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?”
Uncategorized

Review of God’s Good Earth

Jon Garvey, God’s Good Earth, (https://www.amazon.com/Gods-Good-Earth-Jon-Garvey/dp/1532652003/)

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 (https://www.amazon.com/Biblical-Case-Old-Earth-ebook/dp/B00B856BQ8/), 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, https://www.amazon.com/Bible-Protestant-Rise-Nat-Science/dp/0521000963/) 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 (https://www.amazon.com/Darwins-God-Evolution-Problem-Evil/dp/1587430118/), 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

Program for the Annual Meeting in April (Webinar Only): Final Update

The annual meeting will be held on Tuesday and Wednesday, April 21-22, 2020. The theme will be “Does Anyone Come to Christian Faith by a Rational Process?” Once again we have a top-notch set of speakers. The meeting will be presented as a Webinar ONLY. Registration is free to anyone, but participants must register in advance. Click here to register.

Tuesday, April 21 Session 1

8:45 PM Eastern Time (5:45 PM Pacific Time) Introduction by David Snoke, President of the Christian Scientific Society

9:00 PM Eastern Time (6:00 PM Pacific Time)  

Dr. Hugh Ross

“Cosmic Reasons to Believe in Christ”

Astronomy is the only discipline where scientists directly observe past history. Today, astronomers can see all the way back to the cosmic creation event. Thus, astronomy yields the most rigorous, compelling scientific evidences for a Creator who transcends space and time and personally crafts the universe for the specific benefit of human beings. This talk shows how the Bible accurately predicted the history and structure of the universe thousands of years in advance of the scientific discoveries affirming that history and structure. I will present astronomical evidences for why a transcendent God must exist and why that transcendent God must be a personal, intelligent, loving Being. I will close by presenting scientific evidences for how God designed the universe to make possible the permanent redemption of billions of humans from their sin and evil within just thousands of years.

Bio: Astronomer Hugh Ross is founder and president of Reasons to Believe, an organization dedicated to demonstrating the compatibility of science and Christianity. Hugh earned his BS in physics from the University of British Columbia and his MS and PhD in astronomy from the University of Toronto. He later continued research on quasars and galaxies as a postdoctoral fellow at Caltech. While in college, Hugh dedicated himself to faith in Christ following an in-depth study of Scripture that convinced him of the Bible’s factual accuracy. Today, Hugh is the author of multiple books (such as Why the Universe Is the Way It Is, Creator and the Cosmos, and, more recently, Improbable Planet) and speaks on science-faith issues to audiences around the world.

10:00 PM Eastern Time (7:00 PM Pacific Time)

Dr. Timothy McGrew

“What does it take to be reasonable?”

To answer the question whether anyone comes to Christian faith by a rational process requires us to lay out a general account of what makes some beliefs rational. I here sketch such an account, overtly evidential in nature, that is both less and more stringent than various other popular accounts. I then argue that on this account, even children and the unlearned may rationally form many beliefs, including religious beliefs. One virtue of this account is that it offers a principled and intuitively compelling answer to the question of how we can rationally modify or maintain those beliefs in the face of new evidence and sophisticated challenges.

Bio: Tim McGrew is Professor of Philosophy at Western Michigan University. He has written extensively in classical and formal epistemology, the history and philosophy of science, and historical apologetics. He co-authored Internalism and Epistemology (Routledge 2007), co-edited The Philosophy of Science: An Historical Anthology (Wiley-Blackwell 2009), and contributed to the recent book Four Views on Christianity and Philosophy (Zondervan 2016). He has spoken on issues of science, faith, and miracles at Oxford, MIT, and many other universities and conferences.

Wednesday evening, April 22  Session 2

6:00 PM Eastern Time (3:00 PM Pacific Time)

Dr. Günter Bechly

 “A Journey from Atheism to Christianity and Intelligent Design”

I report about my long personal journey from atheism to theism and from Darwinism to intelligent design. The first steps were scientific and philosophical arguments that refute materialism, especially arguments from modern physics (emergent spacetime, non-realism in quantum mechanics) and the philosophy of mind (hard problem, aboutness, personal identity). After considering and evaluating a wide variety of non-materialist metaphysics, I came to embrace theism, mostly because of arguments from the contingency of the world, the fine-tuning of the universe, the origin of the laws of nature and the applicability of mathematics, and the digital physics argument that the universe is emergent from a universal mind. Important was also my realization that the only naturalistic alternative, an infinite multiverse, has absurd and unacceptable implications. Finally, arguments for the historical reliability of the Gospels and the historicity of the resurrection convinced me that Christianity is the one true religion. Independently from these considerations and long before my coming to faith, I had discovered scientific problems with the feasibility of the neo-Darwinian process of evolution and found intelligent design to be the best explanation of the evidence. Altogether, I suggest that the cumulative evidence against materialism and for theism is simply overwhelming. I became a Christian theist not in spite of being a scientist but because of it.

Bio: Dr. Günter Bechly is a German paleontologist (specializing in fossil insects), and a Senior Fellow with Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, and a senior research scientist at Biologic Institute in Redmond, Washington. He earned his Ph.D. summa cum laude from the University of Tübingen, Germany. He worked from 1999-2016 as curator for amber and fossil insects at the State Museum of Natural History in Stuttgart. He also held a teaching assignment at the University Hohenheim in Germany on insect systematics and phylogeny. He has authored about 160 scientific publications, in which he described more than 170 new species, and 11 biological groups are named in his honor. He organized five large public exhibitions on earth history and evolution, including the largest event for the Darwin Year 2009 celebrations in Germany. Bechly’s research has received broad international media coverage, and he served as a science advisor for three natural history documentaries by BBC and David Attenborough.

7:00 PM Eastern Time (4:00 PM Pacific Time)

Dr. David Snoke

“How does anyone change his or her mind about anything?”

Many people, including those sympathetic to Christian faith, view coming to faith as an essentially irrational process involving a leap, an emotional experience, or a moment of inspiration. This can match the experience of many people who seem to have a sudden “conversion,” or who cannot explain why they believe. I present a model for changing core beliefs that draws on Kuhn’s model of scientific revolutions, but applies to much more mundane and local beliefs as well. This model is at its core inductive and evidential, but meshes with some of the main points of the “presuppositionalist” school of apologetics as well.

Bio: David Snoke is professor of physics at the University of Pittsburgh. He received his bachelor’s degree in physics from Cornell University and his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and did postdoctoral studies as an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow with Manuel Cardona at the Max Planck Institute for Condensed Matter Physics in Stuttgart, Germany. He heads an experimental optical spectroscopy lab funded that focuses on novel quantum mechanical effects in optics. He has authored over 160 scientific papers in journals including Nature, Science, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and Physical Review Letters, and has published five scientific books, including four with Cambridge University Press. In 2006 he was named a Fellow of the American  Physical Society “for his pioneering work on the experimental and theoretical understanding of dynamical optical processes in semiconductor systems.”  He has long written and spoken on the integration of Christianity and science at numerous universities and meetings, and authored the book A Biblical Case for an Old Earth (Baker, 2006).

Wednesday, April 22, Session 3

9:00 PM Eastern Time (6:00 PM Pacific Time)

Dr. Fazale Rana

A Biochemist’s Journey to Faith”

What does biochemistry have to do with the Bible? This talk will explore how the intricate details about the cell’s chemical systems and the powerful truth of Scripture combined to compel me, as a biochemist, to become a follower of Jesus Christ. This presentation includes an exploration of the relationship between science and the Christian faith and describes some of the latest advances in biochemistry and origin of life research that point to a Creator’s role in bringing life into existence.

Bio: Fazale “Fuz” Rana serves as vice president of research and apologetics at Reasons to Believe, an organization dedicated to demonstrating the compatibility of science and Christianity. He earned a PhD in chemistry with an emphasis in biochemistry at Ohio University and conducted postdoctoral research of cell membranes at the Universities of Virginia and Georgia. He spent seven years as a senior scientist at Procter & Gamble and has coauthored articles published in several peer-reviewed journals. Today, Fuz is author of multiple books, including Humans 2.0, and speaks on evidence for creation from biochemistry, genetics, and human origins.

10:00 PM Eastern Time (7:00 PM Pacific Time)

Panel Discussion

NOTE: Due to unavoidable circumstances, Dr. Fritz Schaefer has had to cancel his appearance at the meeting. In his place, we will have a panel discussion including speakers Fuz Rana, David Snoke, and Timothy McGrew, as well as the following additional participants. Panel discussions at past CSS meetings have been quite lively, as speakers question each other, and don’t always agree.

Dr. C. John (“Jack”) Collins 

Jack Collins is professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary, where he has served since 1993. He received a B.S. and M.S. (computer science and systems engineering) from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an M.Div. from Faith Evangelical Lutheran Seminary, and a Ph.D. in Biblical Hebrew linguistics from the School of Archaeology and Oriental Studies, University of Liverpool. Collins was Old Testament Chairman for the ESV Study Bible, served as ESV Text Editor for The English-Greek Reverse Interlinear New Testament (Crossway, 2006), and is Old Testament Editor of the English Standard Version Study Bible. He has published numerous articles in technical journals, as well as The New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis. In 2000 his book on the theological and exegetical aspects of divine action, entitled The God of Miracles, was published by Crossway.  His next book, Science and Faith: Friends or Foes? was also published by Crossway in 2003, followed by Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Theological, and Literary Commentary, published by P&R (2006). Collins’ recent book Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? (Crossway, 2011) highlights the importance to Christian theology of believing that the Fall of man was a historical event, and explores whether such a belief can be compatible with a Darwinian view of human origins.

Dr. Jason Rampelt

Dr. Rampelt has studied Philosophy (B.A., Case Western Reserve University; MA, University of Pennsylvania), Theology (MAR and Th.M., Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia), and History and Philosophy of Science (Ph.D., Cambridge). After completing his doctoral studies in 2005, he was a research fellow at the newly formed Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, St. Edmund’s College, Cambridge (2006-2009). Since returning to the United States, Dr. Rampelt spent three years working in neuroscience labs at the University of Pittsburgh, and is now adjunct faculty in the same university in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science and a Fellow of the Greystone Theological Institute. His research has investigated the role of theology and theologians in the history of science, particularly the Early-Modern period, as well as the role of theology in scientific creativity since that time.

Dr. Jeff Zweerinck

Astrophysicist Jeff Zweerink is a Senior Research Scholar at Reasons to Believe (RTB). He is also the author of Is There Life Out There?: Who’s Afraid of the Multiverse? and coauthored RTB’s Impact Events student devotional series. Prior to joining RTB, Jeff spent much time working on the STACEE and VERITAS gamma-ray telescopes and was involved in research projects such as the Solar Two Project and the Whipple Collaboration. He is a project scientist at UCLA and is working on GAPS, a balloon experiment seeking to detect dark matter. Jeff is coauthor on more than 30 papers published in peer-reviewed journals, such as Astrophysical Journal, and Astroparticle Physics, and Astrobiology, as well as numerous conference proceedings. He earned his B.S. in physics and a Ph.D. in astrophysics with a focus on gamma rays from Iowa State University.

Click here to register.

Apologetics, Cosmology, Darwinism, Events