Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Photo of the Week

My wand'rings, Lord, are at an end,
I'm now returned to thee:
Be thou my Father and my friend,
Be all in all to me.

- from a hymn by Simon Browne

Monday, May 30, 2022

Quote of the Week

“If you have two shirts in your closet, one belongs to you and the other to the man with no shirt.”

- Ambrose of Milan

Friday, May 27, 2022

My Article on the Christianity Today Website

Yesterday was Ascension Day on the church calendar, and Christianity Today ran a piece I had written for their website. You can read it here:

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Apologetics - The Moral Argument (or, How Our Own Moral Intuition Proves the Existence of God)

The Argument from Morality: (Norman Geisler’s summation of C.S. Lewis’ argument)

1.) There must be a universal moral law, or else:
     a. Moral disagreements would make no sense, as we all assume they do.
     b. All moral criticisms would be meaningless (e.g., “The Nazis were wrong.”).
     c. It is unnecessary to keep promises or treaties, as we all assume that it is.
     d. We would not make excuses for breaking the moral law, as we all do.

2.) A universal moral law requires a universal Moral Lawgiver, since the law itself:
     a. Gives moral commands (as lawgivers do).
     b. Is interested in our behavior (as moral persons are).

3.) Further, this universal Moral Lawgiver must be absolutely good:
     a. Otherwise all moral effort would be futile in the long run.
     b. The source of all good must be absolutely good by its very nature.

4.) Therefore, there must be an absolutely good Moral Lawgiver.

Christianity Satisfies Our Deepest Intuitions:

1.) A sense that things ought to be a certain way
2.) A sense that things are not that way; the world has somehow gone upside-down
3.) A sense that human beings are marked both by incredible depravity and by immense dignity and glory.

The Argument from Desire:

1.) We have natural, intuitive desires which we call hunger, thirst, loneliness, etc.
2.) There exist things to meet those desires: food, water, community, etc.
3.) We also have a natural, intuitive desire for meaning and purpose beyond what this temporal life can meet; essentially, a desire for an eternal life at rest in the arms of illimitable love.
4.) Therefore, it is reasonable to believe that there exists something beyond the bounds of this temporal life which can meet that desire.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Photo of the Week

Christ, of all my hopes the ground,
Christ, the spring of all my joy,
Still in you may I be found,
Still for you my pow'rs employ.

- from a hymn by Ralph Wardlaw

Monday, May 23, 2022

Quote of the Week

“My desire is to live more to God today than yesterday, and to be more holy this day than the last.”

- Francis Asbury

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.

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.”

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Photo of the Week

My Lord, how full of sweet content I
 pass my years of banishment!
Where’er I dwell, I dwell with Thee, in heav’n, in earth, or on the sea;
To me remains not place nor time; my country is in every clime:
I can be calm and free from care on any shore, since God is there.

- from a hymn by Madame Guyon

Monday, May 09, 2022

Quote of the Week

“If we’re living in God, it ought to make a visible difference.” 

- Elisabeth Elliot

Friday, May 06, 2022

A Prayer from Therese of Lisieux

My God, I offer you all that I do today
for the intentions and the glory of Jesus.
I want to sanctify every beat of my heart,
my thoughts and my simplest works,
by uniting them to his infinite merits.
I want my faults to be repaired
by having them cast into the furnace of his merciful love.

- Therese of Lisieux, adapted

Thursday, May 05, 2022

Apologetics: The Beginning of It All - Cosmological & Causation Arguments for the Existence of God

- Throughout history, many prominent philosophers have held to the belief that you ought to be able to reason your way to a belief in God by the power of logic alone, without any supporting evidence. That is, they believed that a process of reasoning about the observed nature of reality was sufficient to lead one to God. What were the arguments that caused some of the greatest minds in history to believe such a wild claim?

1.) The Cosmological Argument

Christianity predicted one of the most unexpected truths about our universe: that it had a beginning (and not only our universe, but that time itself had a beginning). This seems ridiculous at first--how could time have a beginning? What was "before" time? Despite our gut reactions to this notion, logic itself strongly suggests that time could not have always existed, stretching into an infinite past. The reason for this is that an infinite sequential regression is a logical impossibility. It simply can't happen. If time had been moving ever since the infinite past, it could never have reached the current moment in time (such is the nature of infinity). Therefore, time had a beginning, as did the physical universe. Intriguingly, the vast majority of physicists and cosmologists now agree with this: not only did the universe have a beginning, but so did time. And if these things had a beginning, then another question asserts itself: why did they begin? Did something or someone cause them to come into being?

2.) The Causation Argument

From the time of Aristotle, this argument has been used to prove that there must be an "Uncaused Cause," a
Necessary Being upon whom all contingent beings depend and from whom they arise. The argument proceeds as follows:

- Everything that begins has a cause (another way of saying this is that every effect has a cause).
- Everything we see in the universe is an effect of something else.
- The universe itself (along with time) also began, as the cosmological argument shows, and so the universe itself is an effect.
- Therefore, there must be something that caused the universe.
- Since an infinite sequential regression is a logical impossibility, one cannot have an infinite regression of causes. (It's therefore nonsensical to say, "If God caused the universe, what caused God?")
- Because the universe was caused and one cannot have an infinite regression of causes, there must be an Uncaused Cause which caused the universe and everything in it.

The logic of these two arguments is essentially inescapable (though some skeptics have tried to escape them, without any significant or lasting success). These arguments do not get us all the way to proving the existence of a being that we can yet define as "God," with all his biblical attributes, but they get us several steps in that direction: the existence of an Uncaused Cause, an all-powerful, self-existent Something that exists beyond all space and time and upon whom all created things depend.

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

Photo of the Week

Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; 
love her, and she will watch over you.

- Proverbs 4:6

Monday, May 02, 2022

Quote of the Week

“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.”

- Eric Liddell, early 20th-century missionary to China and Olympic athlete