News items June-July 2020

  • Ongoing debate about whether the Cambrian explosion was really abrupt. See this article on Discovery’s Evolution News and Views website. This relates to the argument of Stephen Meyer in his book, Darwin’s Doubt, that the Cambrian explosion is to all appearances miraculous.
  • Another person argues that she does not exist, See this link. This is becoming a common position: that our sense of self is an illusion. On the other hand, I have seen people arguing that everything is conscious and has a mind, even single electrons!
  • Fine tuning in the destruction of the dinosaurs. See this link.
  • An argument that perhaps the laws of physics are not universal. See this link.



News items, May 2020

  • Proposal for censorship of scientific journals to prevent intelligent design from being published. See this summary on Discovery’s Evolution News and Views website.
  • Article in Scientific American says earth-like planets may be extremely rare, See this link.
  • DNA replication inspires advances in computer science. See this tweet from member Fuz Rana.
  • A hot debate breaks out over thermodynamics and the origin of life. See the original Inference exchange  and these followups on the Discovery website: ENV1, ENV2, ENV3.
  • Based on a web debate in another forum, I have posted an article on my personal blog on “Did the Enlightenment lead to Nazism and Socialism?”

Review of God’s Good Earth

Jon Garvey, God’s Good Earth, (

In my talk for the webinar, I mentioned this book by Jon Garvey. Subtitled “The case for an unfallen creation”, it arguues for just that: that the physical created world is not “fallen” at all, but just as God designed it, and very good.

Many of the points he makes are the same as in my book, A Biblical Case for an Old Earth (, including 1) there is no story of a second creation in Scripture— Genesis 1-2 is the only creation story, reiterated several times in Scripture. At the fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, there is simply no discussion of a revision of creation at all, just two things, that farming and childbirth will be harder. 2) Genesis 1 clearly includes carnivorous animals in the “very good” creation. 3) Everywhere in Scripture God rejoices over the carnivores, and commends us to rejoice over them, and does not mourn them or consider them deformed or fallen. 

Garvey does not address the age of the earth in depth, but instead goes much deeper into the question of whether the Bible teaches that the creation is fallen in any intrinsic way (as opposed to just showing the effects of abuse by humans). In the first part of his book, he shows that there was no general consensus on the question in the first 1500 years of the church, with most theologians leaning toward the view of an unfallen creation whose beauty testifies of God. The widespread belief in a distorted or twisted physical order due to the Curse on Adam and Eve seems to have arisen at the time of the Reformation. Garvey attributes this to the influence of the Promethean myth of the Renaissance, which was used to celebrate the centrality of human understanding in the world, despite the consequences. I found this argument to less convincing; the Reformers generally did not draw on Greek mythology to a large degree, nor buy into the premises of Renaissance humanism. I wonder if the explanation is much more direct: at the time of the Reformation and after, a series of disastrous plagues hit Europe, and many of the leaders of Reformed churches lost close friends. In prior times, these might have been explained as direct signs from God for disobedience, but with the de-mystification of the natural world that came with the Reformation (see Peter Harrison’s book, also a good read, this avenue was not open to the Reformed theologians, and they faced a world in which diseases like these existed intrinsically.  

Garvey then goes on to survey the science, and shows that evolutionists, including theistic evolutionists such as Karl Giberson, severely overstate the case in painting a very black picture of animal suffering, essentially unending misery for all nonhuman life. As well documented by George Hunter in Darwin’s God (, Darwinian evolution of both the theistic and atheistic type was largely embraced in the 1800s as a theodicy to explain this view of the world. Unlike young earth creationists who removed God from responsibility by making human sin the cause of natural evil, evolutionists removed God from responsibility by making undirected natural forces the cause. For Giberson and others, this is the main argument for evolution, that God could not possibly have directly created this deadly situation. Garvey shows that such a bleak picture of the natural order is not in agreement with the facts; animals generally live most of their lives without suffering and with much peace and pleasure, even with parasites who live essentially symbiotically with them, and may not have the higher functions to experience anguish as humans do (as opposed to pain, which animals clearly do experience), and death is usually rapid for most animals, with shock removing most of the suffering. Much of our dismay at animal death is due to “projection” of our own feelings onto animals. 

Garvey may overstate his own case a bit. Several times he encourages the “look out the window” test— is the nature you can see in your neighborhood really so filled with anguish and misery? But here he may fall into the same trap that the Victorians documented by Hunter’s book did. In well-tamed England and Europe, the view out a window is not generally one of suffering and misery in the natural world. But travel to other parts of the world, and the careful work of scientists in those places, exposed the Victorians to new types of carnivorous and parasitic life that made them recoil. This reaction probably contributed to the “nature is cursed/fallen” view of theology that Garvey documents.  But Garvey is right that even in dangerous places like the Amazon or the Australian outback, the life of animals is not unending misery. Generally all ecosystems have predators that keep populations in check and diseases that keep predators in check, and lots of running about without sheer agony all the time. Our, and the Victorians’, reaction against new forms of predators and parasites is like culture shock, in which anything novel is seen as evil. 

But the question is not all or nothing. It may be that creation is mostly unfallen, but that there are some physical aspects of it (such as certain types of virus) that God added at the Curse to make life harder (but not unlivable) for humans. The Bible does mention some natural phenomena as used by God to discipline and warn humans of God’s ultimate judgment, such as the plagues on Egypt and Israel. These may have existed prior to the fall but had their effects amplified for specific purposes of God. 

Overall, Garvey’s book is worth the read (perhaps in conjunction with the other books mentioned above), as it makes a substantial contribution to the debate.

Biblical Interpretation, Creation, Darwinism, History of Science, Problem of evil, Reviews, Theistic evolution

comments on Hugh Ross’s talk

By Brett van de Sande, member

I was thinking a bit about Hugh Ross’ fine-tuning argument.  Essentially, he is saying that any instance of fine-tuning is a good thing and that it is best explained by a personal creator.  The “personal” adjective comes about since the precise value of these various constants of nature are carefully chosen to make life on earth possible (that is, fine-tuning is an example of Intelligent Design).

He then paints the picture that scientists seek to remove/explain instances of fine-tuning, because of they are uncomfortable with the associated theological implications.  However, I would like to point out that fine-tuning is often discussed in terms of æsthetic considerations.  Sometimes this is called “naturalness,” the property that the dimensionless ratios between free parameters or physical constants appearing in a physical theory should take values “of order 1” and that free parameters are not fine-tuned.

Appeals to æsthetics considerations are rather widespread in physics.  In my view, such appeals only make sense in a theistic context:  why should my conception of beauty correspond to what is going on out there?  Also, why should I expect others to share the same basic sense of beauty?  If a personal God created the universe in a way that reflects his own nature, and we are all created “in the image of God,” then an appeal to æsthetics makes perfect sense.  Otherwise, not.

Imagine that I discover that two different particles—a proton and a neutron—have almost the same mass.  (And let us say that this fact has some important implication for creation of stable atoms, and the like.)  There are two things that could happen:

  1. I could just let it be and say that this is an example of fine-tuning or I could invoke the anthropic principle, “we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t like this.”
  2. Or I might find some symmetry (in this case, isospin) that relates the two particles.

Which explanation is “better?”  Both are logically valid explanations.  Yet, we are much happier with the latter mode of explanation for æsthetic reasons.  

The associated symmetry, isospin, is one of the symmetries of the Standard Model.  One might then counter that we are just moving the target:  “Why, then, does the Standard Model have this particular symmetry?”  I would argue that we find that positing a theory to have a particular symmetry is more æsthetically pleasing than “fine-tuning” two masses to be equal.  In either case, we don’t know the fundamental reason why.  But one is certainly more beautiful than the other.

Another important example of fine-tuning comes from the isotropy of the microwave background radiation.  There are two possible explanations for this:

  1. The initial conditions of the universe were delicately balanced so that the temperature at each location was almost the same, even for points not in causal contact.
  2. Inflation

Either is a logically valid explanation.  Both explanations require very precise fine-tuning.  Both explanations are consistent with experimental observations.  Yet we prefer the latter explanation over the former explanation for purely æsthetic reasons.  It is much prettier to say that two regions in the night sky appear to be in thermal equilibrium because they actually were in thermal equilibrium some time in the past.

Finally, there may be some quantities that must be fine-tuned.  For instance, one could imagine that the overall expansion rate of the universe (which is very fine-tuned) can have no “natural” explanation (in the sense I mentioned earlier).

In conclusion, we see many examples of fine-tuning in the world around us.  However, appeals to fine-tuning must be made with care.  “Naturalness” explanations, when available, are always preferred.

Pithy saying:  “Fine-tuning is great, but should only be used as a last resort.”


Apologetics, Astrophysics, Cosmology, Events

responding to Tim McGrew

Tim’s talk on Tuesday night was my first exposure to his work and thought. I found his presentation well reasoned, clear, and helpful to me in a number of ways. That said, I think there is more going on when a person comes to faith than “rational process” as described in this lecture. While a person’s subjective experience of coming to faith is entirely rational, the preposition “by” makes a strong causal claim that should be examined. This distinction should be important to us as Christians because of the key distinctions made in the “not by” and “but by” statements in the New Testament. For example, when Paul says “not by works of righteousness…” he is not saying that these works of righteousness that God has appointed are not of central importance to our experience of life as believers in Christ. In fact, our own subjective experience of growth in our faith is inseparably linked to our works of righteousness which flow out of our union with Christ, the Logos. So then, there is an important distinction being made in Christian thought between factors that define our subjective experience and what actually brought it about.

In defending himself against the charge that he was doing exorcisms by demonic power, Jesus countered that before it is possible for the home invader to steal someone’s property, he must first bind the strong man, then he can raid his house. In the immediate context, that refers to a person who is under demonic oppression, but really it applies to the whole world. Prior to coming to faith, we belong to that kingdom and its king does not let us go willingly. This is not in opposition to anything that Tim said in his talk, in fact, but I think some real work is needed to reconcile this view of spiritual home invasion with the reflective and continuous process of opinions changing in response to evidence.

The conversion of Paul looms large in Christian thought, so it is worth considering whether that could be described as a rational process. Certainly yes, as Paul’s first words were, looking up from the dirt, “Who are you, Lord?” The rational process continues over the following weeks, and throughout his life, as he works out the meaning of that experience. But by his own words, he was “taken hold of by Christ”, rather than the other way around. None of this contradicts anything that Tim said. I think it is rather my own impression that creeps in as I listened to Tim’s talk and envisioned coming to Christ by a rational process as something that happens by diligent pursuit of the best evidence, maybe helped by coffee and a few good books. Not many people come to Christ the way Paul did, but I guess than not many come by this coffee-and-books caricature either!

Someone I read recently described her coming to Christ as a “train wreck”. Her process was a rational one too. I am not arguing against anything anyone was saying at the conference, but maybe trying to point out what was left unsaid, probably obvious to everyone except me. That is, that the rational process that I am aware of as I come to Christ is just the tip of the iceberg; it can no more explain the full scope of what is going on when I turn from darkness to light than the motion of my finger can explain why the light comes on in my office when I flip the switch. Maybe this is part of what the questioner had in mind with the quote from Pascal, “The heart has its reasons that reason knows not of.”

Apologetics, Biblical Interpretation, Theology