Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Fine-Tuned for Us and For Science

Anthony Flew ends chapter six of his book by stating, “So multiverse or not, we still have to come to terms with the origin of the laws of nature. And the only viable explanation here is the divine Mind.”[1]  To Dr. Flew, the fine-tuning of the laws of nature was one of the main reasons he switched from being an atheist to believing that there is a God.  From the moment the universe began, physical laws and the structure of the universe have been perfectly set up for life to exist now on earth.  There are too many “coincidences” for this to have happened by accident; the only explanation is that “a super-intellect monkeyed with physics.”[2]
The more we study the universe, the Milky Way galaxy, our solar system, and our planet from plate tectonics all the way down to the building blocks of life, the more it appears as if someone or something designed and perfectly arranged everything for life to exist on Earth.  But there is more to this design:  It also appears that the universe and our place in it has also been set up perfectly to do science! It is a reasonable conclusion from all this fine-tuning that God designed the whole thing.
         An example of this fine tuning is found in the most basic of fundamental forces and constants. If the ratio of the nuclear strong force compared to the electromagnetic force had been different by one part in 1016, no stars could have formed.  The ratio of the electromagnetic force constant compared to the gravitational force constant must not vary more than 1 part in 1040while the energy density of empty space could not vary by more than one part in 1054for life to have been possible in the universe. When the universe was 10-43seconds old, the total mass density of the universe could not have varied by 1 part in 1060.  This means that if the entire mass of the universe had been heavier by about the mass of 1 dime, the universe “would have expanded too slowly, resulting in unstable orbits and too much radiation.”[3]Had the mass of the universe been 1 dime lighter, it would have expanded too quickly for any stars like our sun to form.
         The fine tuning doesn’t end with the laws and physical constants!  Once the dials for our universal laws are perfectly set, there are still many conditions that must be met perfectly for a planet like earth to form where advanced life can exist.  These include a just right galaxy, a just right placement in the galaxy, a just right solar system, and a just right sun – to name only a few of the over 90 restrictions required for life to exist on a planet in our universe.[4]  In fact, there are so many parameters that have to be perfect for advanced life to exist that physicist Hugh Ross has calculated that the chance of even one planet like ours existing in our universeis less than 1 in 10144.  This would be equivalent to winning the Powerball lottery jackpot 18 times in row, purchasing just one ticket each time.  These parameters are in additionto the fine-tuning necessary for our universe to even exist in the first place with life permitting laws and constants!
         One escape from this fine-tuning for the naturalist is Multiverse Theory.  This can be stated one of two ways.  Either there is some kind of universe generator that controls the parameters that each universe can have, thus restricting the values of the constants to life-permitting ones, or there are infinite universes – meaning that every possible universe exists, and we happen to be in one that permits life. Both of these naturalistic solutions have problems.  The “restricted universe hypothesis” still requires that the universe generator be fine-tuned, while the “infinite number of universes hypothesis” explains too much. In fact, if every possible universe exists, then there exists a universe where anything you can imagine is possible and everything is just a product of chance; including multiverse theories!
         Most scientists agree that there is overwhelming scientific evidence for the design of the universe and this design’s benefit for life and humans.  A prominent atheist reminds us that since the evidence for design is so prevalent, we must keep telling ourselves that the universe is not designed! The only debate now is over who or what does the designing!  At this point, the Christian answer to this question (God) and the secular answer to this question (Multiverse) are pretty much equivalent in terms of “scientific” evidence.  But the evidence doesn’t stop at habitability; we are also uniquely situated to observe the universe, which enables us to actually do science.  It appears that the creator also wanted us to observe the creation.

“It turns out that the set of circumstances needed for a scientifically advanced civilization such as ours is actually narrower than those needed for our biological existence. In other words, there are other possible scenarios that would have allowed for intelligent observers (us), but would have been terribly unconducive to the practice of the natural sciences.”[5]

            In her book, Science and the Mind of the Maker, Melissa Cain Travis explains that “the harnessing of fire shaped the very course of human history, sending it on its scientific trajectory.”[6]We need fire to do metallurgy, which in turn is necessary for almost all other technologies.  Several cosmic and terrestrial conditions were necessary for fire to even be possible.  If the electromagnetic force constant was slightly different, “either open wood fires would have been impossible, or rampant wood fires would have been a serious problem.”[7]The oxygen level in our atmosphere is set at the precise level for respiration in complex life and to allow controllable fire; remarkable because the chemical process involved is vastly different for each case. Our atmospheric composition depends on our planet being rocky and having the right mass. Metallurgy also depends on the presence of accessible and plentiful iron and copper ores, which in turn require the existence of wood that could be used for the charcoal necessary to produce the high melting temperatures.  The ability to have the proper technology to even do the activity of science results from an incredible number of fine-tuned circumstances.
There are multiple characteristics that allow us to observe and get to know the universe; two of these are the age of the universe and Earth’s atmosphere. If the universe were older, the rate of expansion would have caused a large section to have moved out of our view. If younger, the light emitting objects would all be too close together and would blind us from seeing more distant parts of the universe.  There is only one brief period of time that allows for direct observation and measurement of the entire history of the universe and humanity happens to live in that time. In order to see out into the cosmos, we also need a clear atmosphere, but we need clouds (a hydrological cycle) for complex life to exist; Earth happens to have the best mixture of both. Our location, along with our atmosphere, allow us to observe as much of the universe as possible.

The optimization of cosmic darkness and of Earth’s location within the dark universe that sacrifices neither the material needs of human beings nor their capacity to gain knowledge about the universe reflects masterful engineering.  It testifies of a supernatural, superintelligent, superpowerful, fully deliberate Creator.[8]

Melissa Cain Travis asks the key question: “Why do so many factors harmonize in just the right way, and why does habitability for complex life correspond with such a high level of discoverability?”[9]The reasonable conclusion is that a mind designed and created the universe, fine-tuning all the constants, laws, and conditions so that humans can not only exist on Earth, but can also observe and study the universe in which we live. No wonder God teaches that we should look at nature in order to learn about Him.

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.[10]

[1]Anthony Flew, There Is A God, page 121, HarperOne, 2007
[2]quote attributed to Frederick Hoyle
[3]Hugh Ross, The Creator and Cosmos, NavPress, 2001.
[5]Melissa Cain Travis, Science and the Mind of the Maker, Harvest House Publishers, 2018, page 81
[6]Ibid, page 82
[7]Ibid, page 83
[8]Hugh Ross, Why the Universe is the Way It Is, Reasons to Believe, 2008, page 92
[9]Melissa Cain Travis, Science and the Mind of the Maker, Harvest House Publishers, 2018, page 97
[10]Psalm 19: 1-2 ESV

Sunday, July 15, 2018

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 17thcentury.

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 becauseof 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. Boyle saw his work as a theological vocation and described natural philosophers as priests who deciphered truths about the natural world – the temple of God.”[3] Gregor Mendel, the father of genetics, was a Christian monk. Isaac Newton, discoverer of the universal laws of gravitation, thought that one of the important goals of natural philosophy was to formulate convincing arguments for the existence of God.[4]  Newton 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.[5]

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.[6]

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.[7]

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 beliefthat 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 interpretationof 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.  The great fathers of modern science saw the same connection. Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton & Boyle all believed in the Christian God and “it was their discoveries – an increase in knowledge – that incited their written expressions of praise and reverence for an ingenious, omnipotent Maker in whom image mankind is made.”[8]

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.[9]

[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]Science and the Mind of the Maker, Melissa Cain Travis, Harvest House Publishers, 2018, page 76
[4]ibid, page 74
[5]Isaac Newton, Principia, 1687
[6]Johannes Kepler, Astronomia nova, 1609
[7]Michael Bumbulis, Christianity and the Birth of Sciencehttp://www.ldolphin.org/bumbulis/

[8]Science and the Mind of the Maker, Melissa Cain Travis, Harvest House Publishers, 2018, page 66

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Doing Science Teaches Us About God

There are several places in scripture that tell us how important it is to God for us to know about nature.  We are also told that when we study nature we will learn things about God.

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