sarcastically, he is serious but not frightened, he finds value in the humblest persons, considering them to be great mysteries created by God and destined to eternal communion with him. Through humility the saint makes himself almost unobserved, but he appears when there is a need for consolation, for encouragement or help. For him no difficulty is insurmountable, because he believes firmly in the help of God, sought through prayer. He is the most human and humble of beings, yet at the same time of an appearance that is unusual and amazing, and gives rise in others to the sense of discovering in him, and in themselves too, what is truly human. He is a presence simultaneously most dear and, unintentionally, most impressive; the one who draws the most attention. For you he becomes the most intimate one of all, and the most understanding. You never feel more at ease than near him; yet at the same time he forces you into a corner and makes you see your moral inadequacies and failings. He overwhelms you with the simple greatness of his purity and with the warmth of his goodness and makes you ashamed of how far you have fallen away from what is truly human, of how far you have sunk in your impurity, artificiality, superficiality, and duplicity; for these appear in sharp relief in the comparisons you make unwillingly between yourself and him. He exercises no worldly power, he gives no harsh commands, but you feel in him an unyielding firmness in his convictions, his life, in the advice he gives. And so his opinion about what you should do, expressed by delicacy or a discreet look, becomes for you a command, and to fulfill that command, you find yourself capable of any effort or sacrifice. Whoever approaches a saint discovers in him the peak of goodness, purity, and spiritual power, covered over by the veil of humility. He is the illustration of the greatness and power of kenosis [Phil. 2:7]. From the saint there irradiates an imperturbable quiet or peace, and simultaneously a participation in the pain of others that reaches the point of tears. He is rooted in the loving and suffering stability of God’s incarnate Son Jesus, and rests in the eternity of the power and goodness of God."