Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Will Be Back

Been taking a break--- finished my Sunday School and feeling a bit burned out. I'll be back, starting next week. Thank you for all the notes and emails inquiring about whether I was ill, dead, or hopelessly backslidden. So far none of the above.

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Quotes on "Intelligent Design"

I have two more weeks left in my Sunday school class. It has been a lot of fun, and also a lot of work. I have covered some fairly controversial topics, but so far I have not had to fend off any mobs with torches. Although there have been rumors…

Having completed an abbreviated look at the Day-Age view, I plan to give a brief introduction to Intelligent Design, or the so-called Anthropic Principle. Hugh Ross (who has been shamefully vilified by ignorant pharisaical fundamentalists) has written extensively and cogently on this subject, and I have a number of his books.

In The Creator and the Cosmos (NavPress, 3rd ed., 2001), Ross presents quotes from scientists (mostly astronomers and physicists) on the mounting evidence for intelligent design. Today I will not comment on the evidence, but rather share just a few of the quotes about the evidence from Ross' book (which contains detailed references).

From Arno Penzias, who shared the Nobel Prize for the "discovery of the century", the 2.7K cosmic background radiation:
Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing, one with the very delicate balance needed to provide exactly the conditions required to permit life, and one which has an underlying (one might say "supernatural") plan.

Renowned Chinese astrophysicist Fang Li Zhi, and coauthor Li Shu Xian wrote (regarding the Anthropic Principle):
A question that has always been considered a topic of metaphysics or theology has now become an area of active research in physics.

George Ellis, colleague of the world famous Stephen Hawking and mathematician Roger Penrose:
Amazing fine-tuning occurs in the laws that make this [complexity] possible. Realization of the complexity of what is accomplished makes it very difficult not to use the word "miraculous" without taking a stand as to the ontological status of that word.

Amazingly, from the great man himself, Stephen Hawking:
It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way, except as an act of a God who intended to create beings like us.

Fred Hoyle, anti-theist:
A superintellect has monkeyed with the physics, as well as the chemistry and biology.

Ross quotes one of my professors, Heinemann prize winner Robert Griffiths:
If we need an atheist for a debate, I go to the philosophy department. The physics department isn’t much use.

And from the agnostic Robert Jastrow, a delightful lamentation :
For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been waiting there for centuries.

There are more in Ross' book. I can’t say it too many times: science and Christianity are natural friends, not adversaries.

Monday, January 13, 2003

The Day Age View

The Day-Age View (c.f., The Genesis Debate, David G. Hagopian, ed., Cruxpress, 2001) holds that Genesis 1 should be taken literally, with the six "days" meaning six epochs (as the Hebrew yôm allows). It is a testable scientific alternative to naturalism and evolution with the immeasurable benefit that it is consistent with scripture. In The Genesis Debate, Hugh Ross and Gleason L. Archer layout 11 stages in the history of the universe, earth, and life that are consistent with both the Genesis account and the scientific data.
  1. Big-bang, creation of the universe (ten space-time dimensions, matter, energy, galaxies, stars, planets, etc.) by God’s Holy fiat.

  2. Singling out the earth for a series of creation miracles. At its beginning it is empty of life and unfit for life; the earth’s primordial atmosphere and the solar system’s interplanetary debris prevent the light from the sun, moon, and stars from reaching the surface. (End of day 1)

  3. Clearing of the interplanetary debris and partial clearing of the earth’s atmosphere so that light now penetrates to the surface of the ocean.

  4. Formation of tropospheric water vapor and a stable water cycle. (End of day 2)

  5. Formation of the continental land masses and the ocean basins.

  6. Creation of plants on the land masses. (End of day 3)

  7. Transformation of the atmosphere for perpetually translucent to occasionally transparent. For the first time, the sun moon and stars are visible on the surface as distinct objects. (End of day 4)

  8. Creation of swarms of small sea animals.

  9. Creation of sea mammals and birds. (End of day 5)

  10. Creation of three kinds of land mammals (1) short-legged land mammals (2) long legged mammals that are easy to tame and (3) long legged mammals that are difficult to tame (wild).

  11. Creation of man. (End of day 6)

After that, God rested. Nothing more was created.

The day-age view holds that God spent about 15 billion years to get the universe ready for earth. Then about 4 billion years to get the earth ready for human life. On earth, God, by holy fiat, introduced simple life at the earliest possible moment, and human life at the last possible moment, after the earth had been carefully prepared to make it hospitable.

Why didn’t God do this is six 24-hour days? Why didn’t He do it in six nanoseconds? Why not instantaneously? My answer is: I don’t know. For some reason it pleased God do it this way and to leave behind evidence of His handiwork.

In preparing earth for human habitation, God created many species and many different times (until man was created). These plants and animals were (a) suitable for whatever the environment was present at the time God created them and (b) were used to alter the environment and prepare resources in anticipation of the creation of man.

Naturalists say that species evolved one into another by mutation and natural selection. The day-age view states that God created the species and, as they became extinct, he created new ones, and in some cases reintroduced old species (perhaps with slight variations). This is a testable difference. Like evolution, the day-age view can be tested against the fossil record.

Quite unlike the creation myths of other religions, the bible’s creation account, viewed through the lens of the day-age view, provides testable explanations for the construction of the universe, the primordial conditions on earth, and the fossil record.

Thursday, January 09, 2003

How Old is Man?

In absolute terms, the main discrepancy between the day-age view of the universe and the 24-hour day view is huge: 15 to 20 billion years vs. about ten thousand years. However, this is not the most problematic issue.

Whichever side you are on, you can accept the other side’s logic pertaining to the overall age of the universe. You may not agree with the day-age view, but it is clear that we base our belief in an old universe on the scientific data. Similarly, I do not agree with the 24-hour day interpretation, but I understand that if you do accept it, then the universe is only as old as mankind (plus five days), and the biblical genealogies will lead you to affirm an age of (approximately) ten thousand years.

While mathematically a much smaller discrepancy, the apparent age of mankind is much more troublesome. Scientific data seem to point to modern humans appearing about 50,000 years ago. This is five times bigger than the 10,000 year estimate from genealogies.

Keep in mind, that the day-age view affirms that Adam and Eve were the first humans, created by God by divine fiat, without human parents, and not descending from other primates. What the scientific data show is that Adam and Eve lived about 50,000 years ago.

I do not know how to reconcile this. I do know that biblical genealogies are not chronologically accurate, so there is a great opportunity for error in the genealogical calculations. For example, we have
Shebuel the son of Gershom, the son of Moses, was officer over the treasures. (1 Chron. 26:24)

Shebuel is of the time of David, and yet Gershom is a true next-generation son of Moses (Ex. 2:22) . Thus there are 400+ years between Gershom and his "son" Shebuel.

So it may be that this type of error has biased the biblical calculations toward a small result.

What is some of the scientific evidence? Again from Hugh Ross and Gleason L. Archer in The Genesis Debate (David G. Hagopian, ed., Cruxpress, 2001--see the book for further references):
  • Mitochondrial DNA is inherited only from the mother (this may not be absolutely true, but no matter). By projecting variations in Mitochondrial DNA backward one can estimate when the first woman (Eve) lived; current calculations point to about 50,000 years ago.

  • Similarly, Y chromosomes can studied to find our most recent common male ancestor (which is Noah, not Adam). The results are in the 37,000-49,000 year range.

  • The oldest artifacts of advanced artwork are dated at about 32,000 years old.

  • The Vela supernova, which bathed earth in harmful radiation, erupted 20,000 to 30,000 years ago.

  • Land bridges enabling human migration to Australia appeared about 12,000 to 30,000 years ago and to the Americas about 11,000 to 14,500 years ago.

  • The most ancient religious artifacts have been dated to about 8,000-24,000 years ago.

Thus biological, anthropological, and archeological evidence all point to the 50,000 year time frame.

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

Free Will Revisited

My buddy Joshua Claybourn has rekindled the question of the ages: what is this whole free will thing about? I have posted about this a few times, and have nothing really new to add. Nevertheless, I’ll write without referring to my previous posts, in hopes of putting a new spin on the argument.

The argument is not really my own, it can be traced back to Jonathan Edwards and ultimately back to Augustine.

The dilemma, stated many ways, always boils down to this: If we don’t have a free will, then we are naught but robots following a deterministic path. This is made especially vivid when coupled with the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination.

God has chosen some for salvation from before the foundations of the world. They receive mercy and eternal life. Others he passes over. They receive justice and its due consequence: eternal damnation. And there is not a blasted thing anybody can do about it.

Granted, that is a fairly blunt way to present Unconditional Election, but no matter how you pretty-it-up, in a nutshell, that is precisely what the doctrine (and in my opinion the bible) teaches.

Sure sounds like a denial of free will. Sure sounds as if we are robots. And in a way it is, and in a way we are. But not because we do not have free will, but because what we usually mean by free will is in fact a logical impossibility. We usually take free will to mean something like:

Free Will: The ability to choose whatever we want, for no particular reason.

This, as I stated, is impossible. There is no such thing as choosing for no particular reason. Void of a reason, however subtle or even undetectable, we will stand in place, frozen by our indecision. We always choose for a reason. The accurate definition of free will is:

Free Will: The trait in humans whereby we always choose according to our strongest inclinations.

Whatever we want most at a given moment, that is what we choose. We are indeed puppets. But not to a God pulling our strings; we are controlled utterly by our own desires. God has nothing to do with it. Nothing.

Why then aren’t we all hedonists? Because for most, the desire for respect, or to be liked, or to follow some code of ethics, or just to live in a relatively civilized manner is (sometimes) stronger than the desire for instant gratification. For others, who "live for the moment", it often isn’t. But in either case, a choice will be made that is nothing better than a slave to that person’s desires.

Where does this leave us in relationship to God? In big trouble, that’s where. Because before God chooses us, we have no desire to seek Him or choose Him:
10As it is written:
"There is no one righteous, not even one;
11there is no one who understands,
no one who seeks God. (Rom 3:10-11, NIV)

The fall has left mankind with a heart that never seeks God. Left on our own, our free will is not good for anything except taking us straight to hell.

This is not God is forcing us to be sinners, or preventing us from choosing Him because we are not in the special club known as the "elect". We jumped in the pit, and we can’t blame God for our condition. We can’t blame Him, yet only God can rescue us from this tragedy of our own making.

God can regenerate you. Not because you choose Him; your beloved free will precludes it. Rather because He chooses you. Through the Spirit, he changes your desires. Now your free will, previously your worst enemy, becomes your best friend. Because the Spirit has changed your inclinations, you now freely seek God and accept Christ as your Savior.

If you have accepted Christ, it is because God first did a work on you. He violated you. He changed your heart. Before, you sought Him not. Afterwards, you long to be in His fellowship. Praise Him for not placing your salvation at the mercy of your fatally flawed unregenerated “free will”.

Friday, January 03, 2003

The Big Bang

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. (Gen. 1:1).

God initiated His creation by holy fiat. Physically, the manifestation of His speaking the universe into existence was what we all know as the Big Bang.

The Bing Bang was a massive burst of hot energy, initially confined to a small if not infinitesimal region, which ultimately expanded, cooled down, and coalesced into the matter of which all things are made.

There is a great deal of evidence for the Big Bang. Let me mention just two fairly easy to understand characteristics, the second of which has profound theological significance.

Visualize videos you have seen of explosions. There is a fireball which starts out small and hot, and as it expands you can tell by the color change, and also intuitively, that it is also cooling down. Eventually the fireball dissipates and the space around the explosion returns to a normal temperature.

The Bing Bang was like that, but not quite. There is still a remnant of heat from the explosion. Princeton physicist Robert H. Dicke calculated that if the universe resulted from the Big Bang, a background radiation of about 3 degrees Kelvin (-454 ºF) would exist throughout the universe. A few years later, in 1965, Bell Lab physicists Penzias and Wilson, using an ultra-sensitive microwave telescope, found an unexpected background of radiation (heat) coming from all directions. It persisted after repeated equipment and procedural checks (at one point they thought it was most likely due to bird droppings on their dish).

The temperature of this uniform background was 2.7 degrees Kelvin. It was the predicted remnant heat from the Big Bang. Penzias and Wison won a Nobel Prize. Dicke should have shared in it.

The universe is something like a big oven, with the temperature currently set to -454.8 ºF. This temperature fits the Big Bang model precisely. If there was no Big Bang, where did this radiation come from, what is its purpose, and why the conspiracy to make it turn out to be exactly what the big bang predicts.
The other aspect of the Big Bang that is truly fascinating is that all the galaxies in the universe are moving away from one another, but in a sort of peculiar way. We cannot project them back in time and pinpoint the location of the Big Bang. This is because the big bang is not what you think, and the analogy to a conventional explosion is not perfect.

A conventional explosion fills the space around it; the Big Bang created the space as it expanded. If went back to a time before the big bang, you could not fly around an empty vast universe. There was no universe—it’s not that space was empty but rather that there was no space whatsoever.

To understand this, you need to think of a 2D analogy—thinking in 3D is too difficult. Get a balloon, one that expands spherically. Blow it up about half size (don’t tie it) and use a marker to put dots more or less uniformly on the surface. Imagine the dots are galaxies, and our universe is 2D, that is we are confined to stay on the surface of the balloon. We not only cannot go “up”, off the surface or “down” into the balloon, we cannot even conceive of what that means, just like we cannot imagine a fourth spatial dimension in addition to the three we live in.

So the surface is our universe, our space. If we travel in one direction forever, we don’t bump up against the edge of the universe. We get back to where we started. There is no space outside the universe. So it is with our 3D universe.

There is also no center to our universe. In 3D, we have a notion of the center of the balloon, but for the 2D universe of the balloon’s surface, we cannot even think about an invisible dimension like “radially inward”. As far as we can tell, there is no privileged spot on our surface.

No blow the balloon up a bit. What happens to the dots? They all move apart from each other, just as we observe with the galaxies of our 3D universe.
The 2D universe is expanding. More space is being created. It now would take longer to walk around the universe.

Let the air out, in a controlled manner. The universe is shrinking; we are heading back in time toward the big bang. The dots are getting closer together; depending on how many you drew they may even begin to “collide”. You can’t do this until the balloon becomes a point, but you can probably visualize it. The dots converge in a small region; all matter is highly concentrated, the density is high, the temperature is high. We are at the big bang. There is no space beyond our tiny universe. If we set out in any direction we would quickly return to where we started.

It is mind boggling. It is awe inspiring. And it came from somewhere, and that somewhere is so clearly God.

Liberals routinely remake God in their own image. They don’t like a God who condemns abortion, divorce, and homosexuality. They especially don’t like a God who provides only a narrow, exclusive path to salvation. So they make a new god, always a nicer, more tolerant god; one like they would be, if they were god.

Conservatives also remake God. They assume that any God worthy of the title couldn’t possibly spend billions of years preparing the earth for the penultimate act of His creation: mankind. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, He wouldn’t use the extinction of millions of species to provide the natural resources (oil, coal, etc.) for mankind to use, he simply would create them in place.

It is awfully presumptuous to decide how God would carry out His own creative work.

It is an appealing God, but the so is the tolerant god to the liberals who manufacture him (or her). God’s awesome creative power is not challenged by scientific investigation into how he carried out His work. Science is, in an ever-increasing fashion, demonstrating God’s miracles, how He tailored the universe and the earth for the arrival of man. How He intervened time and time again, as conditions changed, to create new species, or allow others to become extinct, in a clear progression that created the conditions necessary for human life.

Thursday, January 02, 2003

Writing a book and seeking advice

Over the years I have worked on a book (a novel) but always gave up. Recently I returned to it and have finally, I think, passed some threshold. I have actually completed three chapters, with good notes for the rest of the book (except the ending).

There are several things I am thinking about in this regard, so I thought I might as well think out loud, and maybe get some advice from all you wonderful people out there in blogland.

If I work on my book, certainly my blogging will have to cut back—maybe to two or three times a week. To be honest, I probably need to curtail the blogging anyway. I have sort of run out of easy topics that I can post about without much preparation, i.e., once a day. The things I would like to post on now require more research and have much longer turn-around times.

This point is a bit obtuse. The book, as I said, is a novel, a sort of coming-of-age story. A comedy actually, about a group of graduate students (it’s better than it sounds, at least I hope so) Any such book will necessarily be highly autobiographical. The characters are composites and extensions of people I know/knew—including me. And therein lies the rub. Because the story takes place at a time before I was a Christian, some of the experiences we/I had that I would like to weave into the storyline are a bit saltier than I would like. Now I have to point out it really is only a bit saltier. We are not talking Tropic of Cancer here. After all, we were physics graduate students, who are about as attractive to (and successful with) the opposite sex as a collection of slugs. Still, there are some experiences, very mild by prime-time TV standards, that I think would have to be part of the story, though not in any explicit sense. And of course our language was not exactly edifying, yet I think it is necessary, if the story is to be told, to be reasonably honest in this regard as well. And then there is the drinking. Arggh. Was I really like that?

Let me put it this way. I think a completely honest account would be rated R, mostly for language and innuendo. I think I can tone it down to PG13 without sacrificing a sense of reality or the humor. Anything beyond that would probably be too sterilizing.

I am struggling with whether or not this is acceptable. I think the story is a good one, and a funny one, but is the cost too high?

Finally, if you have written a book and can recommend a good literary agent, or how to find one, just in case I decide to forge ahead, let me know by email.