Monday, January 27, 2014

The Mysterious True Nature of Reality

Both science and theology use evidence to formulate models of what we think the world is like and what we think God is like. Often what the evidence shows us is that nature and God are beyond our comprehension! The evidence leads to mysteries that we cannot fully comprehend; many times reality must be described in a way that doesn’t make sense. In theology, the trinity and the dual nature of Christ are both paradoxes that cannot be totally understood by our human mind. In science, quantum mechanics and the nature of light have the same issues of mental obscurity.
The Doctrine of the Trinity teaches that one God is three persons.  This is not illogical nor is it contradictory; but it certainly is a paradox! God is three “whos” and one “what”; this is not a logical contradiction. It is stated well in the Athanasian Creed from the fourth century.

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance.
For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. But the godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, is all one, the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal.[1]

Our minds cannot comprehend the Trinity, but this is what is described by the writers of the eyewitness accounts of what Jesus taught. This evidence leads us to the conclusion that one God is also three persons. The Trinity may be above reason, but it is not against reason.
Evidence from the Apostolic Writings also lead us to the conclusion that Jesus was God and a human at the same time.  Comprehending this doctrine is a bit easier than the trinity, but still a mystery!  How can something be two different things at once?  Here is a description from the Council of Chalcedon:

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body; consubstantial with us according to the manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the virgin Mary, the mother of God, according to the manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the prophets from the beginning have declared concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.[2]

These mysteries are not limited to Christianity!  Paradoxes also are forced by the evidence when studying the natural world. Take light and electrons for example.  Under one set of conditions they will do exactly the same thing as water waves and sound waves.  Change the situation and they will act as if they are little tiny baseballs.  Try to come up with a mental picture of that!  Light and electrons acting as if they are both particles and waves is a paradox, but is a major doctrine of science.
Paradoxes abound in the world of the very small. We must use quantum mechanics to describe really tiny things.  The evidence forces us to believe realities like an electron can be anywhere in the universe at any given moment and can even go back in time.  Richard Feynman, who definitely understood quantum mechanics better than almost anyone on the planet during his lifetime, remarked, “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.” Quantum mechanics and light may both be above reason, but they are not against reason.
In order to understand and explain reality we need to compare our theories, models, and explanations with something familiar.  Since we don’t have much experience with God or with very tiny things, so we have a tough time imagining what they are like!  The data we have on God and much of the data we get about light and sub-atomic particles is unlike anything we have ever experienced before! 

The difficulty really is psychological and exists in the perpetual torment that results from your saying to yourself, "But how can it be like that?" which is a reflection of uncontrolled but utterly vain desire to see it in terms of something familiar. [3]

Objections to the Trinity break down in the fact that they insist on interpreting the Creator in terms of the creature.[4]

It should be expected that God and nature are both a mystery. Since God created the universe, we should not be surprised that we see a reflection of the creator when we study nature.  Light is two things that are one. God is three things that are one. No one truly understands quantum mechanics. No one truly understands the nature of God. God’s creation and revelation are both hard to understand fully, but neither are illogical.

If Christianity was something we were making up, of course we could
make it easier. But it is not. We cannot compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with Fact. Of course anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about.[5]

[1] Athanasian Creed
[2] Chalcedonian Creed
[3] Richard P. Feynman, The Messenger Lectures, 1964
[4] Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Baker, 1984
[5] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Simon & Schuster, 1952

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Science & Theology – A Synergetic Relationship

Science is the study of nature. Theology is the study of God. It is a common teaching and belief that since nature is the material world and God is immaterial, science and theology embody two totally different ways of knowing and represent, as biologist Stephen Jay Gould taught, “two completely different, non-overlapping magisteria.” In her book, Total Truth, Nancy Pearcey explains that our culture has separated "truth" into two categories. Theology fits in one category which is subjective and unverifiable. The other category is considered to be verifiable: hard, factual, scientific knowledge. The more I study science and the more I study theology, the more I find that the two categories actually overlap and that there is absolutely no need to keep them separated.
Both science and theology are concerned with knowing the truth about the world; both study the handiwork of God. One studies God’s inspired writings and attempts to interpret their meaning, while the other studies God’s creation and tries to make sense of it. Both use remarkably similar techniques! The Reverend Doctor John Polkinghorne, who has a doctorate in physics and is also ordained as an Anglican priest, notices the similarities between his two disciplines and states, “Theology, as much as science, must appeal to motivated belief arising from interpreted experience.”[1]
Both disciplines look at evidence to determine an explanation for that evidence, and then both test the explanation by seeing if new evidence will fit with that description. Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology, describes the process of “doing theology”: 
1. Find all verses in the Bible relevant to the topic you want to study. 
2. Summarize the points made in the relevant versus. 
3. Summarize the teachings of the relevant versus into one or more points about that subject. 
4. Compare your summary to other writings on the subject and/or talk with others in the church about your summary. 
5. If your views are radically different from others writings on the subject, then you will need more evidence to modify or strengthen your position. 
When doing systematic theology, Grudem states:

…we are free to use our reasoning abilities to draw deductions from any passage of Scripture so long as these deductions do not contradict the clear teaching of some other passage of Scripture.[2]

Compare the above steps for “doing theology” to the commonly accepted steps for “doing science”: 
1. Collect relevant evidence. 
2. Evaluate (summarize) your evidence. 
3. Formulate a conclusion (one or two main points) based on your evidence. 
4. Submit your conclusions to a peer review process (allow others to compare your work). 
5. If your conclusions disagree with others, collect more evidence to either strengthen or modify your conclusion.
Science uses a peer review process and reproducible experiments to test the explanations. Theology uses peer review as well; others in the church cross check explanations with the latest research on the earliest recoverable Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek manuscripts. Both use something a bit different as evidence, but the process to evaluate the evidence is very much the same. Both also refer to past experts for help, as Newton and Maxwell are part of any standard science text just as much as Augustine and Aquinas are part of a theology text; both areas have their accepted doctrines. Obviously, science and theology are studying different areas and usually are asking different types of questions (as they should, since they are different disciplines), but the process of science and the process of theology are very much in harmony, and both use hard, factual knowledge.
      As I wrote about in the previous post, science itself was born out of Christianity because reasoning and using evidence is what Christians did! To the early Christians, faith was believing because of the evidence.  Christianity, as described in the Bible, is itself “scientific” as it is historically based on evidence, testing, reason, and logic. Jesus continuously gave concrete examples and signs. In Mark 2, Jesus says he healed so that you may believe; he gave signs to show that he was the Christ. He was not afraid to show physical evidence to Thomas. In Acts, Paul reasons with non-believers and Peter reminds people of the evidence they saw. John’s entire gospel is an evidential apologetic and explains his faith in his first epistle:

He opens his letter with the evidence of his own eyewitness encounter with Christ. Notice how many senses he appeals to:
What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled concerning the Word of Life, and the life was manifested, and we have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us, what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also…
Then he closes his letter like this:
And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life.
To John, faith wasn't a blind leap. It wasn't wishing on a star. It was grounded in evidence that led to knowledge. It was certain.[3]

The New Testament furnishes its readers with evidence of its claims and implores them to investigate what has been written. Faith, as described in the Bible, is based on evidence and reason—not merely a blind, subjective leap

The Biblical authors repeatedly encouraged their readers to search the evidence to investigate the claims of Christianity (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21 and 1 John 4:1) so they could be convinced of the truth of these claims (Romans 14:5, 2 Timothy 1:8-12 and 2 Timothy 3:14). This encouragement is consistent with the notion that the evidence will lead us to a rational conclusion about the nature of Jesus. In fact, Jesus also encouraged his followers to consider the evidence he provided about his deity (John 14:11 and Acts 1:2-3). Christian faith is not blind. Instead, the Christian faith encourages investigation related to Jesus and to the world around us.[4]

            If you really want to understand the world and the true nature of reality, you must not limit yourself to only one domain.  There is no reason why they can’t go hand in hand, as they have historically done.  Both science and Christian Theology can teach you truth and each can enhance the other; showing you two different symbiotic aspects of the universe. You can approach both Christianity and science using evidence, reason and logic.  When you do, you will discover how much they complement and enhance each other.  In Romans, we are told to look at nature to learn things about God, while knowing about the Creator can give us a different perspective on the creation.  As Rev. Dr. Polkinghorne says it:

…science describes only one dimension of the many-layered reality within which we live, restricting itself to the impersonal and general, and bracketing out the personal and unique.[5]

If interpreted experience is to be the basis of our understanding reality, then our concept of the nature of reality must be sufficiently extensive to be able to accommodate the richness of our experience.[6]

[1] John Polkinghorne, Quantum Physics and Theology, Yale University Press, 2007.
[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Zondervan, 1994.
[3] Gregory Koukl, Stand to Reason, Solid Ground, February 2000.
[5] John Polkinghorne, Exploring Reality, Yale University Press, 2005.
[6] Ibid.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Reason For This Blog

My great-grandfather was one of the first Lutheran ministers in the area in which I live.  My grandparents were very active in the Lutheran Church and my parents took myself and my siblings to church as well.  I was raised a Christian; I did the whole youth group thing on Monday nights, I did the confirmation classes on Sunday afternoons, I went to Lutheran camp in the summer; I did all the things a young Christian is supposed to do.
But in college, as a science major, I was taught to keep religion and science separate.  So, for most of my life, I had the two separated in my head; using science for the “what” questions and using Christianity only for the “why” questions.  I was a perfect example of the type of person Sam Harris describes in his book, The End of Faith (see previous blog).
What I didn’t realize is how much this division created doubt in my mind and therefore affected my lifestyle.  I let challenges to Christianity, and doubt about Christianity, affect my faith and my behavior.  While I didn’t completely lose my faith in college, what I believed was definitely challenged and I became a pretty worldly person; my actions didn’t show that I had any faith at all.
The really sad thing for me was that it took a couple horrible circumstances to shock me back into realizing that I needed faith to make sense of the world.  So I started researching and reading (everything from Chuck Colson, Hugh Ross, Nancy Pearcy, Ravi Zacharias, and William Lane Craig, along with many other authors) a lot, and what I found was truly amazing.  I’d like to share it with you, and this is the purpose of this blog.
Challenges to Christianity are abundant.  Atheists will tell you that “Science has proven that God doesn’t exist.”  Skeptics will proclaim that “The Bible is a myth; a book of fairy tales based on previous mythical stories.”  An anthropology professor will teach (and this happened to my oldest daughter) “The Bible doesn’t talk about dinosaurs, therefore it is not accurate and you shouldn’t believe it.” When challenges come, keep in mind two crucial points: 
  1. This is not new; every single challenge to your faith has been dealt with before.  Entire libraries of scholarly books have been written by intelligent people responding to any threat or criticism you may come across. 
  2. As a Christian, you have the explanation for the way the world works.  Since Christianity is true, it does not conflict with science.  Think about it….if God is both the author of the Bible and the creator of all of nature…they have to agree!  If interpreted correctly, what the Bible teaches should match what current science is discovering! 
     The more I studied, the more I found that Christianity aligned with current scientific theory! The more I researched, the more things made sense!  There is an amazing harmony between what the Bible says and what science says about nature.  Discovering this changed my life and strengthened my faith more than I could ever imagine!
Science and Christianity have historically been partners.  The vast majority of early scientists (most of the seminal thinkers in their specific areas) incorporated religious arguments and reasoning into their work, motivated by the religious conviction and belief that God had created the world according to an intelligible plan that is accessible through reason.
The writer of the laws of planetary motion, Johannes Kepler, wrote "Geometry is unique and eternal, a reflection from the mind of God. That mankind shares in it is because man is an image of God. The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order and harmony which has been imposed on it by God and which He revealed to us in the language of mathematics.” Copernicus & Galileo, both Christians, are the ones who overturned the prevailing model of the universe and moved the sun to the center of the solar system.  So, the Christian faith has a very intellectual tradition.  You can also check out the histories of Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Brown.  Intellectualism, science and Christianity have historically complemented each other!
Currently, there are many areas where scientific discoveries have matched with what the Bible says. Here are just three examples:
  1.  The most tested and confirmed scientific theory is that the universe (all matter and time) had a beginning, and it will have an ending. If you have read the Bible, you know it tells us that the current universe (all matter and time) was created and it will have an ending.
  2. Current evidence continues to strengthen the idea that the universe is finely-tuned and delicately designed so that life could appear and exist.
  3. Current evidence shows that life is characterized by information and the only source of information we know of is a mind!
Now, the Bible is not a science text, but it is amazing how current scientific discoveries are matching what the Bible teaches.  And this harmony is not just in the science realm – if you are studying philosophy, Christianity has the answers to the big questions that no other world view or thought system can answer!  Why is there something rather than nothing?  Why can we trust our minds as rational?  Why are the laws of physics discoverable and understandable?   Why does the math we make up match the way the universe works?  The Christian world view has the best answers to these philosophical questions! There are answers; intellectual, rational, and logical answers to every question and accusation.   

The Bible also tells us that we are to use our minds.   In Mark (12:30), God tells us to love Him with all of our heart, our soul, and our MIND.  As Christians we are not supposed to abandon our brains.  The Christian faith is intellectual, rational & logical and has a synergistic relationship to science.  I hope to show this in future posts.  

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Science & Christianity - No Conflict!

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 “partition” between science and Christianity has been constructed from both sides. Many scientists see Christianity as anti-science and anti-reason, and in direct opposition to science. Many Christians see science as anti-God and view evolution as a direct attack on the Christian faith. This “war” between faith and science is needless. Not only are science and Christianity not in conflict, they actually are very much connected.
Science and Christianity have historically complemented each other. Christians see God as a Lawgiver, as a rational mind, and as the Creator. Because of this, the world must be rational, must follow prescribed laws, and must have a reason for its existence. Science is the way we study the world, the laws, and the reasons. Christian theology also teaches that man was created in the image of God, so we also have the ability to comprehend God’s laws and reasons. Therefore, science arose only once: In Christian Western Europe in the 17th century.

Christianity depicted God as a rational, responsive, dependable, and omnipotent being and the universe as His personal creation, thus having a rational stable structure, awaiting human comprehension. Christians developed science because they believed it could be done and they thought it should be done.[2]

Since they believed it could be done, the vast majority of initial thinkers in science were Christians who did their investigations because of the Christian ideas they had about the universe. Nicolaus Copernicus was a church deacon who did astronomy in his spare time. Robert Boyle, father of modern chemistry, set up Christian apologetics lectures. Gregor Mendel, the father of genetics, was a Christian monk. Isaac Newton, discoverer of the universal laws of gravitation, finishes his Principia with:

This most beautiful system of sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being...This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all; and on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God.[3]

Johannes Kepler, discoverer of the laws of planetary motion, wrote:

The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order which has been imposed on it by God, and which he revealed to us in the language of mathematics.[4]

Arno Penzias, Nobel Laureate and co-discoverer of the cosmic background radiation, says of Kepler’s philosophy:
That really goes back to the triumph, not of Copernicus, but really the triumph of Kepler. That's because, after all, the notion of epicycles and so forth goes back to days when scientists were swapping opinions. All this went along until we had a true believer and this was Kepler. Kepler, after all, was the Old Testament Christian. Right? He really believed in God the Lawgiver. And so he demanded that the same God who spoke in single words and created the universe is not going to have a universe with 35 epicycles in it. And he said there's got to be something simpler and more powerful. Now he was lucky or maybe there was something deeper, but Kepler's faith was rewarded with his laws of nature. And so from that day on, it's been an awful struggle, but over long centuries, we find that very simple laws of nature actually do apply. And so that expectation is still with scientists. And it comes essentially from Kepler, and Kepler got it out of his belief in the Bible, as far as I can tell. This passionate belief turned out to be right. And he gave us his laws of motion, the first real laws of nature we ever had. And so nature turned out to redeem the expectations he had based on his faith. And scientists have adopted Kepler's faith, without the cause.[5]
One common charge against Christianity is that it “hinders scientific progress.” Any commonly accepted idea could hinder science—not just ones that Christians hold. The best example was the dogmatic adherence to Aristotle that hindered scientific progress for over 2000 years. One of the first people to disagree with Aristotle was a Christian, Nicolaus Copernicus. And it was Galileo, also a Christian, who challenged the prevailing scientific view of the universe in the name of science. Most people at the time, including secular scientists, held the Aristotelian idea that the earth was at the center of the solar system and heavenly bodies moved in perfect circles. It was Kepler who showed planetary orbits to be ellipses. Christians were the ones actually pushing science forward in an age of scientific stagnation.
Another example of this was Louis Pasteur, a devout Christian credited with the discovery of germ theory. The prevailing view in Pasteur’s time was that microbes could spontaneously appear from chemicals and this was the cause of illness. Spontaneous generation disagrees with the Christian Doctrine of Creation, so Pasteur set out, with obvious success, to show that life appearing from non-life could not be correct. Based on his Christian beliefs, Pasteur was motivated to test a prevailing scientific theory to the benefit of mankind.
A current example of a theory holding back science is the belief that our DNA contains a vast amount of “junk” that has no function. Scientists held to this belief because it was one of the evidences for evolutionary theory and this “held back” science for 30 years. We are now discovering all kinds of function in “junk DNA” that we never bothered to look for earlier because of a dogmatic adherence to evolutionary theory. Christianity is no more guilty of “holding back science” than any other commonly held idea that society sees as correct.
Christianity and science are not at odds, nor should they be at war.  Some of the hostility comes from a perceived limit of each domain; the assumption that science deals only in facts and answers the “how” questions, while Christianity is limited to faith questions and only can answer the “why” questions. These are artificially imposed limits that neither area actually restricts itself to. I believe most of the hostility comes from a misunderstanding of how each area operates.
Because humans make mistakes, it is the interpretation of nature (science) and the interpretation of scripture (theology) that can be in conflict. In fact, both domains can work together, support each other, and learn from each other. When interpreted correctly, Christian scripture and nature should be in harmony. God created the universe and inspired the Bible, so both should agree. Science is constantly changing based on new evidence and our interpretation of scripture should be open for evaluation as well.
As it did with the early scientists, Christianity can provide inspiration for scientists; giving them a reason for their work. Discovering how the universe began or deciphering the ultimate nature of matter is a much richer activity when you can pair it with the knowledge of the One who created it all. Christianity may even provide some direction for investigation like it did with Kepler and Pasteur.
Conversely, Christians should not be afraid of “good” science; that is models and theories that honestly are based on evidence. For example, Christians should not simply dismiss evolutionary theory, nor should we assume we have to rethink our interpretation of the Bible to fit evolutionary theory. Instead, we should learn the current evidence for the theory and evaluate it based on this evidence; it is not persuasive to argue against a scientific theory by using passages of scripture. We shouldn’t be upset when a discipline that looks only at the natural world has a theory that leaves God out. What we can do is show how the same evidence used to support evolutionary theory can be used to support the doctrine of creation.
The physical world and God both constantly surprise us and as we probe deeper they both stretch our intellect in unimaginable ways. The more I study God and the more I study science, the more I see an intimate connection between the two.

What I see the current generation of apologists doing, is moving heavily into philosophy—I think that's a good thing. I mean, what I notice is that, philosophers are becoming more and more predominantly Christian as time goes on, but I'd like to encourage balance, that we'd also be encouraging young Christian scholars to go into theological apologetics and scientific apologetics, and the latter's where I see the greatest need. Too many churches are discouraging their young people from pursuing scientific disciplines. They kind of look at science as the enemy of the Christian faith… At Reasons to Believe we emphasize the opposite: science is the ally of the Christian faith, and we need to be sending an army of young people into the top scientific institutions, to get advanced degrees and to use those advanced degrees to develop new reasons to believe and to show people that we can integrate new science, philosophy and theology to find the truth that God wants us all to understand.[6]

[1] Sam Harris, The End of Faith, Norton, New York, 2004, page 15
[2] Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God, Princeton University Press, 2003, page 147
[3] Isaac Newton, Principia, 1687
[4] Johannes Kepler, Astronomia nova, 1609
[5] Michael Bumbulis, Christianity and the Birth of Science,