Fire Back: Where the Readers Respond

In which we discuss the confluence of biblical wisdom and evolutionary science.

Ken writes in the comments to “Is God’s word difficult to understand?” the following:

This is a very interesting site. I like reading scientific articles on here and anyone who visits your site can learn a lot about science. However everyone who comes here needs to be careful when comparing the unique scriptural interpretations found here to 2000 years of Biblical understanding. TF is correct. The Bible is not impossible for average people to understand and one does not need to jump thru hoops altering the clear meaning of scripture in order to make it comport with the latest of atheistic evolutionary Beliefs in order to remain true to empirical science. The nature of time at the fringes of the universe is an intriguing discussion, and there is no doubt that science supports scripture, but then you swerve into supporting Evolution, saying, “It does not matter that evolution is scientifically correct in its finding that the mortal human body is biologically related to that of other primates. The basics of evolutionary science are entirely consistent with the biblical account?” None of that is true. There is no evidence of it. I am amazed you would say that. I also believe what you said above is a misrepresentation of both Genesis and Corinthians 15:46-47. You are probably relying on the unique interpretations of Dr. Schroeder who fails to recognize his own Jewish Messiah as described in the Old Testament in which he is such an expert. So although I enjoy your site, and look forward to seeing an article on the “discovery” of “gravitational waves” as has been in the news today, I do not agree with some of your theology as it seems to be twisted in favor of satisfying the claims of “science falsely so-called” —in some cases, unintentionally, invalidating parts of essential Christian doctrine.

The basics of evolutionary science as it stands today in 2016 are completely consistent with the Biblical account of creation. Both biology and scripture agree on the following:

  1. Life began after the formation of oceans on Earth
  2. The first forms of life seem to have been built into the creation of the universe
  3. Vegetation preceded animal life
  4. There was a sudden explosion of animal life
  5. There is no scientific explanation for the sudden appearance of animal life
  6. The first animal life appeared in the oceans
  7. Then come animal forms that crawled from the oceans
  8. Then come great reptiles
  9. Then winged flying creatures
  10. Then mammals
  11. Then hominids
  12. Finally, unique beings appear in hominid form that have consciousness
  13. Science has no explanation for human consciousness
  14. All species of life on Earth are connected to each other
  15. Biology and scripture are in total agreement on the order of the stages in the development of life

This is a remarkable amount of agreement between modern biological science and Christian scriptures. He is wrong when he says this is not true.

I am grateful to Dr. Schroeder for bringing to our attention something so obvious and important that I am embarrassed to admit I didn’t see it myself. But that is what genius so often does for us — helps us see something we are blind to. Unless one thinks that God would be very casual in the use of the words chosen to express his message to humankind, it has to be admitted that the very different words ‘make’ and ‘create’ were used in Genesis 1 for an important reason.

Schroeder’s genius was recognizing that the word ‘make’ means to take whatever is already available and fashion it into something new. That’s what God caused to happen when he took the basic primate body plan and reshaped it into human form through some process we label evolution but do not adequately understand.

The meaning of the word ‘create’ on the other hand is something very different. We can take our cue from the first use of the word ‘create’ in the Bible to understand what God did with humans. God’s first act of creation brought a universe into existence from nothing. So when the Bible then says that humans were created in God’s image, that can only mean that the spiritual, non-material aspect of humankind was brought forth without using anything from this world. 1 Corinthians 15:46-47 confirms in a totally unambiguous way the difference between making people and creating people:

The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven.

What else could Genesis 1 and 1 Corinthians be saying about God’s work in relation to humankind? Ken’s criticism of Schroeder is unfounded.

It is worth the effort to clear up the confusion around evolutionary theory as much as possible. Darwinism in its classic form did maintain some things that were not stated in Genesis. The four pillars of Darwinism in its original form were common descent, random mutation, natural selection, and gradualism. The genetic and fossil evidence in favor of common descent is overwhelming. Common descent is the closest thing to a proven theory in all of science. But, the Bible has no problem with common descent because every life form on Earth was brought into existence by God, so of course all life on Earth is connected.

The evidence for the other pillars of classic Darwinism is far less favorable. Random mutations do occur in the DNA of all animal species including human beings. But, there is currently no hard evidence that random mutations work in a way that make species stronger. The evidence for natural selection is almost non-existent, which is why even Thomas Huxley rejected it. The fossil evidence has completely overthrown Darwin’s most important principal, gradualism. That is why Stephen Jay Gould had to propose ‘punctuated equilibrium’ as an alternative to gradualism. Gould’s attempt to save Darwinism from the contradictory fossil evidence created more problems for evolutionary theory than it solved. Punctuated equilibrium makes the combination of random mutation and natural selection completely untenable by removing the vast amounts of time needed to make the Darwinian process mathematically plausible.

But, all efforts to defend Darwinism in its classic, Neo-Darwinist, Modern Synthesis, or punctuated equilibrium forms are now moot because of the findings of Evolutionary Development (Evo-Devo). Evo-Devo has found, contrary to everything Darwinists have ever believed, that all of the animal phyla are connected in ways that make Darwinism impossible. In the words of one of the pioneers of Evo-Devo and a loyal Darwinist, Sean B. Carroll, in his book Endless Forms Most Beautiful:

                  …the prevailing view of the architects and adherents of Modern Synthesis was that the process of random mutation and selection would so alter DNA and protein sequences that only closely related species would bear homologous genes…Virtually everything I have described…has been discovered in the past twenty years…they have forced biologists to rethink completely their picture of how forms evolve. p285 (emphasis added)

The fact that such different forms of animals are shaped by very similar sets of tool kit proteins was entirely unanticipated … the discovery … has forced a complete change in our picture of how complex structures arise. p285 (emphasis added)

In other words, current evolutionary theory is wrong. Most biologists are either ignorant of the findings of Evolutionary Development or are loathe to admit what the most recent genetic evidence so clearly demonstrates; Darwinism in all of its variations is a failed hypothesis. What evolutionary science now shows is that something totally inexplicable in Darwinist terms happened about 540 million years ago in what is now called the Cambrian Explosion or the Biological Big Bang. Animal life appears to have exploded out of nothing – there is no fossil evidence of life forms that preceded it. The Bible has no problem with this latest findings of evolutionary science. Christians understand what happened with the beginning of animal life as one of the three acts of creation that God performed during the Genesis 1 account.

Professor Carroll even confirms in his own way what Christians know to be true. In describing the way interchangeable genes organize all of the various animal life forms, Carroll uses the word ‘logic’ throughout his book (pages 8, 12, 26, 35, 54, 55, 56, 60, 60, 61, 106, 195, and 271 for example) to describe something he believes is the result of a mindless, Darwinian, random process. Logic is the product of a rational mind — its Greek root, logos, is translated as “Word” in the opening passages of the Gospel of John — but Carroll can’t help himself in this seemingly inappropriate use of the word because everything he observes in the operation of animal DNA is so elegantly intricate, efficient, and consistent — something like an unimaginably good computer program. His mind is evidently so closed by Darwinist fundamentalism that it doesn’t occur to him what he is really saying:

His field of evolutionary development is providing significant evidence of a great, creative, rational mind behind the workings of the genes he studies.

This is the current state of evolutionary science and the reason I can say with great confidence that biological science and Christian scriptures are in agreement.

Is God’s word difficult to understand? Part I

Editor’s note: Normally I would post something like this under “Fire Back,” since it involves a question from a reader, but it’s such a fundamental and important question that I’m going to devote two posts to it. This first post is written by Surak.

TF writes:

I had a question, but wanted to let you know first that I stumbled upon your website when I read Sarah Salviander’s testimony and watched the well-done slideshow that accompanied it.  I then read the website’s FAQ, several articles, and lots of comments over several weeks.

After reading more than I thought I would, I have a question that keeps nagging at me:  Is truth hard to understand or easy?  I’m not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination (I’m a pastor) but I’ve always loved science, especially when I can connect the dots between my faith and God’s creation.  For most of my life, I’ve held a pretty simplistic view of our world as a result of reading God’s Word, but after substantial reading on your website I feel like my head is going to explode :)  I don’t know if I agree with all of it, but most of it is fascinating and really well-thought out/researched.  My problem is that it is so hard for a person like me to understand (and I think I’m on the average part of the intelligence scale so the majority of the population would be in the same boat as I am).

So would God make the truth about his creation so complicated that only someone well versed in relativity, Hebrew translations, genetics, and 5 or 6 other fields of study could understand it?  Or would God make the truth about his creation simple enough for all to understand?

I’m not saying God is simple or easy to understand or that he wouldn’t want to give us lots of things for even the most intelligent people to discover and ponder over a lifetime, but wouldn’t God make truths as foundational as “where we come from” and “how this world was created” accessible to everyone rather than just a tiny percentage of super intelligent people?

If the truth of creation is as complicated as what it is on your website, I’m afraid I have no chance of ever explaining it to anyone.  If that is the case, then it seems like God made the truth of creation hard to understand and left most people hopelessly in the dark.  Or have we complicated things and there is a truth that is easier for all to access?

When Jesus (who was the embodiment of all God’s truth/love/mercy/etc.) came he was accessible to all, not just the most intelligent, wise, pious, powerful, etc.  He made God’s truth intelligible to even the poor, uneducated of his day, so I tend to think that God would make an important truth like creation accessible to someone as average as me as well.

So what do you think – is the truth (about creation) hard to understand or easy to understand?  And why?

Sarah will get into a deeper discussion of whether God’s word is inherently difficult to understand in Part II. First, I want to demonstrate how easy it will be for the average Christian to acquire the scientific understanding needed to defend scripture.

Here are the four necessary steps:

  1. The basic scriptural and scientific truths are easy to understand. They are stated clearly in Genesis 1 and are fully supported by modern science.

God created this world as a place where beings created in his image could thrive physically and grow spiritually. Science now confirms that the universe had a beginning and was created in the truest sense of the word. The work of Dr. Hugh Ross demonstrates beyond any rational dispute that the universe is finely tuned for the existence of human life.

A more detailed understanding of the truths revealed by scripture and science is required, because there are atheists who have misused science for 150 years to falsely attack Christian beliefs. So, there are three more scientific steps people have to take to be fully able to defend their faith in this scientific age. It is well within the ability of most people to take these next steps.

  1. Genesis 1 makes at least 26 scientifically testable statements. All 26 are entirely compatible with modern science, and most tellingly, all 26 steps in the Genesis account of the creation of the world and life on Earth are in exactly the correct order.

The odds against someone who lived over 2,500 years ago simply guessing the order of natural events are about one in four hundred septillion. In other words, it’s simply not possible for the author of Genesis 1 to have gotten the details of creation right by simply guessing.

This means the scientific evidence clearly demonstrates that the author of Genesis 1 was divinely inspired.

The third step in a scientific understanding of Christian scriptures is a little harder, but I have found that most people are entirely capable of taking it with a little effort and a good slideshow. Christians must be able to defend the belief that God created the universe in six literal days, otherwise atheists are free to ridicule scripture and mislead generations of young people.

  1. Based on the work of Einstein, it can be scientifically demonstrated that the universe is literally both 6 days + 6,000 years old and 14 billion years old. This understanding requires a careful reading of Genesis 1 and a rudimentary understanding of Einstein’s relativity.

In regard to a careful reading of scripture, there was no Earth and no people on the first day of Genesis. That means that time is not being reckoned from an earthly or human perspective in the opening statements of the Bible. Time was being measured through some other means by the Creator of the universe as He created it.

Einstein taught us that time is relative and therefore measured differently in every part of the universe. Gerald Schroeder explains that time during the first six days of creation was by necessity based on a universal measure we can think of as God’s clock. Schroeder points out in The Science of God that earthly time wasn’t used by the Bible until the appearance of Adam and Eve. Therefore, the Bible used universal time through God’s perspective to chronicle time up to the creation of Adam, while the period of time since Adam was measured by earthly time according to human perspective.

Science shows that the period of time before the creation of man can be measured as six days universal time using Einstein’s relativity, and the amount of time since the appearance on earth of conscious humans is most likely in the thousands of years. Therefore the Creationist point of view that the universe is 6 days + 6,000 years old is scientifically defendable and fully compatible with a universe that is 14 billion years old from our current perspective.

The last necessary step in a scientific understanding of Christian scriptures has to do with evolution. From the time of Thomas Huxley, the science of evolution has been misused to falsely attack Christian beliefs. The idea that humans have evolved from apes is dishonestly presented as evidence against God’s existence.

  1. Again, a careful reading of Genesis 1 reveals something extremely important both scripturally and scientifically. Genesis says that humans were first made (Gen. 1:26) and then they were created (Gen. 1:27). This is confirmed in 1 Corinthians 15:46-47: The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven.

In other words, according to the Old Testament and New Testament, God made the human body with earthly materials. When that was accomplished, God created the human spirit in his own non-worldly image. It does not matter that evolution is scientifically correct in its finding that the mortal human body is biologically related to that of other primates. The basics of evolutionary science are entirely consistent with the biblical account. What matters is that the body is only the worldly vessel for the immortal human soul.

Evidence is abundant that human beings are fundamentally different from every other life form on Earth. Since the unique human ‘consciousness’ is one of the great unsolved scientific mysteries of the universe, science is in no position to deny the existence of the human soul or spirit.

With these four connections between scripture and science, Christians will be able to adequately understand the intimate agreement between modern science and Christian scripture well enough to defend Christian beliefs. Simply put, Christian faith in the Bible as the literal word of God is supported by scientific evidence.

Everything else is just details. Just as we have pastors to explain the details of hundreds of pages of scripture, we have scientists to explain the book of nature to us. God presents challenges that test our faith, but those challenges are not insurmountable.

Reflections on physics and Christian faith

seagull_nebula

The following is a guest post by Dr. Kelly Cline, who is both a friend and colleague of Dr. Salviander. Originally from Homer, Alaska, Dr. Cline studied physics at Eastern Oregon University, before earning his Ph.D. in astrophysics from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2003.  He is currently an associate professor of mathematics and astronomy at Carroll College in Helena, Montana, where he lives with his wife and four children.

“All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be…” John 1:3.

When the actor Gary Oldman was preparing to play Beethoven in the film Immortal Beloved, he asked the director to recommend biographies to read. The director replied: “…there is only one he should consider: the music. This music is an unvarnished, uncensored record of Ludwig van Beethoven’s passions, fears, violent anger, humanity and, finally, victory over unimaginable adversity. It is a direct link to his state of mind.”

In works of art created by the human hand, there is powerful connection between the creator and the created. The symphonies of Beethoven, the paintings of Raphael, and the plays of Shakespeare tell us something very deep about the artists who created them.

In this spirit, there is a very old tradition, going back at least to Galileo of asking the question: What does the scientific study of the basic physical laws of the universe tell us about its Creator? What can physics tell us about God?

Physics is the most fundamental of the natural sciences. The principles of chemistry can be understood as applications of the physical laws of electromagnetism and quantum mechanics. Biology and geology can be understood as applications of chemistry and physics. But in physics we seek to understand the most elemental principles of the physical universe, the deepest laws which govern all physical motion in our universe.

Today we know more about the nature of our physical universe than at any time in history. Of course our knowledge of the laws of physics remains incomplete and imperfect. Yet, we have learned an enormous amount about our universe and its laws since the days of Isaac Newton, and currently our theories at least provide a remarkably powerful and accurate approximation to the laws of physics under a wide range of conditions.

For reasons, such as the incompleteness of our knowledge, it is not simple to see a clear and obvious picture of the Creator painted in the equations of physics. However, as we immerse ourselves in this science, I think that we can see certain striking points of resonance between the Creator that we come to know through science and the Creator that we come to know through scripture. In this essay we will consider (1) the role the unification in the development of physics, (2) the apparently paradoxical discoveries of relativity and quantum mechanics, (3) the discovery of the big bang event, the moment of creation, and (4) the unchanging and universal nature of physical law which has led to the development of the world we know. Perhaps these points of resonance may give us some insight into the Author of all things.

Unity and Unification in Physics

Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Deuteronomy 6:4

Physics begins with the study of motion and its causes. The first person we know who wrote seriously about why things move was the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. In approximately 350 B.C., Aristotle examined the world and saw different types of motion in different places. Here on Earth he saw stones fall to the ground, while smoke and flames flickered upward, but in the heavens he saw the moon and planets move in what looked like perfect circles. So, Aristotle proposed that different things move in different ways according to different rules. Aristotle argued that here on Earth all things are made of four basic elements, earth, air, fire and water, and that these seek their natural level in the universe, with the force of gravity causing heavy objects to sink, while the force of levity caused light objects to rise. But Aristotle said that objects in the heavens must be made of a different substance, which he called aether, and Aristotle said that elements composed of this aether must naturally move in circles. Aristotle’s solution to seeing different objects move in different ways was essentially to divide the universe into different realms, composed of different substances, which followed different rules.

Almost two-thousand years later, Isaac Newton finally brought the universe back together again. Perhaps inspired by his deep faith in one God, one hand which shaped every part of the universe, in 1687 Newton published his law of universal gravitation, a precise mathematical theory which explained both the falling of a stone and the orbit of the moon. Newton unified two very different types of motion, showing that they are both a consequence of one universal force of gravity. To Newton, gravity was a force pulling each pair of masses in the universe directly towards each other. So if the Earth pulls the moon straight toward it, why does the moon move in an orbit around the Earth? Using the newly developed calculus, Newton showed that because the moon is in motion, the force of gravity from the Earth bends the moon’s path creating the elliptical orbit that we observe.

Newton took two apparently disparate types of motion and showed that they could be explained as manifestations of one deep underlying principle, the first of several great unifications that have shaped the development of physics.

For you are great and do wondrous deeds; and you alone are God. Psalm 86:10

In the 1700s, the electric force and the magnetic force appeared to be completely unrelated forces. The magnetic force is what attracts and repels magnets from each other, and causes magnets to stick to refrigerators. The electric force is what pulls around electric charges, causing a balloon to stick to wall after you charge it up by rubbing it on your hair. But there does not appear to be any special force between a charged balloon and a refrigerator magnet.

Then, in 1820, while giving a lecture at the University of Copenhagen, the Danish physicist Hans Christian Orsted discovered that an electric current – moving charges – produced a magnetic field and could move a compass needle. Magnets and charges don’t appear to interact when they are at rest. But when charges are in motion, Orsted showed that they can exert a magnetic force. This quickly inspired other physicists to see if the it could work the other way.

In 1831, the English physicist Michael Faraday showed that a moving magnet can create electric forces which can cause the charges in a metal to move, creating an electric current. This is the basic process that causes our electric generators to operate: Spinning magnets create the currents that light our world!

In 1862, this experimental work was finally brought together mathematically by the Scottish physicist, James Clerk Maxwell. Maxwell proposed that electric and magnetic forces were different aspects of one fundamental phenomenon. With one set of equations he unified all that had been done before, and created a theory that made some startling new predictions. Studying these equations, Maxwell discovered that electric and magnetic fields could move together through empty space. A changing electric field could create a changing magnetic field which would in turn create a changing electric field again, in a complete cycle, so that energy could be carried through space as electromagnetic waves. Maxwell calculated that these electromagnetic waves would travel at an enormous speed of about 186,000 miles per second, a speed which closely matched the measured speed of light: Maxwell became the first human in history to understand that light itself is an electromagnetic wave. Even more powerfully the unification of electric and magnetic forces opened up the possibility of other types of electromagnetic waves, and so in 1887 Heinrich Hertz published the first of a series of experiments demonstrating the existence of radio waves.

This great discovery that electric and magnetic forces are the result of a single more fundamental force has shaped our world where we constantly use electromagnetic waves for radio and television transmissions, cellphones, and wireless computer connections.

…one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:6

The 20th century saw the discovery of two new fundamental forces which both seemed completely disconnected from gravity and electromagnetism. Physicists discovered that atoms contain nuclei where positively charged protons and neutrally charged neutrons are packed into a remarkably tiny volume. Positive charges repel each other with a force that gets stronger when the charges move closer together. So the electric force pushing these protons away from each other must be enormous. Binding these protons so closely must require another force, a fantastically strong force to overwhelm this electrical repulsion and hold the nucleus of an atom together. As a result, physicists dubbed this new force, “the strong nuclear force.”

As physicists probe more deeply into the mysteries of the atom, some unusual types of radiation indicated the existence of yet another force which could cause a neutron to transform into a proton and other particles. This force was dubbed the weak nuclear force. Thus by the mid-20th century, it appeared that our universe was regulated by the action of four distinct forces: gravitation, electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force, and the weak nuclear force.

However, in 1968, Sheldon Glashow, Abdus Salam and Steven Weinberg proposed a startling new theory. Relying on deep mathematical symmetries, they proposed that electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force were both very different manifestations of a single more fundamental electroweak force. Superficially these two forces could not possibly be more different. The weak nuclear force transforms particles and is so short range that it only works inside the nucleus of an atom, while electromagnetic waves can extend so far that they allow us to see the stars. Yet, a profound

mathematical resonance between these two forces led Glashow, Salam, and Weinberg to propose their remarkable theory, and from this theory they predicted the existence of a completely new particle, the Z boson. When the Z boson was discovered at the CERN laboratory in 1983, the physics world celebrated this amazing triumph. Once again, physicists had discovered that two apparently different phenomena could be unified with a single more fundamental theory.

For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, I Timothy 2:5

Again and again, physicists have discovered deeper and deeper unifications in the fundamental laws of our universe. The more closely we look, the more we discover an essential unity in all things. Today physicists are working hard to unify the known laws of physics even further, with “grand unification theories” that integrate the strong nuclear force with electroweak theory, and even more ambitious ideas like “string theory” and “loop quantum gravity” that bring gravity too into the same system of equations.

The Apparent Paradoxes of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways… Isaiah 55:8

The dawn of the 20th century saw an enormous crisis, as physicists were forced to grapple with new phenomena were so strange that they appeared to be paradoxical.

Consider this experimental fact: Every beam of light will always be measured to travel at the same speed, 300,000 kilometers per second, no matter how the emitter of the light is moving or how the receiver of the light is moving. Imagine that you are in a spaceship and someone in another spaceship flashes a beam of light toward you. When you measure the speed of that approaching beam of light, you will get the same speed whether your friend’s ship is flying towards you or away from you. If you were to turn on your own rocket engines and fly directly toward that oncoming beam of light, you would expect to measure that the beam of light would be traveling faster, relative to you. If you were to turn on your rocket engines and fly directly away from that oncoming beam of light, you would expect to measure that the beam of light would be traveling slower, relative to you. Yet, careful measurements make this matter clear: All observers always measures every beam of light as traveling at the exact same speed, no matter how they move relative to the beam of light. This strange fact was first indicated in 1887 by the Michelson–Morley experiment performed at what is now Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Over the past century this reality has been confirmed in numerous experiments, and is used every day by our modern GPS system. In order to accurately pinpoint a location on the surface of the Earth using radio waves from moving satellites, the system must account for the fact that the speed of light is constant, no matter how the satellites are moving.

This bizarre reality seems contradictory. It appears to defy our most fundamental definitions of what speed and motion are all about. Yet, in 1905, Albert Einstein showed that there is a logic to this strange phenomenon. Just because something defies our intuition and contradicts our expectation does not mean it is irrational. Einstein showed that this is only a paradox if we assume that time and length

are universal constants. Speed is what we calculate when we take a distance traveled and divide this by the travel time to get miles per hour, meters per second, or some other measure of speed. If time and distance are the same for all observers, then all speeds must be relative and depend on the motion of the observer. To cause all observers to measure the same speed of light, no matter how they move, different observers must disagree about time and length. The time between two events might be one second for me, two seconds for you, and half a second for someone else, if we are all moving differently.

Einstein’s theory of relativity was a startling revelation to the physics community, but it won the day because although it confounds common sense, it is logically consistent, and it accurately explains the experimental data. But just as this revolution was winning acceptance, an even stranger and more disturbing theory was in its infancy, which would soon shatter our common sense more profoundly.

In order to unlock the secrets of the atom and explain the actions of individual electrons required an entirely new way of thinking. Electrons are bound to the nucleus of an atom by the electric force, because their negative charge is attracted to the positive charge of the protons in the nucleus. So early models of the atom proposed that electrons orbited around the nucleus due to the electric force in the same way that planets orbit around the Sun due to the gravitational force. However, this simple model didn’t explain the strange behavior of electrons, sending physicists back to the drawing board. You see, a planet can orbit around the Sun at any distance, depending on how much energy it has. The more mechanical energy a planet contains, the farther away from the sun it will orbit. However, experiments quickly demonstrated that inside an atom, electrons could only orbit at certain specific distance away from the nucleus. Why would that be? To explain this odd behavior required physicists to completely reimagine the nature of an electron.

Rather than thinking of electrons as being particles orbiting a nucleus, like planets orbiting the sun, in 1924 the French physicist Louis de Broglie proposed that electrons are more like musical notes resonating in an instrument, like a trumpet. Louis de Broglie proposed that electrons act like waves. Consider this: the length of a trumpet tube controls the notes that can be played. For a given tube length, there is a specific set of notes that can be played on the trumpet, which fit different numbers of wavelengths into the tube. There is a lowest possible note that the trumpeter can play, then by putting more energy into the lips the trumpeter can play a note an octave higher, but the trumpeter cannot play any notes between these two, because these would not resonate within that length of tube. The theory of waves explains a certain length of trumpet tube can only play a certain set of notes, and in exactly the same way, Louis de Broglie’s theory explained why electrons can only orbit at certain distances away from the nucleus. He showed that an electron will sometimes behave like a particle, a tiny point with one specific location, and sometimes like a wave which can spread out and fill an enormous volume, in the same way that the sound wave from a trumpet can fill a room. If you fire an electron at a screen, first it spreads out like a wave, but when it hits the screen, it turns back into a particle and we see its flash of energy at one specific point on the screen.

But here’s the crux of the problem: When the electron transforms from a big spread-out wave into a single point particle, exactly where will this point be? How does our universe decide exactly where within the broad electron-wave we will see that single flash of electron energy? The answer

shook the physics community to its foundations: It’s random. It happens by chance. When the electron wave hits the screen, the universe picks the electron’s location in a completely unpredictable way. The quantum theory describes a precise distribution of randomness, which can be tested by using enormous numbers of electrons in our experiments, but the location of each individual electron cannot be predicted. The quantum theory says that randomness is woven into the very fabric of our universe at the deepest level. This contradicted physicists’ common sense about what a theory of physics was supposed to say. Einstein himself was so dismayed by this bizarre discovery that he refused to believe it, saying, “God does not play dice!” He spent the rest of his life trying to find another theory which would explain the strange behavior of electrons without the distasteful random factor.

Almost a century later the quantum theory has survived every experimental test with flying colors. After decades of looking for other alternatives the physics community has been forced to accept that randomness is an essential part of the laws of our universe. Even though it contradicts our common sense about what a law of physics should be, the quantum theory works. Initially it appears strange and irrational, but as we study it, we realize that there is a logic to it. The quantum theory is a rational system, even though it is alien to our common sense.

How often do the scriptures tell us that God’s ways are not our ways? Consider the parable of the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). Defying all expectations of common sense, the owner of the vineyard chooses to pay all the workers equally, no matter how many or how few hours they worked. Although it violates the common sense of the workers, the owner has his own system for choosing how he will distribute his rewards.

The Big Bang: Echoes of Genesis

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. Genesis 1:1-4

A century ago, most scholars in Europe and America thought that our universe had always been here. They thought our universe was infinitely old, that it had no beginning, and that our universe was static, eternal, and essentially unchanging. When Albert Einstein was developing his general theory of relativity, his new theory of gravity, he was quite disturbed to discover that his equations indicated that the universe as a whole should be changing, expanding, contracting, or evolving in some way. Even if all the galaxies of the universe were at rest for one moment, then gravity should then pull them all together, causing the universe to contract over time. Einstein was certain that the universe was unchanging, and so in 1917 he a term to his equations which he called a “cosmological constant,” a pressure from empty space which could oppose the attraction of gravity, and cause the universe to stand still.

Then, in 1927 a young Roman Catholic priest and scientist, Father Georges Lemaître began using Einstein’s equations of gravity to create a revolutionary new theory that we now call “the big bang theory.” In 1931 he proposed that our universe had a beginning, a point in which time itself began.

Einstein was initially very skeptical of this new theory, saying “Your calculations are correct, but your physics is atrocious.” Einstein was concerned that this priest was being inspired more by the book of Genesis than by hard-nosed science.

While Lemaître was doing his theoretical work, the astronomer Edwin Hubble pointed his telescope out at distant galaxies and discovered that our universe is expanding: Galaxies are spreading out through space, getting farther and farther from each other. This means that tomorrow, galaxies will all be a little farther apart and yesterday they were a little closer together. The farther we look into the past, the closer galaxies must have been, until we reach a time when all the galaxies must have been compressed together. At the current rate of expansion, all the galaxies in the universe must have all squeezed together at a time about 14 billion years ago.

Using Einstein’s equations of space and time, Lemaître and others created a theory, a set of mathematical equations, which explains the expansion of the universe we see today. The theory says that the universe began in an instant, when all of space everywhere was filled with hot, dense energy under high pressure. The fires of the big bang equally filled every point in the entire universe. This energy caused space itself to stretch and expand, and as the universe expanded, the energy was smeared out across an ever expanding volume, and so it cooled, turning into first the atoms of hydrogen and helium gas. The momentum of this initial expansion causes the universe to go on expanding to this day.

How can we be sure that this event actually took place? No one was around 14 billion years ago to observe the big bang. However, we can use the big bang equations to make a series of specific predictions about things we can see today. Then astronomers can go to their telescopes and see if these predictions are right.

The first major prediction of the big bang theory came from Russian-American scientist George Gamow and his student Ralph Alpher. In 1948, they used the big bang equations to calculate what types of atoms would have been produced by the big bang. During the big bang, the entire universe was hotter than the core of a star, but only for the first three minutes. This was only enough time to leave the universe with 75% hydrogen gas, 25% helium gas, a few tiny traces of lithium and beryllium atoms, and nothing else. The big bang was not able to create any heavier atoms, no carbon, no iron, no nitrogen, and no oxygen. These heavier atoms must have been created much later, in the cores of stars which eventually exploded, spreading them through our galaxy.

Astronomers have been able to test this prediction by studying clouds of gas out between galaxies, which have never been anywhere near an exploding star. What we have found is amazing: Every intergalactic cloud has precisely the same chemical composition. Every intergalactic cloud is made of the exact mix of atoms predicted by the big bang theory: 75% hydrogen, 25% helium, traces of lithium and beryllium, and not the slightest bit of anything else.

But, the most dramatic prediction from the big bang equations came from Ralph Alpher and Robert Herman, also in 1948. They calculated that because the big bang filled every point in the entire

universe, even after 14 billion years, the afterglow of the big bang should still be out there, filling our sky. In 1965 Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson discovered that what we now call the “cosmic microwave background” really does fill the universe. Over the past 50 years, astronomers have measured this afterglow of the big bang with greater and greater precision: It is out there. It is powerful evidence of the reality of the big bang.

There was a beginning. There was a moment of creation.

Our Universe Has Laws

Your word, LORD, stands forever; it is firm as the heavens. Psalms 119:89

At the most fundamental level, physics tells is that our universe has laws. There are rational, logical, consistent principles behind the amazing vast diversity of our universe. We look out and see beautiful structures on all scales, from the vast archipelagoes of galaxies, down to the tiny structures inside the nuclei of atoms, and all of them are governed by the same set of physics laws. We point our telescopes out to the most distant galaxies, ten billion light years away from us, and we see that they composed of hydrogen, helium, carbon, iron, the same types of atoms that we have here on Earth. Everywhere we look, we see the same laws of gravity and electromagnetism, the same forces and energy at work throughout every corner of the universe, on all scales, through all epochs from the present day, back to the age of the big bang itself.

The laws of physics as we know them can be summarized with equations that can fit on one sheet of paper. Yet, when put into action in this vast universe, these laws are sufficient to regulate the motions of particles, atoms, molecules from water to DNA, living tissues, organisms, ecosystems, planets, stars, solar systems, galaxies, and the overarching structure of the universe itself.

The intricate and precise balance of these physical laws is truly astonishing. If any of the laws of nature were changed in even small amount, then our universe would not have formed stars, planets, life, and humans in the way that it did.

Gravity is the weakest fundamental force while the strong nuclear force is the strongest. The balance between these forces is amazingly precise. These forces are delicately poised, governing the intricate chain of events which has led to the development of human intelligence. Just after the big bang, the nuclear and electromagnetic forces were strong enough to form atoms of hydrogen and helium, but not of the heavier elements. Then the force of gravity was strong enough to gather these atoms together to form the first generation of stars, all enormous giants, where intense heat and pressure were sufficient to allow the strong nuclear force to create the atoms of carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, which are so essential to human life. Then the interplay between the nuclear reactions and gravity caused these enormous ancient stars to explode, seeding the universe with these elements. Then electromagnetism allowed the gas to cool enough that gravity was able to gather materials together to form a second and third generation of stars, with each generation enriched with the ashes of their forebears. The electromagnetic cooling properties of these heavier elements allowed stars like our sun to form, with a more moderate mass, so that it and others could provide a steady, predictable

source of energy for many billions of years. From here the interplay of electromagnetic forces and quantum effects allowed amazingly complex chemistry to flourish in the oceans of the young Earth, which led to the development of the first living cells.

If any one of the four forces was just a little bit weaker or stronger, then it is difficult to see how the delicate chain of events which lead from the big bang to the evolution of intelligent life on earth could have happened. The beauty, the structure, and the balance of these fundamental physics laws, is truly awe inspiring.

Resonances in Scripture and Science

In this essay we have explored four points of resonance between the Creator revealed in the scriptures, and the science of physics. (1) The scriptures describe the unity of God, how there is only one Creator, one Author of all things. At the same time, unification is one of the central organizing principles of physics. Many of the more important developments in physics have come from finding a single deep theory which explains two apparently disparate phenomena, whether this is the motion of the apple and the moon, the operation of electric and magnetic forces, or the seemingly different natures of the electromagnetic and weak nuclear forces. (2) The scriptures tell us that God’s ways are very different from ours, at odds with our common sense. The discovery of Einsteinian relativity and the quantum theory revealed aspects of physical law so strange that they seemed paradoxical in the context of our expectations. (3) The scriptures tell us that our universe had a beginning, a moment when it first came into existence. Modern physics clearly establishes that our universe did indeed begin with a single big bang event. (4) The scriptures tell us of a Creator who is steadfast and true, a Creator who is reliable and stalwart through all things. At the most basic level, physics reveals that our universe has laws, and these laws are constant to the most distant views of our telescopes, to the deepest center of atomic nuclei, and throughout the entire history of the universe.

I’ll never forget the amazing moment of discovery when I did the Millikan oil drop experiment for myself as a college. I squirted a faint mist of oil droplets into the air from a little rubber bottle. Then I shined a bright light onto the droplets from the side, and looking through a microscope I could see a few of these tiny drops as they drifted down through the air, pulled by gravity. Next, I switched on an electric field. Some of the droplets had no electric charge, and continued drifting down at the same rate. But a few of the drops had picked up a little static charge, and they responded, dancing in my microscope as I twisted the knob, changing the electric force on them. I adjusted the voltage until one single drop hung motionless in the air, as the force of gravity pulling it down was exactly equal to my electric force pulling it up. This voltage then told me how much electric charge was on the droplet.

Over the course of an hour, I measured the electric charge on a dozen different oil drops and the results were amazingly clear. About half of the droplets carried exactly one electron’s worth of charge. Several of them had exactly two electrons of charge, and a couple had three electrons of charge. The data from my simple little experiment clearly measured exactly how much charge is carried by each electron. With a microscope and a few odds and ends, I personally measured one of the fundamental constants of the universe.

For me, physics is a deeply spiritual experience. Physics is a science based on careful, painstaking measurements of reality stitched together with subtle works of mathematical creativity. I treasure those special rare moments when patterns emerge, when beautiful, striking relationships of amazing power arise out of the fog, and when I see the fingerprints of the Creator.

Image credit for the Seagull Nebula: ESO

Science is a guide to understanding scripture

Reader xdpaul makes the following observation in the comments to the article on pre-Adam hominids:

One of the problems with relying on surviving Christian texts only is that even the most learned of them were a) not native masters of Hebrew b) reliant in the primary on Greek translations of Hebrew and c) not typically focused on man’s origins.

Thus, if you only rely on the very occasional Christian theologian viewpoint on origins, you may very end up short of even the limits of Ussher.

I get emails and comments from people criticizing Schroeder’s interpretation of scripture by insisting that he does not faithfully follow a literal interpretation of scripture, and furthermore we shouldn’t bother trying to “shoehorn” science into scripture. What they mean is that Schroeder doesn’t follow their literal interpretation of scripture. These critics almost always assume that the particular interpretation they personally favor is the only legitimate one, and fail to realize (or acknowledge) that there are significant translation issues with even some of the most widely accepted interpretations.

In any attempt to understand Genesis, we have to account for the fact that it was translated from ancient Hebrew to seventeenth century English and then interpreted according to modern Western, English-speaking sensibilities. This modern, Western point of view not only misses important subtleties in the Hebrew language, but often neglects subtleties in scriptural and historical context. As xdpaul points out, the problem is that the English translators were not native masters of Hebrew, nor were they focused on the deeper scientific meaning of Genesis. Schroeder, however, is, and he relies heavily on commentaries from the three most highly-regarded Jewish scholars — Rashi, Nahmanides, and Maimonides — all of whom were masters in Hebrew and spent decades intensely studying the Torah to discover its meaning. In my opinion, it’s foolishness to disregard these commentaries.

Even then, armed with insights from deep scholarship about the Torah, how do we know we’re on the right track when interpreting Genesis? We can gain some assurance through God’s revelation in the natural world he created. We were given a written account of this creation, but along with that came the admonishment to look for evidence of God’s character within it (Psalm 19; Romans 1:20). For this reason, it bothers me deeply that many well-meaning Christians insist on pitting God’s written record against God’s record in nature. They are complementary, and we are told as much in scripture. These two records should agree; they must agree. And where there is ostensible disagreement, that is the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of both.

 

Fire Back: Where the Readers Respond

In which we discuss the ensoulment of a pre-existing hominid with the creation of Adam.

Andrew enjoyed my Six Day slideshow, but took issue with the claim that God chose a pre-existing hominid and breathed a soul into it to create Adam:

Genesis 2 describes a created man formed from dust that God subsequently breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living creature. As I read that, I understand that to say there was a man formed out of dust in order to be created for the specific purpose of making us in His image. I agree that our spiritual identity is truly what defines us as in His image, but I stop at the notion that there were physical human beings identical to Adam beforehand that he simply ‘utilized’. As Genesis 2 documents the account, God didn’t go looking around to select some pre-soul ‘animalized’ version of a man that had already been created and arbitrarily deemed him fit to put a soul (the image of God) into him.

For those who haven’t gone through it, my slideshow is based on Gerald Schroeder’s bestselling book, The Science of God. Schroeder does not claim that a man was ‘animalized’; that’s a misleading term. Animal is the initial state of man, followed by ensoulment, and it is ensoulment that transforms him from animal to human being.

Now, do we know for certain from the Genesis 2 account that God didn’t select a pre-soul version of a man for Adam? Schroeder explains that, according to the great Torah commentators and some leading Jewish theologians, there is room for that interpretation. It hinges on two things:

1. The distinction between “making” and “creating” in Genesis. The former means to form something out of preexisting material; the latter means to bring something into existence that did not exist before. From Chapter 9 of Schroeder’s The Science of God:

The fact that Adam was first “made” (Gen. 1:26) and only later “created” (Gen. 1:27) informs us unequivocally that some amount of time passed during which Adam was fashioned. The neshama was implanted only after that vessel was complete. Whether that time was measured in microseconds or millions of earth years is not certain from the text. What is certain is that the making of Adam’s body was not instantaneous and that its making preceded the introduction of the neshama. Making takes time. The ultimate change from the final form into human was instantaneous, the creation of the neshama.

2. A subtlety in the text that is overlooked in English translations of the Bible. From the same chapter:

The closing of Genesis 2:7 has a subtlety lost in the English. It is usually translated as: “… and [God] breathed into his nostrils the neshama of life and the adam became a living soul” (Gen. 2:7). The Hebrew text actually states “… and the adam became to a living soul.” Nahmanides, seven hundred years ago, wrote that the “to” (the Hebrew letter lamed prefixed to the word “soul” in the verse) is superfluous from a grammatical stance and so must be there to teach something. … He concludes his extensive commentary on the implications of this lamed as: “Or it may be that the verse is stating that [prior to receiving the neshama] it was transformed into another man.”

Another man! According to Nahmanides, who is the major kabalistic commentator on the Bible, the biblical text has told us that before the neshama there was something like a man that was not quite a human.

Maimonides also comments on the soulless man. In Part I, Chapter VII of his book, The Guide for the Perplexed — written over 800 years ago, long before he could have been influenced by modern science — he describes the sons of Adam who came after Cain and Abel, but before Seth:

Those sons of Adam who were born before that time were not human in the true sense of the word, they had not “the form of man.” With reference to Seth who had been instructed, enlightened and brought to human perfection, it could rightly be said, “he (adam) begat a son in his likeness, in his form.” It is acknowledged that a man who does not possess this “form” (the nature of which has just been explained*) is not human, but a mere animal in human shape and form.

* In Chapter I, Maimonides explains that “form” means “essence.” Adam’s essence was that which made him distinctly human — the neshama. In other words, the pre-Seth sons lacked a soul. These are the sorts of “mere animals” that would have preceded Adam, and into which God breathed a human soul to create the first human.

A universe of fireworks

The following is a guest post by Dr. Elizabeth Fernandez, who is both a friend and colleague of Dr. Salviander. Dr. Fernandez is a Catholic, an astrophysicist, and a freelance journalist. She is interested how science affects society, interfaith dialog, and the overlap of science with ethics, philosophy, and religion. Dr. Fernandez’s participation in interfaith dialog has included radio and television appearances, and organizing panel discussions, lectures, and field trips. You can follow her on Twitter at @sparkdialog.

Lemaitre

Is it possible to be devoted to religion, yet come up with cutting edge science? Georges Lemaître thought so.

Lemaître. Probably the greatest scientist you’ve never heard of. He hung out with the likes of Hoyle, Eddington, and Einstein. And he came up with one of the most controversial ideas of modern cosmology, an idea that fundamentally changed how we looked at the universe.

Oh, yeah. And he was a Catholic priest.

Georges Lemaître always had two passions in life: science and religion. He knew he wanted to be a priest when he was 10 years old. While he served in WWI with the Belgian army, he read the Bible alongside physics textbooks while huddled in the trenches. He earned two bachelor’s degrees — one in math, and one in philosophy. He attended graduate school at the same time he was in the seminary, and is one of those rare, very dedicated people who earned not one but two PhDs — one in math and one in physics. He was one of the first people to suggest that computers could be used to solve complex problems, and was one of the inventors of the Fast Fourier Transform, an often-used tool in mathematics and computing.

At the time Lemaître started his research, around the beginning of the 1920s, the preferred view of the universe was Albert Einstein’s static universe. In this universe, galaxies hang in a fixed constellation with respect to one another, unmoving through the eons. Of course, physics tells us that gravity should draw all of these galaxies towards one another, and, if you wait long enough, everything would come together in a catastrophic collapse. In order to keep this from occurring, Einstein added a “cosmological constant” to counteract gravity: some mysterious outward force that would exactly balance the inward pull of gravity. This universe has no beginning; in fact, it’s ageless — quite possibly always existing in the same configuration we see today.

But Lemaître had a different idea. Since 1912, another astronomer named Vesto Slipher noticed in his observations that many galaxies were receding from Earth quite quickly. This didn’t quite fit into the concept of a static universe. Some scientists thought this was just a fluke, and others thought of it as one of the great cosmological puzzles of the time. It was Lemaître who figured it out. After delving into relativity, he came up with a new model of the universe – a model where space itself was expanding. This expanding space had the ability to whisk galaxies along with it, which explained the recessional velocities measured by Slipher. It was revolutionary. According to Lemaître’s model, the universe could change.

A changing universe… it was an incredible idea, but most scientists didn’t pay much attention. Einstein, even though he respected Lemaître greatly, didn’t believe his hypothesis, saying to Lemaître, Vos calculs sont corrects, mais votre physique est abominable. (“Your calculations are correct, but your physics is abominable.”) Lemaître’s own PhD advisor, Arthur Eddington, left Lemaître’s paper sitting on his desk, either unread or forgotten.

But Lemaître did not stop there. Three years later, he proposed an even more radical idea. He extrapolated the motions of the expanding galaxies backwards, predicting that at some time in the far distant past, all matter was compressed to one single point, what Lemaître called the “primeval atom.” Not only was the universe evolving, but it had a beginning.

Just as when Copernicus proposed that the earth went around the sun rather than the other way around, Lemaître’s idea was not met with accolades. Eddington didn’t like the idea of the primeval atom. Einstein thought it was unphysical. Lemaître’s own friend, astrophysicist Fred Hoyle, was a big opponent of the theory, explaining its shortcomings on public radio.

But, contrary to what most physicists of the day believed, Lemaître ended up being right. A couple of years after Lemaître made his prediction about the expansion of the universe, Edwin Hubble observationally confirmed Slipher’s discovery that galaxies are in fact moving away from one another. (Hubble is commonly credited for discovering the expanding universe because of these observations, even though Lemaître made his prediction years earlier. Oddly enough, when Hubble first observed these galaxies moving away from Earth, he vehemently stated these motions had nothing to do with an expanding universe, but rather should somehow fit into the static universe model.) And shortly before Lemaître died, he heard the final confirmation of his primeval atom hypothesis when astrophysicists, Arno Penzias and Robert Woodrow Wilson, announced their discovery of the cosmic microwave background — the leftover radiation from the fireball of the universe’s creation. Now, Lemaître’s theory is so well known that it’s a household name — the big bang theory.

I wonder what many people would think if they knew one of the most well known scientific theories of our day was developed by a Catholic priest. Today, there is considerable debate if science and religion are compatible. Lemaître faced some of this controversy, but it did not distract him. To put it simply, he was in search for the truth: a truth that could be accessed through science, but also through religion. In the words of Lemaître:

Man’s highest activity is searching for the truth. It is the factor which distinguishes us from animals, and our specific activity is to grasp the truth in all its forms.

Once you realize that the Bible does not purport to be a textbook of science, the old controversy between religion and science vanishes . . . The doctrine of the Trinity is much more abstruse than anything in relativity or quantum mechanics; but, being necessary for salvation, the doctrine is stated in the Bible. If the theory of relativity had also been necessary for salvation, it would have been revealed to Saint Paul or to Moses . . . As a matter of fact neither Saint Paul nor Moses had the slightest idea of relativity.

The universe is an amazing, complex place. Georges Lemaître, in his quest for the truth, saw past the prevailing theories of the day to discover something fascinating and beautiful, a universe with a beginning, with galaxies constantly in motion, a universe that is, in the words of Lemaître, the “ashes and smoke of bright but very rapid fireworks”.

God is not a magician

Carina-Nebula-from-ESOs-V-011

A recent pop news article claimed physicists have proved God didn’t create the universe. In response, I explained why you can’t trust the pop media to report on science accurately. In a follow-up post, I discussed why the universe isn’t “nothing,” as the article implied. In this, the third part, we’ll talk about what the Bible says about the creation of the universe and compare this with the current state of scientific thinking.

Let’s first summarize the problem as presented in the pop news article:

The supposed biblical claim: God created the universe from absolute nothing (creatio ex nihilo). Only God could create something from absolute nothing.

The atheist counterclaim: Physicists have discovered a way to create a universe from nothing using only the laws of physics. Therefore, God is irrelevant.

I’ve already explained why the atheist claim is bogus. But is creatio ex nihilo what the Bible says? It’s unclear, because there is nothing in scripture that explicitly says this. Those who believe creatio ex nihilo infer it from Genesis 1:1: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. It’s not an unreasonable inference—the Hebrew word for “create” means to bring something into existence that did not exist before—and it is probably for this reason that the great biblical commentator Nahmanides believed the universe was brought forth by God “from total and absolute nothing.” From my reading of Nahmanides (and my non-expertise in theology), the total and absolute nothing refers to something corporeal. More on this in a moment.

When dealing with argumentative atheists who want to debate science and God, what matters most is not whether science lines up with their particular ideas about God, but whether science is consistent with what we know from scripture. You have to be persistent about this, because atheists almost always present their arguments against a God that resembles nothing like the God of the Bible:

Asked if the remarkable findings and the convincing if complex solution removed the need for a God figure to kick start the universe Dr Mir said: “If by God you mean a supernatural super man who breaks his own laws then yes he’s done for, you just don’t need him.”

I doubt this is the exact question posed to Dr. Mir; and I believe the atheist we’re dealing with is not the physicist, but the reporter and/or his editor. Nevertheless, my interpretation of Mir’s response is, now that we have a plausible physical model for how the universe could arise from nothing but physical laws, we do not need the sort of God who waves his arms and magically conjures up a universe from nothing. In other words, the theory knocks down a strawman God. But it also supports the biblical God who operates in a way that we can relate to on at least a rudimentary level.

Have you ever watched a skilled magician performing tricks? Most people find it enjoyable to watch someone perform something that seems impossible. But it’s only fun, because everyone except for really little kids understands that the tricks are just illusions and the magician isn’t really defying the laws of nature. If we genuinely believed he was defying the laws of nature, the magic show would be more horrifying than entertaining*.

And yet, for reasons I don’t quite understand, a lot of people—including believers—regard God as the ultimate magician who really is defying the laws of nature. Personally, I find this notion of God repellant, because it contradicts what the Bible tells us about his character—he is knowable through nature, he is consistent, and he is reliable. But we needn’t worry, because the biblical account of the creation of the universe doesn’t describe something magical, it describes something miraculous.

It is tempting to think of magical and miraculous as synonymous, but there’s an important distinction between the two. For the purpose of this argument, magical refers to something that lacks a knowable mechanism, something that defies the laws of nature or does the impossible. Contrary to popular misconception, miraculous means none of those things. Rather, a miracle is something that is accomplished through divinely supernatural means; in other words, something that is accomplished by God through means that exist beyond the universe. As Israeli physicist and theologian, Gerald Schroeder, points out, this is exactly what modern science implies for the creation of the universe.

Prof. Mir – who also works on the Large Hardron (sic) Collider at CERN in Switzerland – further explained that by “nothing” he only meant absence of energy, and not the absence of laws of physics.

Schroeder says this is what Genesis has been telling us all along. In his book, The Science of God, he provides what he considers to be the most faithful translation of Genesis 1:1, which is known as the Jerusalem translation: With wisdom as the first cause, God created the universe. In other words, Genesis implies the laws of physics predate the universe, just as physicists claim. It is the supernaturally existing laws of physics—wisdom, the first cause—God uses to create the universe.

Let’s summarize what we’ve discussed:

  • The Bible implies the universe was created from nothing except the laws of physics. Science agrees.
  • The Bible says the laws of physics predate the universe. Science agrees.
  • The Bible says God used the pre-existing laws of physics to create the universe. This is consistent with science.

Logically, we know the universe can’t create itself; it requires something above and beyond. This is what the Bible has been saying all along, and science is finally catching up.

—–

* If you don’t believe me, watch a movie called The Prestige. Even though the ultimate trick in the movie isn’t strictly magic—in the sense that it breaks no laws of nature—the magician goes well beyond simple illusion, and it’s pretty disturbing.

Image credit: ESO.

Earth-like planet kills God dead!

The big news last week was that astronomers (incidentally, some of them colleagues of mine) discovered an Earth-like planet orbiting a Sun-like star. The exoplanet, dubbed Kepler-452b, was discovered by the Kepler space telescope and recently announced by its discoverers. It is 1,400 light-years away from Earth and appears in the constellation Cygnus.

It’s exciting news, and probably had more than a few nerds thinking we’re one step closer to the United Federation of Planets, but apparently the really big news is that the discovery of this planet was the death-knell for religious tradition.

In what I suppose is a serious commentary on the discovery Kepler-452b and not satire, Jeff Schweitzer, a scientist and former White House analyst, declares that Earth 2.0 is “bad news for God.” Why? Because Genesis doesn’t mention alien worlds. Of course, Genesis also doesn’t mention bananas, but to my knowledge no one has argued that the existence of bananas rocks religious tradition to its core.

Schweitzer’s first mistake was referring to Kepler-452b as “Earth 2.0.” This newly discovered exoplanet is believed to be Earth-like in terms of its size and proximity to its Sun-like star, and that’s sort of big news, because the majority of known exoplanets are Jupiter-sized or larger and very close to non-Sun-like stars. Kepler-452b is at just the right distance to its Sun-like star to permit liquid water on its surface (a necessary component for life). All this means is that we can’t rule out the existence of liquid water on its surface; it doesn’t mean there is water. And there are known differences between Kepler-452b and Earth: it’s estimated to be 60% larger than Earth (so it’s more like a “Super-Earth”), it’s about 1.5 billion years older than the Earth, it receives 10% more light from its sun than the Earth does from its Sun, its gravity could be anywhere from 80% to 300% of the Earth’s gravity, etc. We don’t know its composition. Is it rocky? Does it have a fluid core that would lead to a dynamo effect? Does it have an atmosphere? Plate tectonics? We currently don’t know the answers to these questions. We therefore have no idea exactly how Earth-like Kepler-452b is or whether it’s suitable for life. And it’s not the only known Earth-like exoplanet, nor is it even the most Earth-like. All good reasons why it’s absurd to call this particular exoplanet “Earth 2.0.”

Nevertheless, Schweitzer goes on to declare that we are coming “ever closer to the idea that life is common in the universe.” That’s quite a leap from the discovery of an exoplanet about which we know very little. But never mind. His point here is to preemptively declare that the discovery of life elsewhere in the universe would be a big problem for “the world’s major religions.” And by “the world’s major religions” he seems to mean Judaism and Christianity (and probably just the latter), since the Bible is the sole focus of his critique.

He begins his theological discussion thusly: “Let us be clear that the Bible is unambiguous about creation:”

Let’s look at what the Bible unambiguously claims about creation, according to Schweitzer:

1. “the earth is the center of the universe”

He doesn’t mention which verse says this. Probably because there is no verse, that I’m aware of, that says this. Ancient Greek philosophy held that the Earth is the center of the universe, and this view was eventually adopted by the Church, whose philosophy was heavily influenced by Aristotle.

2. “only humans were made in the image of god”

Of all the creatures mentioned in Genesis, yes, only humans were made in the image of God. This doesn’t preclude other creatures, not mentioned in Genesis, being made in the image of God. This doesn’t preclude other creatures, not mentioned in Genesis, not being made in the image of God.

3. “and all life was created in six days”

No, all life was created in four days. Plant life appeared on Day 3, animal life appeared on Day 5, and human life appeared on Day 6.

4. “All life in all the heavens. In six days.”

No, all life on Earth. In four days. (See here for why six creation days are fully compatible with a billions-year-old universe.)

Notice that he does not support any of these claims with the biblical verses that supposedly “unambiguously” say these things. Instead, later in his piece, he quotes the Pope during the trial of Galileo on what the Church believed the Bible claimed at the time.

This is why you should never rely on what an anti-theist says about the Bible. Schweitzer is completely wrong. Which means his conclusion is completely wrong, for he goes on to say:

“So when we discover that life exists or existed elsewhere in our solar system or on a planet orbiting another star in the Milky Way, or in a planetary system in another galaxy, we will see a huge effort to square that circle with amazing twists of logic and contorted justifications. But do not buy the inevitable historical edits: life on another planet is completely incompatible with religious tradition. Any other conclusion is nothing but ex-post facto rationalization to preserve the myth.”

Nonsense. What he’s attempting to do is use false assumptions and specious reasoning to justify his leaping out in front of this discovery before anyone’s had a chance to comment thoughtfully on it, and claim it as a victory for atheism. Dibs, everyone!

Is Schweitzer unaware that Christians have already commented on the topic of alien life in the context of Christian theology? C. S. Lewis not only wrote a well-known essay (“Religion and Rocketry“) on the topic, but wrote a science fiction trilogy exploring it in great depth (The Space Trilogy). (Incidentally, I wrote on this topic a few years ago.)

The rest of Schweitzer’s article is filled with theological analysis and reasoning of similar quality. For instance, he quotes Genesis 1:1 and then makes the following claim:

“Nothing in that mentions alien worlds, which of course the ancients knew nothing about. Man was told to rule over the fish on the earth, not on other planets. But god would have known of these alien worlds, so it is curious he did not instruct the authors to include the language.”

One might reasonably ask how man could possibly rule over the fish on other planets, and therefore why it would be of any concern to him that there might be fish on other planets. (I seriously wondered if Schweitzer was having us all on at this point, but since this was The Huffington Post and not The Onion, I had to assume he was sincere.) (Also, what is it with the childish refusal of some atheists to capitalize the ‘G’ in God? Lower-case ‘g’ god denotes a lesser god. God is the supreme being, the God, which is why ‘God’ is capitalized. Spelling it correctly doesn’t mean you agree God exists, it means you understand the concept of a proper noun. It just makes you look like an idiot to refuse to capitalize the name.)

He then goes on some weird tangent about some verses in Genesis that shows he doesn’t understand that Genesis refers to the entire universe for the first two days, and then specifically the Earth for the remaining days. It was all so contorted and confused that it made my head hurt. He amusingly concludes this word-salad passage with “Let us be perfectly clear…”

Schweitzer ends his piece with the statement that, “none of this will matter upon life’s discovery elsewhere. Religious leaders will simply declare that such life is fully compatible with, in fact predicted by, the Bible.” He’s right that this sort of poor understanding of the Bible and lousy reasoning are utterly inconsequential to any possible discovery of life elsewhere in the universe. As for whether the existence of life elsewhere is compatible with, even predicted by, the Bible, consider that the great biblical commentator, Nahmanides, inferred from Genesis that the universe was created with the potential for life built into it. Since he claimed this over 700 years ago, I’d say our side had dibs long before Schweitzer’s.

Weekly Psalm 19: NGC 7006

Here is your weekly reminder of Psalm 19 — globular cluster, NGC 7006.

NGC_7006_(HST)

Globular clusters are spherical clusters of stars orbiting in the halos (the outermost regions) of galaxies. This particular cluster is orbiting in the halo of our Milky Way Galaxy, at a distance of about 135,000 light-years from Earth. It appears in the sky in the direction of the constellation Delphinus. Due to its distance, it’s very faint in the sky and therefore difficult to detect with small telescopes. The above image was taken with the Hubble Space Telescope.

The stars in NGC 7006 all formed at about the same time, and are therefore all roughly the same age. They are very old stars — almost as old as the universe — and will remain tightly gravitationally bound to each other their entire lives.

Globular cluster NGC 7006, image credit: HST/NASA.