Sunday, August 18, 2019

Did Christianity Suppress Science in the "Dark Ages?"

The Synergetic Relationship Between Science & Christianity - Part 1
The "Dark Ages"

In the Middle Ages, as most people believe, it is correct that some of the teachings of Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, Ptolemy, & Galen (the “Classical tradition”) caused suspicion, hostility, and condemnation from the church.  But more often, critical reflection about the nature of the world was tolerated and even encouraged by medieval religious leaders. Many of the church fathers had been educated in the classical tradition before converting to Christianity and had acquired habits of rational inquiry. They used these tools to help develop Christian doctrine and to help defend the faith against detractors.[2]For example, Aristotle’s philosophy could be used to rationally argue the existence of God.

Consequently, many of the church fathers expressed at least limited approval of the classical tradition.  For example, the second and third century writers Athenagoras, Clement, and Origen all found Greek philosophy a useful tool in the defense of Christianity.  Athenagoras marshaled the authority of Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics in favor of monotheism.  Clement attacked the earliest Greek philosophers for their atheism. But he [Clement] also acknowledged that certain philosophers and poets bore testimony to the truth, and that within the philosophical tradition there is a “slender spark, capable of being fanned into flame, a trace of wisdom and an impulse from God.” Tertullian himself viewed Christian religion as the fulfillment of Greek rationality, and he both advocated and engaged in philosophical activity.[3]

Medieval Scholastics deeply valued Aristotle and his writings and believed that his teachings on reason could be incorporated into church theology.  Augustine of Hippo (St. Augustine), one of the most important Christian church fathers during the 4thand 5thcentury, wrote at length about the connection between the Genesis account in the Bible and the natural sciences contained in the classical tradition. Augustine had no problem using natural science to help interpret scripture.  Roger Bacon agreed with Augustine.  

His goal was to demonstrate that the pagan learning of the classical tradition was a vital resource, capable of offering essential services to theology and the church; and moreover that it posed no insuperable religious threat, that suitably disciplined and purged of error, it would serve as a faithful handmaiden of religion and the church.[4]

Augustine was confident that we could use our reason and experience to read the book of nature because it was created by God. He wanted the interpretation of scripture to stay consistent with the cosmology and physics of the classical tradition and used the natural sciences in his role as a theologian and bible interpreter. Christians should think of Scripture and Creation as two “books” that should be read together for understanding of the fullness of God’s self-revelation; science is a God-given tool for discerning the handiwork of God in Creation and is fully compatible with God’s Word revealed in Scripture. In terms of actual science, Augustine argued in Confessionsthat time itself is part of the created order and that the universe was created out of nothing;[5]two ideas that modern science didn’t agree with for over 1500 years.
Another Christian in the late 5thand early 6thcentury, the Roman senator Boethius established a foundational scientific concept that we now call “natural laws” by expressing how inanimate nature obeys God’s rules.[6]Work done by the English monk Bede in the late 7thand early 8thcentury “became a model for a purely physical description of the results of the divine creation, devoid of allegorical interpretation, and using the accumulated teachings of the past, both Christian and pagan.”[7]Both Boethius’ and Bede’s Christian worldview was not at all in conflict with a mechanistic universe governed by natural cause and effect.[8]
Science and Christianity have complemented each other – even in the so called “Dark Ages” - and have been intimately connected throughout history. In part 2 I will continue to look at how the Christian view of God as a lawgiver, a rational mind, and as the Creator gave rise to modern science.

[2]David C. Linderg, When Science and Christianity Meet, University of Chicago Press, 2003
[3]David C. Linderg, When Science and Christianity Meet, University of Chicago Press, 2003, page 12
[4]ibid, page 24
[5]Kenneth Richard Samples, Classic Christian Thinkers, Reasons to Believe, 2019
[6]Michael Newton Keas, Unbelievable, ISI Books, 2019, page 35
[7]Bruce S. Eastwood, “Early-Medieval Cosmology, Astronomy, and Mathematics,” in Cambridge History of Science: Volume 2, 307
[8]Michael Newton Keas, Unbelievable, ISI Books, 2019, page 35

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Has Science Pierced the Truth of Christianity?

“Hillsong Worship Leader [Marty Sampson] Announces He Wants No Part in Christianity Anymore.”[1]Marty says in the interview, “I am not in any more. I want genuine truth. Not the ‘I just believe it’ kind of truth.  Science keeps piercing the truth of every religion.”[2]

Is that true? Has science poked holes in Christianity? 

The year is 1953. Watson and Crick have just discovered the structure of DNA. Contrary to what the Bible had taught for thousands of years, almost every scientist still thought the universe to be static and eternal. We had only discovered – at most – five characteristics of the universe that have to be fine-tuned for life. The Oparin-Haldane idea of life originating from a warm little pond was alive and well with the recently complete Miller-Urey experiment. 

What has happened since 1953?  Have the last 65 years seen a flood of evidence from nature making Christianity less reasonable; “piercing the truth” of the essential tenets of the faith?

To answer this, I will focus on three basic beliefs of the Christian faith that can addressed by science:
1.    The universe was created by God. Does current cosmology agree?
2.    The universe was designed for us.  Does current physics agree?
3.    God created life.  Does current biology – specifically origin of life research - agree?

The universe was created by God. Does current cosmology agree?
The creation of the universe is supported by the most tested and confirmed scientific theory – General Relativity.  The discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation in 1964 provided the last piece of evidence to convince the scientific community that the universe had a beginning; the data since has continued to point to a creation event. The current standard model for the universe includes an absolute beginning to time, space, and matter – which of course supports the first tenet that the universe was created. Alexander Vilenkin, physics professor at Tufts University, said in 2012 that “All the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning.”[3]This, of course, agrees very well with the first verse in Genesis.

The universe was designed for us.  Does current physics agree?
The design of the universe is becoming so accepted that the question is no longer if the universe is fine-tuned for life, but instead has become, “who or what is responsible for the fine-tuning?” The second tenet is support by current science.  Paul Davies, physics professor at Arizona State University wrote an entire book in 2006 addressing the question, “Why Is The Universe Just Right For Life?”[4]He starts chapter eight with this quote, “Scientists have long been aware that the universe seems strangely suited to life, but, they mostly chose to ignore it. It was an embarrassment – it looked too much like the work of a Cosmic Designer.”[5]Hugh Ross of Reasons To Believe has been keeping track of the number of characteristics of the universe, galaxy, solar system, and earth that must be fine-tuned for us to exist.  His number has climbed from around five in the 1960’s to over 1000 today – in every area of scientific study.[6]  We continue to find increasingevidence that we are part of the purpose of the universe; this design supports what is taught in the Bible.

God created life. Does current biology – specifically origin of life research - agree?
Origin of life research since 1953 has made the creation of life on earth more reasonable and a materialistic explanation of life less reasonable.  Since 1953 we have determined that there was no pre-biotic chemical soup (no warm little pond).  As we do more research, organic synthesis under the conditions of the early earth of the large molecules needed for life has become more and more difficult.[7]  Also, chemists having to intervene to do these synthesis reactions in the lab actually provides evidence for an intelligent mind needing to be involved in the creation of life. The organic synthesis reactions required for life to begin all require a researcher to control some aspect of the experiment to get the needed result. Evolutionary biologist Simon Conway Morris has pointed out, “Many of the experiments designed to explain one or other step in origin of life are either of tenuous relevance to any believable prebiotic setting or involve an experimental rig in which the hand of the researcher becomes for all intents and purposes the hand of God.”[8]An intelligence is necessary every time we duplicate origin of life chemistry; materialism predicts that these reactions should occur on their own.  The more origin of life research we do, the more evidence we find for a creator!

Since the discovery of DNA in 1953, we continued to uncover how amazing the chemical code for life actual is.  DNA is information.  It has been said to be a language and a super advanced computer code; the more we investigate, the more complex it shows itself to be! Since the only source of information is a mind, the evidence we find as we research DNA increasinglysupports that life was created.

Instead of science piercing the truth of Christianity, virtually every discovery and major advance in science over the last 65 years has supported Christianity and made the existence of God more reasonable!
1.    The universe was created by God.  Supported by current cosmology!
2.    The universe was designed for us.  Supported by physics and almost every area of science!
3.    God created life. Supported by origin of life research and the discovery that DNA is information!

[1]Charisma News, Jenny Rose Spaudo, 8/12/2019
[4]Paul Davies, The Goldilocks Enigma, First Mariner Books, 2006
[5]Ibid, page 151
[8]Fazale Rana, Creating Life In The Lab, Baker Books, 2011, page 195

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Responding To The Fine-Tuning

A person can be a God-fearing Christian on Sunday and a working scientist come Monday morning, without ever having to account for the partition that seems to have erected itself in his head while he slept.[1]

This quote described me perfectly for most of my life. My great-grandfather started the first Lutheran church in the town where I grew up and my grandmother made sure that we all grew up going to church. I never doubted the truth of Christianity, even when I was a science major in college and later when I taught science. I just did as Sam Harris said, “created a partition in my head.”

I really didn’t see a problem with this division; I just accepted the prevailing cultural mindset that Christianity and science are in conflict. But the Bible clearly proclaims that we can trust nature to teach us about God. We are told to do science in order to learn about God’s character and attributes! If science conflicts with what the Bible teaches, why are we told to look at nature and then trust what we find?

The heavens declare the glory of God,
   and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
   and night to night reveals knowledge.[2]

I didn’t realize the problem I had until around 15 years ago when I began teaching a canned apologetics program in a Sunday School class and discovered how inadequate the science portion of the class was. I came to the realization that if God was responsible for both the Bible and the universe then what we discover in nature should agree with what the Bible teaches! There should be no need for a “partition”, and we should be able to do science unafraid that anything we discover will conflict with scripture. So why does the Bible tell us to do science?

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him.[3]

One of the reasons is so we can know how much God cares for us! Atheists like Richard Dawkins try to tell us that we have no purpose, and that there is no meaning. Bill Nye says the same thing a little less intelligently when he says that we are just a speck on a speck on a speck and we suck. Contrary to what Dawkins and Nye try to tell us, if we do science, we will uncover purpose and meaning when we discover how much care God has taken just so we can exist. 

I think it is safe to assume that everyone desires purpose and meaning in their lives.
We all want to be loved, we all want to be affirmed, we all want someone to care for us. In our society today, most people seek justice. We can know all of this by doing science! As we do more science, the evidence will increase in support of a super intelligent mind that took exceptional care to plan and create this universe for us.  I remember a Keith Green song from the 70’s that began with Keith talking about how amazing heaven will be because Jesus has spent 2000 years preparing it for us.  Science shows us that God has spent the entire history of the universe preparing for us to be here right now! Water and carbon provide us with an excellent example of this preparation.

I am sure all of you know that water is necessary for life. It is the only substance that has these five life-essential properties: it’s a liquid under the conditions on earth, it is extremely polar for its size, its solid is less dense than its liquid, it dissolves a vast array of other substances, it has a high specific heat capacity. The only reason water has these properties is because of the physical laws - mainly the laws of quantum mechanics - that were set up at the very beginning of the universe.

You probably also know that carbon is necessary for life. It is the only element that can make large, complex, information-rich molecules and still remain what’s called “meta-stable” – which means that these large complex molecules are still able to undergo reactions. Carbon also “coincidently” reacts the best under the same set of conditions that will make water a liquid!
Both carbon’s chemistry and water’s properties depend on the exact right set of physical laws, again set at the very beginning of the universe. If the laws of quantum mechanics would have been set differently, then carbon and water wouldn’t have the perfect properties for life; which means that most likely we wouldn’t be here! But there is another layer to this fine-tuning of carbon and water; that they even exist at all is a “miracle.”

For carbon and water to even exist, all six of the following physical laws, forces, and constants had to be perfectly fine tuned at the start of the universe: cosmic mass density, cosmological constant, strong nuclear force, weak nuclear force, electromagnetic force, laws of quantum mechanics. God has been planning for our existence for 13.8 billion years! So, both the properties and the existence of carbon and water have to be exquisitely fine-tuned; but there is still another layer of fine-tuning with carbon and water.

You can’t just have any amount of carbon and water on a planet for life to exist. Even too much carbon and too much water is bad for life. Getting the perfect amounts of carbon and wateron earth so that we can be here right now took a perfectly designed moon formation event.

The moon formed when another planet collided with earth 4.5 billion years ago. This collision left us with the perfect moon and earth; both with the exact conditions for advanced life to exist. It also set the stage for the perfect amount of carbon and the perfect amount of water to remain on the earth. Not only did the collision have to take place at the exact right angle and speed, but prior to the collision there had to be the perfect amount of water already on the earth! Computer models show that the oceans had to be the exact right depth for the collision to result in the perfect conditions for life.[4]

“the sequence of conditions that currently seems necessary in these revised versions of lunar formation have led to philosophical disquiet.”[5]

Think about all the “coincidences” that had to take place just to get the right amount of carbon and water on earth so that we could exist, and you can understand why this might create some “philosophical disquiet.” We needed the perfect set of initial conditions at the start of the universe for carbon and water to even exist. We needed the perfect set of physical laws for carbon and water to have perfect set of life-permitting properties and life-permitting chemistry. We needed the perfect moon forming collision to get the right amount of carbon and water on the earth. We needed the perfect amount of water on the earth prior to the collision for the results to be what we needed for us to be able to exist here, right now. God has been working to prepare the earth for us for the entire history of the universe, and carbon and water are only two of the characteristics needed for us to exist here on earth.

Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe has kept track of the number of characteristics of the universe that need to be fine-tuned for advanced life to exist. The number of has gone from only two in 1961 to over 180 today. These numbers show that as we do more science, we get increasing evidence of how fine-tuned the initial conditions of the universe, the laws of nature and the physical constants are just for us to exist. The more we study nature, the more we see evidence of God’s handiwork! 

We also see fine-tuning evidence increasing at the scale of our galaxy; the Milky Way is the perfect spiral galaxy. We see fine-tuning at the level of our solar system; we have the perfect G-type main sequence star as our sun, and we have the perfect planetary neighbors. And, as with carbon and water, we see fine-tuning on our planet. According to Dr. Ross, the number of fine-tuned characteristics of our galaxy, solar system, and planet needed for advanced life has grown from three in the 1960’s to over 1000 today. God has not only been working at every time since the beginning of the universe, but also at every location!

Every field of science - astronomy, geology, chemistry, biology – is increasingly showing us how amazing our existence is!  Just to get the correct amount of carbon and water on earth took several amazing, intertwined “coincidences.” The fact that there are now over 1000 “fortunate accidents” that make our existence possible provides exceptional evidence for a designer who planned the whole thing for our benefit.

The fine-tuning of the universe is so well established that the question is not if the universe is fine-tuned, but instead has become who or what is responsible for the fine tuning. Even atheist scientists see the design when they look at nature. Paul Davies, physicist at Arizona State University, asks the question, “Why Is The Universe Just Right For Life?” Most scientists recognize that the universe is exquisitely fine-tuned for life to exist, almost like the universe knew we were coming! But some scientists take this one step further and recognize that an intelligence had to be responsible.

A few theories have been proposed by actual, serious, working physicists which show a recognition that a mind is required to explain the fine-tuning. One involves time travel: “Humans evolve to be God-like beings and then reach back in time and create the universe for themselves.” A second proposal uses the weirdness of quantum mechanics: “The universe engineers its own awareness through quantum backward causation.” A third explanation that is becoming more and more popular is that we are living in a simulation of a super-intelligent race. These proposals show how unreasonable a purely materialistic explanation is for the extreme fine-tuning needed for life to exist on earth.

To decide which intelligence is responsible, we will need to look at all the other evidence available to us. If a mind has designed the universe for us, it is reasonable to conclude this mind has left us hints about who they are! If we take into account all the other evidence we have from history, archaeology, and from the biblical writings, it becomes clear that the designer has indeed left clues about who they are and this same intelligence has actually told us to look at nature to discover their attributes and character! The intelligence that we detect when we are doing science is the God of the Bible.

The Bible tells us to look at creation for evidence that God cares for us. Not only do we find it, but that evidence grows every day. Science shows us that we must be incredibly significant and loved for God to take such extreme care since the very beginning of the universe to make sure we exist. God has been working at every time and at every location so that each one of uscan be here right now.  It is easy to see yourself as having purpose and meaning if the creator of the universe cares that much for you. The Bible also tells us that God, the creator, has provided a solution to evil and suffering through Jesus, giving us ultimate justice. Most importantly, Jesus has also provided a way for us – including you - to have a relationship with God, who wants you to have this relationship with him for eternity.

[1]Sam Harris, The End of Faith, Norton, New York, 2004, page 15
[2]Psalm 19: 1-2 ESV
[3]Psalm 8:3 ESV
[4]Robin M. Canup, “Lunar Conspiracies.” Nature 504 (Dec. 5, 2013), 27.
[5]Tim Elliot, “A Chip Off the Old Block.” Nature 504 (Dec. 5, 2013), 90

Monday, July 15, 2019

Amazing Truths - How Science and the Bible Agree by Dr. Michael Guillen

Dr. Michael Guillen describes his 2015 book Amazing Truths: “I elaborate on ten objective truths that I consider amazing because of what they tell us about life, the world, and the Creator.  And because – wonder of wonders – science and the Bible agree on all ten being absolutely, positively, demonstrably true.”[1]

According to Dr. Guillen, the 10 objective truths are:
1.    Objective Truth
·     Science has objective truth in the form of laws, constants, and theories
·     Christianity is unique among religions in its strong defense of objective truth
·     “If we don’t respect it, objective truth will hurt us”[2]
·     “…objective truth will ultimately vindicate us and set us free…”[3]
2.    Time is Linear
·     “Science and the Bible offer us a worldview unlike the East’s hamster wheel of life. According to science and the Bible, time, and therefore life, advances, advances in a straight line from the past, through the present, and onward to the future.”[4]
·     “Long before anyone else, including scientists, Christians introduced the world to the idea that time advances in a straight, orderly fashion toward a knowable end.”[5]
·     Augustine of Hippo got time correct: 1. Time has an existence independent of any natural system of time-keeping, 2. Time hasn’t always existed, 3. Time is smooth and continuous.[6]
3.    An Entity Can Have Contradictory Natures
·      I wrote a previous blog about this:  Go hereor here.
4.    Significant Parts of Reality Are Hidden From Us
·     “Everything we call scientific knowledge is based on but a pittance of what there is to know about our world.  Ninety-five percentof it is hidden from us.”[7]
·     We obviously know very little about God and the afterlife.
5.    Light is Unearthly
·     “…science and the Bible agree that light belongs to an altogether unique category of reality. It is exceedingly exotic and operates on a privileged plane of existence that we ourselves can never experience – at least not in this life.”[8]
·     Both God and light operate outside of time, but can interact with objects that are within time.
6.    The Universe Was Created Ex Nihilo
·      I wrote a previous blog about this:  Go hereor here.
7.    Truth Is Bigger Than Proof
·     Both science and Christianity cannot “prove” things to 100% confidence.
8.    Cause And Effect Can Be Disproportional
·     Chaos makes our world precious – it is the crazy, unpredictable stuff that both science and the Bible agree is responsible for life’s infinite possibilities.[9]
9.    Instantaneous Communication Is Possible
·     Science: quantum entanglement & Bell’s Theorem
·     Bible:  communication with God
10.  Humans Are Unique
·     “To our knowledge, no other creature on the planet senses the existence of an invisible realm – daily takes into account not just the here-and-now but the hereafter. No other creature believes in a Creator and worships him – builds magnificent cathedrals, composes brilliant symphonies, or founds universities and hospitals in his name.”[10]

[1]Dr. Michael Guillen, Amazing Truths - How Science and the Bible Agree, Zondervan, 2015, page 12
[2]Ibid, page 22
[3]Ibid, page 22
[4]Ibid, page 26
[5]Ibid, page 27
[6]Ibid, page 33
[7]Ibid, page 60
[8]Ibid, page 71
[9]Ibid, page 134
[10]Ibid, page 163