Questions from Christian Students, Part 2

Sarah was recently invited, along with two other scientists, to take part in a panel discussion for a group of mostly Christian students. After the main discussion, students were invited to submit questions via text message; there was very little time to address them, so only a few were answered. The questions were quite good, so over the next few weeks, Surak and Sarah will answer most of them here. All of the questions are listed in the Intro to this series; Part 1 is here

Was Adam the first man created or was he chosen from an already existing population?

The answers to this two-part question are ‘yes’ and ‘yes.’

There is indisputable archeological evidence for the existence of what are popularly known as Cro-Magnon people (scientists prefer the label ‘European early modern humans’) dating back at least 43,000 years. Christians cannot ignore or deny the evidence for these biological ancestors of humankind without appearing hopelessly un- or even anti-scientific. If Christians take this unscientific route in defense of the Bible, they will lose the hearts and minds of more and more young people. Fortunately there is no need to do that.

There is a false conflict between scripture and science implied in the wording of the question. It occurs because people often read the Bible hastily and fail to notice important clues. Israeli physicist and theologian, Gerald Schroeder, points out something that is almost always missed even by serious students of scripture. Genesis informs us that man was first ‘made’ (Gen. 1:26). After that, man was ‘created’ (Gen. 1:27). The difference between the two words is crucial to understanding what the Bible is telling us (unless you think God would be clumsy or haphazard with words).

A thing is made by taking something else that already exists and fashioning it into a different form. That is what happened in the making of the biological life form we think of as the human species. Genesis lists the major categories of life forms as they emerged; vegetation, animal life in the oceans, flying creatures (winged insects), great sea creatures, life forms that crawl on land, every species of winged creature, land animals which became livestock (mammals), and finally man. There is absolutely no conflict here between scripture and the basic notion of evolution. As a result, as Darwin pointed out, a person can believe in evolution and be a devout Christian.

But, the Bible does not repeat the word ‘make’ in Gen 1:27, because something very different and non-biological happened after the human body was formed. Man was then ‘created’ in the image of God. Since God is not of this world, the human soul is not ‘made’ of anything material, it is not made of anything that already existed in this world, it was brought into this world out of ‘nothing.’ This was as much an act of creation as the beginning of the universe out of nothing (a singularity, in science-speak) with the big bang.

The New Testament agrees with this view of the origins of humankind. In Corinthians 1 we learn:

15:46   The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual.

15:47   The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven.

15:48   As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.

15:49   And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.

On the scientific side of the hypothesis of a two-stage development of human beings, psychologist Julian Jaynes provided some important evidence of an amazing transformation in the human species that he believed took place relatively recently. In his remarkable book, The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Jaynes argued that for most of their existence, humans were not conscious and functioned not as we do but as very smart animals. This change from smart animals to fully human evidently occurred only a few thousand years ago.

According to Jaynes, the sudden and mysterious emergence of the Hebrews and Greeks—two people remarkably different from all the other peoples who existed before them—marks the point when full-blown consciousness first flourishes enough to come to the attention of history. That consciousness, expressed in the human pursuit of philosophy, mathematics, science, the arts, spirituality, and human rights, quickly spread across the world and became dominant in the human domain. It is reasonable to conclude that consciousness may be just the most obvious result of people being endowed with a soul. There can be no doubt that conscious people have done what God told descendants of Adam to do:

Genesis 1:28: God said to them, ‘Be fertile and become many. Fill the land and conquer it. Dominate the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every beast that walks the land.’

In any case, it is telling that ancient and medieval Jewish scholars of the Old Testament decoded the clues in Genesis and had no problem with the existence of other biological human beings at the time of Adam and Eve. The great Jewish scholar and authority, Maimonides, called these beings “mere animal(s) in human shape and form” [The Guide for the Perplexed, Part I: Chapter VII]. If true, this would solve many mysteries, such as questions about who the children of Adam and Eve mated with. Once the two-stage development of Man described in Genesis 1 is understood, the original question posed above can be answered. Yes, Adam was the first man created, and yes, his biological life form was chosen from an already existing population.

Questions from Christian Students

Sarah was recently invited, along with two other scientists, to take part in a panel discussion for a group of mostly Christian students. After the main discussion, students were invited to submit questions via text message; there was very little time to address them, so only a few were answered. The questions were quite good, so over the next few weeks, Surak and Sarah will answer most of them here. They are listed below, in no particular order. (Despite the title of this post, at least two of the questions appear to be from students who are currently struggling with belief.) 

Since becoming a Christian and living in an environment where your faith is tested every day, have you experienced doubt? If so, what has brought you through those doubts? (Part 9)

Was Adam the first man created or was he chosen from an already existing population? (Part 2)

Has an effort by students to share their faith with you ever made an impact on you in any way? (Part 3)

Have you ever had a student challenge an idea during class? (Part 3)

How does evolution relate to belief in a creator? And please address the time frame. / Please address the timing of evolution and the Bible. / How do you reconcile biologists teaching evolution and coming from apes with the creation story in Genesis? (Part 11)

What was it about Christianity that made you feel hostile towards it before you read the Bible? (Part 5)

Do you wish you could talk about your faith in the classroom / office hours? If so, what keeps you from doing it? (Part 3)

How do you account for the Higgs boson particle? (Part 1)

How hard is it to work in the field of academia in an anti-Christian environment from a faith perspective? (Part 9)

How do you recommend Christian students react to professors who are intolerant of their Christian faith? (Part 9)

You mentioned the big bang. In your interpretation, does the big bang coincide with the moment of creation? / How does scientific proof of the big bang line up with the biblical teaching of creationism? (Part 4)

Within your field of study what has been the most remarkable observation that you have made that reinforces your faith? (Part 1)

What was the most difficult specific objection to faith (particularly Christianity) that you had to get past? / What was the biggest stumbling block to faith that you had to overcome? / For new believers, how do you get past the line of ‘the Bible is just a story’ into faith? I’ve accepted that there is a God, but I’m struggling with accepting Jesus. (Part 7)

Outside of the creation story, have you found other parts of the Bible that support what you have observed scientifically? (Part 10)

What’s the most remarkable, undeniable discovery you have used to prove or disprove the faiths of different persons? (Part 1)

What’s the most common scientific argument you encounter against Christianity? How have you responded? (Part 6)

What is the most important piece of knowledge you have come to learn about evolution since becoming a believer? (Part 8)

What is your colleagues’ biggest reason for thinking the Gospel is not worth believing? (Part 5)

Would the discovery of intelligent life on another planet disprove the existence of God? (Part 8)

What would you say to someone who can’t believe in Christianity because of its exclusive claims, that no one enters the gates of Heaven without first meeting Jesus? (Part 12)

Dawkins hoisted by his own petard

According to Richard Dawkins, Expert on Religion, you cannot be a Christian if you don’t meet the criteria set by an atheist — which includes secular attitudes about certain issues and failure to identify the first book of the New Testament —  even if you self-identify as a Christian. Let’s adopt Dawkins’ standard as universal. Since Dawkins, himself, fails to identify the full title of Darwin’s Origin of Species, and in desperation even utters an appeal to God, it is reasonable to conclude that he’s neither an evolutionist nor an atheist.

Evolution of flowering plants

Genetic evidence from studies of flowering plants is showing that their evolution didn’t proceed by random mutation, but proceeded by building on previous genetic structure. It’s like a genetic Lego set:

Though a rose, carnation or tulip each has its own distinguishing feel, look and smell, they all share one common trait: the flower’s petals adorn its perimeter while the reproductive organs sit in the flower’s center.

In fact, just about every flowering plant ever cataloged follows this same pattern. Until recently scientists didn’t understand how this occurred.

[Plant biologist Detlef Weigel] “Now, we show that the pattern arose through clever recycling of another pattern that plants had previously used in shoots, for other purposes. This is a big step toward solving the “abominable mystery,” as Darwin put it ” the evolutionary origin of flowers and flowering plants.

Politics, science, and a false dichotomy

** Written by “Surak” **

There was a political confrontation last Thursday in New Hampshire between conservative politician, Rick Perry, and a liberal woman protestor. The dispute concerned Perry’s views about evolution and creationism, and it demonstrated why we need to be concerned about the future of science in America. Governor Perry spoke to the woman’s young son in front of the usual swarm of reporters eager for a headline. Perry gave them one by telling the boy that evolution was a theory with gaps in it. In an obvious attempt to contrive an unflattering media incident to hurt the Texas governor’s campaign, the mother could be heard urging the child to ask Perry why he didn’t believe in science. Perry ignored the mother and told the boy that in Texas both evolution and creationism are taught, “… because I figured you’re smart enough to figure out which one is right.” I am appalled by what the mother did and troubled by the implications of Perry’s response.

The mother undoubtedly thinks of herself as a defender of ‘science,’ by which I guess she means the usual vague understanding of the currently popular but failed mid-20th century version of evolution. Whatever her beliefs, it was an abuse of science to pull a cheap political trick like this. And, it was a disturbing corruption of her child’s innocence by putting words in his mouth he couldn’t possibly have understood. She obviously thought she was protecting him and other children from false ideas, but her actions amount to nothing more than a crude form of indoctrination based on the prevailing conviction that any questioning of ‘evolution’ is an intellectual sin.

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Summary of Gerald Schroeder event

As previously announced here, acclaimed scientist and theologian, Dr. Gerald Schroeder, presented a lecture last evening in Austin on the origins of humankind from a scientific and biblical perspective. By my count, over 150 people attended the lecture, with the audience skewing very young. Dr. Robb Wilson of The Scholar Redeemer audio-recorded the lecture, and we should have a podcast of sorts available here within the next few days. In the meantime, here is a brief summary of the event.

Dr. Schroeder began with his explanation for reconciling the biblical calendar with the scientifically-calculated age of the universe of 14 billion years using the well-studied phenomenon of time dilation that arises from the expansion of the universe. His explanation hinges on an ancient interpretation of Genesis 1, which says that the first six days are distinct and separate from the rest of the biblical calendar. He argued that these six days actually contain billions of years if looked at properly. Genesis time stops partway through the sixth day with a special event — the creation of Adam — at which point the conventional biblical calendar starts. Dr. Schroeder then segued into the main topic by announcing that Adam had parents. I suspect some people were rather shocked by this notion, but Dr. Schroeder laid out the overwhelming scientific evidence for pre-Adam hominids as well as evidence from the Bible itself. The key point was that the creation of Adam was a spiritual creation, not a physical one. Human-like beings existed prior to Adam, but they were not human because they lacked the neshama (which we may be tempted to call the “soul,” but it’s more than that). After Adam received the neshama, he is described as becoming a “communicating spirit.” This tells us that the defining quality of Adam as a human being, what separated him from his predecessors, was the ability to communicate with God.

The lecture ran slightly long, which unfortunately only left time for half a dozen questions from the audience. But they were all good, substantive questions; one in particular (which I can’t remember, but will hopefully be audible on the recording) was of particular interest to Dr. Schroeder. Several young people approached Dr. Schroeder after the lecture with more questions and comments and requests for book signings. I noticed that several of them were also taking photos of the diagrams he made on the whiteboard during his talk. For any of our readers who were present at the lecture and would like to know more about the information in those diagrams, I strongly encourage you to read his best-selling book, The Science of God.

Update: Due to some unforeseen difficulties posting the audio recording, there will be no podcast of the lecture. Sorry.

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Alien life and the Christian view of Creation

A bacterium from the meteorite (right) is similar in size and structure to the terrestrial bacterium Titanospirillum velox (left) (Riccardo Guerrero / Richard B. Hoover / Journal of Cosmology)

Fascinating:

Dr. Richard B. Hoover, an astrobiologist with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, has traveled to remote areas in Antarctica, Siberia, and Alaska, amongst others, for over ten years now, collecting and studying meteorites. He gave FoxNews.com early access to the out-of-this-world research, published late Friday evening in the March edition of the Journal of Cosmology. In it, Hoover describes the latest findings in his study of an extremely rare class of meteorites, called CI1 carbonaceous chondrites — only nine such meteorites are known to exist on Earth.

Though it may be hard to swallow, Hoover is convinced that his findings reveal fossil evidence of bacterial life within such meteorites, the remains of living organisms from their parent bodies — comets, moons and other astral bodies. By extension, the findings suggest we are not alone in the universe, he said.

Claims like this have been made before, and while previous claims turned out to be unsupported by the evidence, they always give rise to the question of whether the presence of life elsewhere in the universe undermines the Judeo-Christian view of Creation. The best answer is the simplest one: it doesn’t. Ancient and medieval Jewish scholars of the Genesis account of creation maintained that the universe was created with the potential for life built into it. This agrees with the growing scientific evidence that the universe is undeniably tuned for life. Working from both perspectives, I would be surprised if we did not eventually find evidence of at least the most basic forms of life elsewhere.

The religiously pivotal question is whether or not we ever find intelligent or even conscious life elsewhere since, according to the Judeo-Christian view, these would have to be deliberate creations by God. As physicist and theologian Gerald Schroeder points out in his book The Science of God, two different verbs are used in Genesis when describing key events: “created” and “made.” The former refers to the instantaneous act of bringing something into existence from nothing. Genesis uses this word only three times: first for the creation of the universe on day one, then for the creation of animal (intelligent) life on the fifth day, and for the last time on the sixth day when Adam is endowed with a human soul. For the remaining events of the six days of Genesis, including the third day when life first appears, the word “made” is used, as though something that already existed was merely being restructured. Non-intelligent forms of life, like the primitive bacteria discovered by Dr. Hoover, would fall under the category of “made.” Intelligent and conscious forms of life would fall under the category of “created.”

With this in mind, let’s ask a revised version of the key question, “Would the discovery of conscious beings elsewhere in the universe undermine the Judeo-Christian view of Creation?” It would if Genesis stated that the creation of Adam is a unique event, not to be repeated elsewhere in space or time. I have not seen anything in scripture to suggest this is the case. In fact, the great Christian apologist, C. S. Lewis, laid out a plausible scenario for conscious life on other planets within the context of the Judeo-Christian view in The Space Trilogy. In these novels, humans encounter alien beings on other planets in the solar system that, though they have some things in common with us, are wonderfully unfallen and thus enjoy direct communication with the Creator.

This brings us to one of the great problems for the materialist view that humans have no spiritual component: the need to explain why an overwhelming majority of humans throughout history have demonstrated a deep longing for the spiritual. The prevailing explanation seems to be that it is an evolutionary tic, an unfortunate byproduct of an otherwise beneficial genetic mutation. So let’s engage in a bit of speculation to turn the tables: would the discovery of conscious beings on another planet who turn out to be as spiritually-inclined as humans undermine the materialist view of existence? Seems to me it would, given the immense improbability of two entirely different species of conscious beings developing the same evolutionary tic independently.

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Austin lecture event: The Origins of Humankind

For those of you in the Austin, Texas area, the Christian Faculty Network is coordinating a special event in early March:

The Origins of Humankind: From Mud to Man
Comparing Biblical Writings with the Fossil Record

Presented by Dr. Gerald Schroeder

Tuesday, March 8th, 7:00 – 8:00 PM with Q&A to follow
The University of Texas at Austin, Ernest Cockrell Jr. Hall, Rm. 1.202

Free and open to the public

Gerald Schroeder is an MIT-trained physicist and author of the bestselling book The Science of God. He was on the staff in the physics department at MIT before moving to Israel to join the Weizmann Institute, the Volcani Research Institute, and the Hebrew University. He has consulted for agencies of several national governments and lectured all over the world. He has several scientific publications, and his work has been reported in Time, Newsweek, and Scientific American. His formal training in chemistry, physics, and the Earth and planetary sciences provides the basis for the broad scientific perspective he brings to his books and lectures. For the past twenty five years, Dr. Schroeder has also pursued a study of ancient biblical interpretation. An ability to handle the biblical material in the original languages allows him to tap the subtle depths contained in the original texts.

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