Saturday, June 23, 2018

God Tells Us to Be Scientists!

I recently gave a talk at a local youth group on how current science supports the Genesis creation account and how science provides evidence not only that God exists but can tell us something about God and the truth of the Bible. When I was finished, a parent spoke up and basically said that I shouldn’t be using science to help inform us about God.  The Bible actually teaches the opposite. Scripture is constantly telling us that the study of nature will point us to God.  Since studying nature is doing science, the Bible teaches that we should do science to learn about God! 

We see several examples in scripture showing us that it is important to God for us to know about the universe. The Old Testament teaches that Solomon was wiser than all other men; 1stKings lists some of the topics about which Solomon was wise.  

He spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall. He spoke also of beasts, and of birds, and of reptiles, and of fish.[1]

King Solomon was a naturalist! God chose to give biological knowledge to Solomon, which he then shared with “people of all nations.” Information about the natural world - also called science - must be important to God. Solomon understood this when he said, “Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways and be wise.”[2]

Psalm 8 compares the universe to God. 

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]

We obviously have to know about nature in order for this comparison to work; we must have already done some science in order to see how great God is. When we see the incredible immenseness of the universe, we realize how much God must care to pay attention to such a small speck. The more we learn about how fine-tuned the moon and stars have to be for life to exist on earth, the more we see the love that God has for us. Psalm 19 directly tells us that the universe will teach us about God, so we need to do some cosmology, astronomy and geology to see that the heavens actually do “declare the glory of God”. 

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.[4]

Historically, Christians have used what is discovered about nature to help inform them about what scripture is teaching. Augustine 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. The oldest of the doctrinal standards of the Christian Reformed Church is the Belgic Confession of 1561. Article 2 proclaims that we can know God by studying nature.

We know God by two means: First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which allcreatures,great and small,are as lettersto make us ponderthe invisible things of God:God’s eternal power and divinity,as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20.All these things are enough to convict humansand to leave them without excuse.Second, God makes himself known to us more clearly by his holy and divine Word, as much as we need in this life, for God’s gloryand for our salvation.[5]

Augustine also wanted Christians to be knowledgeable about the natural world and use it as a handmaiden of theology and religion. He worried about Christians talking nonsense about science and how that would hurt the religion.

Augustine made it clear that although scriptural knowledge is vastly superior to knowledge gained through the senses, the latter is inestimably superior to ignorance. Moreover, he worried that Christians, naively interpreting scripture, might express absurd opinions on cosmological issues, this provoking ridicule among better informed pagans and bringing the Christian faith into disrepute.[6]

Augustine’s warning to Christians is still relevant today.  Bernard Ramm in the 1950’s observed this exact thing and gave a similar warning.

It is impossible to settle the complex problems of Bible-and-science, theological and empirical fact without a well-developed Christian theism and philosophy of science. For example, the idea of creation is rather complex. Evangelicals were not always aware of the great deal of thought put into this matter by Augustine and Aquinas. As a result, evangelicals posed the problems of modern science as resolving down to : (i) fiat, instantaneous creationism; or (ii) atheistic developmentalism. This is certainly a gross over-simplification, not a genuine probing, of the entire concept of creation.[7]

This way of thinking has resulted in science being taught with absolute disregard of biblical statements and Christian perspectives. Science mostly is done with no interest as to what the Bible says on the subject and is now developed and is now mostly controlled by people who do not believe in the scientific credibility of the Bible. Both science and theology are hurt when we operate as if the divide between them exists. 

God has put us in this universe and made us curious because what we learn about nature teaches us about Him.  Biochemistry is showing us that only an incredible mind could be responsible for the information and intricate systems we are finding. Cosmology is teaching us about the grandeur and vastness of the universe; which had to be created by something even more grand.  Geology and biology are showing us the incredible fine-tuning needed for life to exist on earth and the care that had to be taken by the creator to make a home for us.  Recent discoveries in geology have added support to the creation narrative in Genesis.[8]The very small and the very large both point us to God and show us His characteristics and His greatness. The Bible tells us to do science for this very reason. Christians throughout history have followed this instruction; it has been to the detriment of Christianity when we haven’t.

[1]1 Kings 4:33 ESV
[2]Proverbs 6:6 ESV
[3]Psalm 8:3 ESV
[4]Psalm 19: 1-2 ESV
[5]Belgic Confession of 1561, Christian Reformed Church
[6]David C. Linderg, When Science and Christianity Meet, University of Chicago Press, 2003, page 14
[7]Bernard Ramm, The Christian View of Science and Scripture, William B Eerdmans Publishing, 1954, page 19

Friday, June 15, 2018

The Inspirational Design of DNA

This entry is a summary of The Inspirational Design of DNA, by Fazale R. Rana, PhD, published in Chapter 3 of Building Bridges, 2018 by Reasons to Believe.

DNA design is elegant, ingenious, and optimally designed for its role in the cell as a molecular-scale information storage system.  Biochemists believe that DNA approaches the theoretical maximum in terms of its digital storage capacity.

There are several key structural features of DNA that are responsible for its optimal data storage properties. Emerging data indicates that the components that make up the nucleotides appear to have been chosen carefully with every detail of DNA’s structure critically factored into this molecule information-storage role.  The components must give the DNA maximum stability while still allowing for protein binding to occur.

Phosphate is perfectly suited to form the stable backbone. Phosphate can form bonds with two sugars at the same time to bridge two nucleotides, while still maintaining a negative charge.  This negative charge imparts the DNA backbone with stability that prevents reactive water molecules from cleaving it.  The charge also serves as a protein binding site.  Both phosphite and sulfate (chemical analogs to phosphate) can form two bonds, but would do so without the necessary negative charge remaining. Arsenate (also a chemical analog) is not able to form bonds with organic materials.

The specific nature of the phosphate to sugar bonds is also optimized. The 5’ to 3’ phosphodiester linkage is a maximally stable bond; stability being one of the requirements to effectively store information. The sugar itself, deoxyribose (which lacks an OH group on the #2 carbon), also provides stability.  Ribose (the sugar in RNA), however, has this #2 OH group, which can catalyze the cleavage of the backbone. While DNA needs to be stable to store information, RNA needs to possess a certain measure of instability to keep extra proteins from cluttering up the cell.  The use of thymine (instead of uracil) in DNA, along with the antiparallel arrangement of the nucleotide strands both lead to the increased stability of DNA over RNA.

Research has shown that deoxyribose is the only sugar that could fulfill the role it does in DNA. When other sugars instead of deoxyribose are used, the DNA does not have all the properties necessary to operate in the cell.  Some of the analogs don’t form a double helix, in others the interaction between the nucleotide strands is too strong or too weak.  Still others can assume multiple structural conformations – which keeps the cells machinery from operating on the DNA as it should.

The nucleobases adenine, guanine, cytosine, thymine, and uracil appear to be the best possible choices as well. This set of nucleobases display ideal photophysical properties; minimizing the damage caused by ultraviolet radiation by absorbing light at exactly the same wavelengths that are most effectively shielded by ozone! Also, the chemical structure of these nucleobases cause the UV radiation to be radiated away after absorption, limiting the damage.

One kilogram of DNA can store all the digital data that currently exists. This exquisite optimization of DNA’s structure indicates that it is not the outworking of a historically contingent evolutionary process; instead extreme optimization points to a creator. Computer scientists and molecular biologists have come to realize that the cells machinery, which manipulates DNA, literally functions like a computer system at its most basic level of operation. How could humans have designed a system that operates exactly like the information computing system that operates inside a cell?  The most rational answer is that since we were created by God, we think in a similar way as our creator.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Why Would A Good God Create Viruses?

(This blog is a summary of the article written by Anjeanette “AJ” Roberts, PhD, found in Chapter 4 of Building Bridges, Reasons to Believe, 2018)

The presence of “natural evil” is one of the most common objections levied at the existence of God.  How can a good God allow the suffering caused by naturally occurring disasters such as earthquakes and tsunami? Viruses such as influenza, herpes, measles, and Ebola that cause widespread disease and death are a perfect example of this. 
As it turns out, these horrific viruses are actually very rare exceptions. The vast majority of viruses on planet Earth are not associated with any disease or suffering.  The earth is filled with an incredible abundance of viruses.  A single milliliter of ocean water or a gram of soil can harbor 10-100 million virus particles or more.  Viruses outnumber all other living things by a factor of at least 10 to 1 and even possibly 100 to 1. It is estimated that there are 1031viruses on earth – that’s 10 million times more viruses than stars in the universe, but only an infinitesimal fraction of viruses are associated with human disease, or diseases of any kind.
In fact, viruses are critical for sustaining the balance in Earth’s ecological webs and for providing higher ordered organisms ecological space to thrive. If it were not for viruses, bacteria and other single celled organisms would rule the planet, sequestering all nutrients and filling all ecological niches, making higher life and the survival of multicellular organisms impossible. Bacteriophage kill 40-50 percent of all the bacteria in Earth’s oceans on a daily basis.  This bacterial death releases an abundance of biogenic and organic molecules into Earth’s biogeochemical cycle and food chain for the survival of other organisms. It is possible that many viruses also exist to regulate animal populations. Some viruses have a symbiotic relationship with different organisms to help them survive through particular stresses. We need viruses for our very survival.
We are also harnessing viruses to improve our quality of life. We use them as tools to genetically alter organisms and to mitigate disease, manipulating and engineering them to fight cancer and polio. Much of what we know about molecular and cellular biology has been knowledge gained through viral studies. 
Although a few viruses are remarkably bad, life as we know it would be impossible without the vast array of viruses that fill the planet. While we understandably focus on the viruses that are dangerous to humans, our existence actually depends on the presence of viruses. Just like earthquakes and tsunami, viruses are responsible for horrific pain.  But also just like earthquakes and tsunami, viruses are necessary for life as we know it to even exist in the first place.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Let There Be Light & Current Science

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the 
light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.[1]

 When interpreted correctly, Christian scripture and nature should be in harmony. God created the universe and inspired the Bible, so both should agree. Why is the description of the creation of light in Genesis 1:3-4 worded this way?  Why not simply say that God created the light? If we look at the current scientific theory explaining the first appearance of light, we may have an explanation as to why the Genesis account of light’s creation is worded in such a specific way.  
When the universe first came into existence, it was so hot that photons could not travel through the plasma without interacting with the other particles (electrons and baryons) in the plasma.  This resulted in an opaque universe until about 380,000 years after creation.  As the universe expanded and cooled, electrons were able to bind to nuclei, allowing photons to finally pass freely through the universe without being scattered; which could be described as “light separating from the darkness.” We discovered this first appearance of light when Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias detected the microwave background radiation in 1964.
The Hebrew verb used in Genesis 1:3 that is translated as “Let there be” is haya, which implies that the creation of light came about by allowing nature to run its supernaturally directed course. This verb is typically not used when referring to something coming into existence for the first time.[2] This agrees with current scientific theory because the light was able to separate from the darkness as the universe went through its natural course of expanding and cooling.
I am not proposing that Genesis 1 is teaching science, but I am suggesting that at the very least, it will give us a description of creation that will not contradict what we discover about nature.

[1]Genesis 1:3-4 ESV
[2]The Bigger Picture on Creation, Krista Kay Bontrager, Reasons to Believe, 2008

Sunday, April 8, 2018

The New Testament Writers Were Concerned About Truth: An Argument from Omission

The only concern of the writers of the New Testament was accurately recording the history of Jesus and presenting the truth of the gospel. A few of the common reasons given to show that they were concerned about representing Jesus accurately are: The inclusion of embarrassing details about themselves and Jesus, the inclusion of the demanding and difficult sayings of Jesus, the inclusion of historically verifiable names and locations (over 30 of which have been confirmed), and the matter of fact way that they describe miracles just like they would describe any other historical event; without embellishment or exaggeration.[1]

The apostles were not driven by the pursuit of power.  Being a leader within the Christian community was a liability; not an asset.  The nonbiblical histories and writings related to the lives and ministries of the twelve apostles consistently proclaimed that the apostles were persecuted and eventually martyred for their testimony.[2]

Two portions of Luke’s gospel also illustrate this point.  Luke 9 (as well as Matthew 10 & Mark 6) records Jesus sending out the twelve apostles, as well as their return. Luke 10 does the same with the sending and return of the 72.  In all cases the New Testament writers leave out any specific stories of what theydid on their journeys; focusing instead on what Jesus taught them.  

Luke records that Jesus gave the disciples power and authority over all demons and diseases and told them to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. Luke also writes what Jesus told the disciples to take with them, where to stay, and what to do if a particular town did not believe them. When the disciples return, Luke simply states that they told Jesus what they did. Nothing is said about who did what, how many demons were cast out, or what diseases where healed.  If the writers were concerned about gaining power, they would have written about all the incredible things they accomplished on their time away from Jesus.

Matthew adds a few more specifics to the instructions Jesus gave before the twelve left including the warnings about being persecuted, but Matthew also leaves out any mention of what the apostles did on their journeys.  Mark adds the simple statement that the disciples “cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.”[3]

If the apostles were concerned about gaining power and prestige in a new “invented” religion, they would have reported what they did on their journey to show how spiritual they were.  Mark (traditionally the scribe writing for the apostle Peter) should have listed all the great and wonderful things that Peter did, Matthew should have written about all the demons he cast out, and Luke (traditionally one of the 72) should have listed all the diseases he cured when he went out with the 72.  Because none of them did this (and instead included embarrassing details about themselves and Jesus) we can have confidence that they were concerned with reporting the truth about Jesus and not concerned with their power and reputation.

Luke 10 even records a rebuke from Jesus to the 72 about thinking that what they were doing is something they should boast about.
The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.[4]

The writers of the New Testament documents were concerned with accurately representing the history and teachings of Jesus.  They were not concerned with gaining prestige or power.  Check out these other blogs (listed below) that discuss the historicity and accuracy of the New Testament documents.

Argument for New Testament Reliability

[1]Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, Crossway Books, 2004
[2]J. Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity, David C Cook, 2013, page 245-246
[3]Mark 6:13 ESV
[4]Luke 10: 17-20 ESV

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Jesus of Testimony

Excellent documentary on the historicity of Jesus, the New Testament documents, miracles, the Resurrection, and the reason that Jesus came.  Very well done!

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Who Created God?

I recently answered an on-line forum question asking for a “well-respected proof for God” by giving the following version of the Cosmological Argument. 

Premise 1:  Everything that begins to exist has a cause of its existence.
Premise 2:  The universe began to exist
Conclusion: The universe has a cause of its existence.

This is a proof for a theistic god since all matter, energy, space, and time (the universe) came into existence, and the cause must be non-material, spaceless, timeless (since these things did not exist prior to the universe existing), and able to create; which is the basic definition of a theistic god.

The main objection to my post was the retort, “Who created God?” This blog will be focused on several answers to this common question.

To respond to the Cosmological Argument by asking “Who created God?” is to misunderstand the argument, and in this case, to misunderstand Premise 1.  The argument does not presuppose that everything has a cause.  Premise 1 states that only those things which begin to exist must have a cause. Since God is defined as existing eternally and without a beginning, the response “Who created God?” is really asking, “Who created the thing that is defined as uncreated?”

Quite often, after giving this explanation, the next response will be that you are using special pleading to make your case.  The reason this is not special pleading is that it doesn’t apply only to God, it would apply to anything that does not begin to exist.  For example, if the universe did not begin to exist, then the universe would not need a cause!  Current scientific observations and modern cosmology support Premise 2, that the universe did begin to exist. Click here to read my previous blog about the beginning of the universe. Click here to read J. Warner Wallace’s article on the beginning of the universe.

Taking a quick look at three other proofs for the existence of God will further demonstrate the futility of asking “Who created God?”

1.     Edward Feser’s Aristotelian Proof
Since change actually occurs, and change is defined as the actualization of a potential, there must exist something that can actualize potentials without itself being actualized.  Even quantum events are merely potentials until the universe actualizes them. The uncaused, first cause is purely actual because it lacks any potentiality. Any actualization of a potential requires a cause, whereas what is pure actuality does not. This is the “unmoved mover” of Aristotle, characterized as God.[1] 
To ask “Who created God” is to require an answer to the nonsense question, “Who actualized the potentials in the thing that is pure actuality and thus never had potentials that needed actualizing?”[2]

2.     Edward Feser’s Neo-Platonic Proof
Things that we experience are composite; the ultimate cause of composites must itself be non-composite, or absolutely simple. Composite things require a cause because there must be some principle outside them that accounts for the composition of their parts. What is non-composite has no parts to be put together, therefore could not be caused.  Neither the universe, or even a multiverse could be uncaused, necessary, or self-explanatory because they are composite.[3]
To ask “Who created God” is to require an answer to the nonsense question, “Who put together the parts of the object that is not made up of composite parts?”

3.     Edward Feser’s Thomistic Proof
For any of the contingent things of our experience, there is a real distinction between its essence and its existence.  Nothing like this could exist unless it was caused to exist by something in which there is no such distinction. Something whose essence just is existence need not have existence conjoined to its essence and therefore does not need a cause. The universe, Big Bang, quantum events, or laws of nature could not be uncaused causes.  Only something whose essence just is existence could be an uncaused cause.[4]
To ask “Who created God” is to require an answer to the nonsense question, “What unites the distinct essence and existence in that which has no essence distinct from its existence?”[5]

Hugh Ross, in his book The Creator and the Cosmos, uses scientific concepts to show that it is pointless to ask “Who created God?”[6]

The universe is confined to one single direction of time. Since dimensions always have two directions (forward and back, left and right, in and out), the single dimension of time that the universe experiences is only half of a dimension. This confinement to half of a dimension means that there had to have been a starting point, or a beginning, which requires the universe to have been created. The necessity for God to have been created would only apply if God were confined to half a dimension of time.  Both the Bible and General Relativity speak of at least one additional time dimension, since effects existed before time in this universe began. Any entity which exists in two dimensions of time would be free from having a beginning; hence would not need to be created.[7]

In the equivalent of two or more dimensions of time, an entity is free from the necessity of being created. If time were two dimensional, for example, both a time length and a time width would be possible. Time would expand from a line into a plane. In a plane of time, an infinite number of lines running in an infinite number of directions would be possible. If God were to so choose, He could move and operate along an infinite time line that never touches or crosses the time line of our universe.  As John 1:3, Colossians 1:16-17, and Hebrews 7:3 say, he would have no beginning and no end.  He would not be created.[8]

[1] Edward Feser, Five Proofs of the Existence of God, Ignatius Press, 2017
[2] Ibid, page 251
[3] ibid
[4] ibid
[5] Ibid, page 251
[6] Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, Reasons to Believe, 2018
[7] Ibid, page 127
[8] Ibid, page 128