How to make science great again

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It’s incredible that in the wake of financial crises and populist movements around the world anyone would wonder whether a glitzy awards gala and lavish prizes would help improve the public’s view of science, yet that is one proposal to boost the public’s opinion in the wake of floundering financial support.

Bruce Y. Lee, who comments on science issues for Forbes magazine, observes a decline in science in the U.S., largely due to diminishing funding and brain drain, and says that to reverse it, “our society’s views of science have to change.” It’s true that reversal isn’t going to happen without public support, but I doubt the public is going to buy his proposal to reverse it, which is to lavishly fete scientists:

One way to do this is to give real scientists more celebrity treatment through awards shows, television, movies, advertisements and other means. Again, real scientists and not actors playing scientists. Seem a little far-fetched? Think that scientists can’t handle the spotlight and do anything besides science? Well, you only have to look in our country’s history to find numerous scientists playing more prominent and leadership roles in society. Moreover, after this year’s presidential election, anything seems possible.

This is cargo cult thinking. Celebrity is the result of public interest, not the cause of it. Celebrity isn’t what makes people love entertainment, it’s the ability of entertainers to connect with audiences in a deeply personal way that makes people love the medium and those who create it. It’s no different with science.

The moderately good news is that according to surveys by the National Science Board and the Pew Foundation, Americans remain generally positive about the benefits of science. The bad news is that: a) trust in and support for science is gradually declining; and b) while Americans are generally supportive of government investment in research, they are overwhelmingly disinclined to support increases in funding. I don’t know the exact reason for the latter, but it’s not unreasonable to assume that, given record government and personal debt and no pressing scientific issues on which Americans are united, most of the public doesn’t see science funding as a high priority. As for the former, I think a lot of this has to do with Americans feeling increasingly disconnected from the enterprise of science.

I’ve been studying and working in science for twenty years, and my experience during that time is that Americans are almost uniformly fascinated by science. People are just naturally inclined to be interested by the natural world, and more so as discoveries increasingly reveal what a complex and strange world we inhabit. It’s no surprise, then, that at least since the early 20th century the general public in the U.S. has been happy to confer celebrity status on the best-known and most personable scientists, including the original rock-star-scientist himself, Albert Einstein, as well people like Richard Feynman, Carl Sagan, and Stephen Hawking. These scientists captured the public’s imagination, not just because of their endearing personal quirks, but because they had a passion for popularizing science and making it seem accessible, relevant, and personal to the average person.

So, why is science, as Lee observed, in a state of decline in the U.S.? A lot can be said about this, but I’ll see if I can distill it a bit. For most of the history of science, funding has come from wealthy private donors and monarchs. While private donation remains an important source of funding, the vast majority now comes from the federal government. Government funding of science in the U.S. is a relatively new thing that had a modest beginning about a hundred years ago and really got going during the Eisenhower era with the military-industrial complex. Since then, there have been temporary peaks in funding during times of great political interest in science — world war, food crises, the space race, etc. — which led to gluts in science infrastructure, including more scientists, which then require ongoing investment to continue. However, it was naive to expect that science funding would’ve steadily increased indefinitely into the future. With a declining economy, few pressing social issues to galvanize the public about supporting science, and a gradual erosion of trust, there’s not much reason to be optimistic about the future of funding.

I want to go back to the idea of ostentatiously celebrating scientists to bolster public support for science and explain something that many in the upper echelons of science seem not to understand. There was already a deep reservoir of appreciation and admiration for science and scientists that was built up over hundreds of years of dedicated work and relatively recent attempts by scientists to connect with the public through popularization. We already had science celebrities like Einstein, Sagan, and Hawking who made the average person feel connected to science in a personal way. So, what happened? What happened is that much of that celebrity and public goodwill was squandered over the last several decades by over-politicization, ideologizing, and corruption of science. If Lee and others have any interest in generating public support for science, they need to address and reverse these things.

As far as I can see, the most pressing PR problems for science are:

  1. The politicization of science
  2. The use of science as ideological weaponry
  3. Corruption in science
  4. The over-sensationalizing and misreporting of science by the popular media
  5. The dumbing down of education

1. When the average person is told that, in spite of his concerns and reasonable skepticism, he must alter his lifestyle because of something he’s not allowed to question without being labeled a science denier, he feels disconnected from science. This started when certain scientists and their supporters began using language like, “the debate is over” and “there is a consensus” to shut down discussion. This is bad. It has to stop.

2. When the average person is told that science is hostile to his most cherished beliefs, he feels disconnected from science. This began at least as far back as Thomas Huxley, Darwin’s infamous “bulldog,” who deliberately misused the theory of evolution to undermine Christian belief by claiming that evolution had rendered God superfluous. This has unfortunately continued not only in biology, but in physics, as well with Stephen Hawking trading in his admirable career as a physicist and popularizer of science in order to become an anti-religious amateur philosopher. This isn’t to say scientists shouldn’t have their own opinions about the philosophical meaning of their work, but they should certainly be circumspect about using their work as a way to attack the dominant belief system of the people who fund it.

3. This one isn’t entirely the fault of scientists. The collapse of government funding bubbles has created a hyper-competitive environment that not only promotes the propagation of honest errors, but provides perverse incentives to cheat. This taints all of science, and creates an image problem with the public. Nobody wants to subsidize errors and fraud, after all. Ironically, logic dictates that the best way to deal with this is to eliminate government funding.

4. This one annoys scientists to no end. The media have a bad habit of grabbing hold of a mildly interesting scientific result and blowing it wildly out of proportion, mostly to get clicks and more ad revenue, but sometimes to reinforce an anti-religion bias. A recent example of this was the ludicrously over-sensationalized headline that physicists had disproved the big bang and a beginning to the universe.

I contacted a physicist whose results had been given this media treatment, and, contrary to how the reporter had spun the article, he expressed confusion and frustration over how his work had been misrepresented to serve an anti-religion narrative. This is why I won’t talk to the popular media about my work anymore unless the journalist is a credentialed scientist and the journal has an established track record of scientific accuracy. But other scientists keep falling for it, because they’re far too trusting of the media.

Again, when the average person is told that science is hostile to his most cherished beliefs, he feels disconnected from science. Furthermore, the average person, though he may not have advanced training in science, also has a sense of when he’s being sold a bill of goods. Frustrated, he may not realize it’s the pop media that can’t be trusted, and he just tosses everything out as untrustworthy. This won’t stop until scientists start refusing to feed the madness and hold the media accountable.

5. Schools are failing to teach children not only essential skills and knowledge of facts, but how to think critically. Most young people can recite at least the most basic scientific facts — for instance, they know that the Earth goes around the Sun — but given my experience, most of them have no idea how science works. The Pew survey results likewise indicate that both scientists and average Americans hold a negative view of STEM education at the K-12 level. Until this changes, it’s unreasonable to expect that science will not continue to decline in this country.

Unless something significant changes, I’m skeptical that the decline in government funding will be reversed. Personally, I would prefer some version of private support — I think it encourages better research and accountability — but, whatever your preference, it’s extremely doubtful that we can reverse this trend by trying to manufacture a culture of celebrity around scientists. Rather, I think we should deal with the core issues of science’s PR problem, and make Americans once again feel connected to the enterprise of science. Then, maybe, we can make science in America great again.

Less than half of all scientists are atheist

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The first rule of dealing with argumentative atheists is to fact-check everything they say, because if it isn’t an outright lie, it’s a half-truth or a manipulation.

Take, for instance, the oft-repeated statistic that “93% of scientists are atheist.” This is a half-truth — more accurately a tenth-of-a-percent truth. The 93% number applies to the membership of the National Academy of Sciences, which represents only 0.1% of scientists in the U.S. It’s a very elite group of 2,200 members out of millions of scientists employed in the U.S., and is far from representative of the entire scientific community.

So, what’s the real number? According to a Pew survey of scientists in the U.S., the number is about 41% non-believers vs. 51% who believe in God or some other higher power (7% didn’t respond on the survey).

If you look at these survey results in detail, you notice some interesting things. For instance, younger scientists are more likely to be believers than older scientists. That’s why I laugh when atheists tell me the remaining 7% of NAS scientists will eventually become 0% as people become more enlightened by science. It’s nothing more than wishful thinking. The most unbelieving age group of scientists is 65 and older, and this is reflected in the NAS statistic. The NAS is comprised of very distinguished scientists, most of whom tend to be “old” for obvious reasons — it takes a long time to carry out the sort of work that gets you noticed by and elected to the Academy. If the nomination and election process is even somewhat fair, then we expect the % of NAS scientists who are atheist to go down, not up, as these more spiritual younger scientists mature and distinguish themselves in their careers.

Now that we know the truth, that fewer than half of all scientists in the U.S. are non-believers, we can ask questions. Forty-one percent non-believing is still rather high given that only 4% of the general U.S. population identifies that way, so what’s going on? Given the atheist propaganda that religion and science are at war with each other, you might be tempted to think it’s because of science. However, once you dig into the reasons for non-belief, it turns out to have less to do with science than you might think. Elaine Howard Ecklund, a professor of sociology at Rice University, interviewed several scientists at elite research universities to determine why they lacked belief in God. She details her findings in her book, Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think:

For some, not believing has everything to do with learning more about science. For others, science itself had little influence on their decision not to believe. In fact, for the majority of scientists I interviewed, it is not the engagement with science itself that leads them away from religion. Rather their reasons for unbelief mirror the circumstances in which other Americans find themselves: they were not raised in a religious home; they have had bad experiences with religion; they disapprove of God or see God as too changeable. For others, religion is simply irrelevant to their life’s passion of science.

She goes on to explore each of these reasons in more depth and provides anecdotes from her interviews with individual scientists. I found it particularly interesting that those who were raised in religious homes found that their parents and church mentors were unable to answer their questions about religion. This response leads me to believe that many of them are open to believing in God, but these naturally very curious people are not getting satisfactory answers to big questions. (Fellow Christians, do you see an opportunity here?)

Here’s what you should take away from all this. Never, ever, ever take anything an argumentative atheist tells you at face value. That goes doubly for atheists on social media; they are bored, frustrated, socially-atypical people who live to stir things up with Christians. They are almost always lying, bending, twisting, or otherwise manipulating the facts. Always check for yourself, and let the truth set you free.

Why Rationalia is doomed to failure

Earlier this week, science popularizer Neil deGrasse Tyson proposed a virtual nation that sounds like a science-fetishists dream-come-true:

It provoked some mocking responses on Twitter, like this one

The idea is ripe for mockery, because, of all people, a scientist should understand what a subjective basis for policy this is.

As a scientist, I’m very much in favor of evidence and reason; but to base an entire nation’s policy on the weight of evidence is ludicrous, for one simple reason. Has our knowledge of the world stayed the same in the last 500 years? the last 100 years? the last 5 years? the last six months? The last six minutes? The answer, of course, is no. The weight of evidence is constantly changing. There have been so many major revolutions in science and philosophy based on the current weight of evidence that our view of the world has been upended more times than you can probably count. Ironically, to base your policy only on the weight of evidence means that your policy is completely subjective, not objective.

Also, who decides how to interpret the evidence? Interpretation is subject to limitations, like current technology, limited human perception, and human emotions. This is why bad theories persist for so long in spite of evidence to the contrary, and why there are alternate theories for just about everything. And even when there’s consensus, that’s hardly a guarantee that the evidence won’t support an entirely different view in the future. Remember, there was a time when most people thought the Sun went around the Earth and that there were no such things as germs.

But for the sake of argument, let’s accept the premise of Rationalia and apply its sole law of the land to judge whether Rationalia would be a place in which anyone would want to live. We don’t need to imagine it, because there have already been at least two major historical movements based on reason and evidence — the French Revolution and communism. The first devolved into an orgy of violence and produced the exact opposite of what it intended, and the second led to misery and genocide on a scale never before seen on earth before it ultimately collapsed under the sheer weight of its opposition to reality. The weight of evidence says that any nation whose policy is based solely on the weight of evidence will be an unmitigated disaster.

Don’t misunderstand me. The point here is not to reject evidence and reason — evidence and reason are important and have their place in any decision-making process — but they cannot be the sole arbiters of policy.

[This isn’t the post I alluded to yesterday. That one probably won’t be posted until next week. -Ed.]

A scientific model that predicts everything predicts nothing

If you’re not following Steve Goddard on Twitter or reading his stuff at Real Science, you should be. He posts a veritable flood of evidence pointing to global warming / human-caused climate change as manufactured nonsense. Yesterday, he Tweeted this.

It made me laugh, because it’s an effective lampooning of the most significant scientific problem with climate science — specifically, the part of climate science that claims human activity is changing the climate — which is its lack of predictive power.

If you read the news, it seems like climate change advocates are blaming everything on climate change. It’s warmer this summer than it was last year — climate change! It’s colder than we expected this spring — climate change! We’re getting record levels of snow — climate change! We’re getting the exact same number of hurricanes this season as we did a hundred years ago — climate change!

This is why climate change activists changed the terminology from “global warming” to “climate change.” Did you notice that bit of sleight of hand? Nobody except for those stuck in 20th century terminology refers to global warming anymore. This is because the average person was, not unreasonably, starting to wonder how global warming could account for every sort of climate phenomenon, including record cold temperatures. But everyone knows the climate has been changing since forever, so it doesn’t sound as nonsensical to attribute everything to climate change instead of global warming.

The problem with this is that any scientific model that predicts everything predicts nothing. The power of a scientific model is its ability to accurately and specifically predict what will happen given a set of inputs. Can you imagine how useless Newton’s universal law of gravity would be if it gave you every possible answer to the question of what the force of gravity is between two bodies of specific mass and at a specific separation? But that’s not much different than the current state of climate science.

As a scientist, I’ve been asked several times what it would take for me to believe that human-caused climate change is real. The answer is simple: evidence. The most powerful evidence would be predictive models that work. I would like to see models that accurately predict temperature trends, hurricane activity, rise in sea levels, and anything else that is currently attributable to climate change for ten years, based on a set of anticipated levels of “human activity.” Climate scientists would create their models, make their predictions based on how much CO2 human activity is pumping into the atmosphere, and then we all see how accurately these predictions match the data for the next ten years.

Now, in order for me to be sure that these models and the data are accurately reflecting reality, I would need to see these results replicated by different groups who are not affiliated with each other. I would also need scientific transparency. I would need the climate models and the raw, unprocessed data as well as the processed data to be made freely available to anyone who requests them. And I would need a detailed explanation of how the data are processed for analysis.

I would feel significantly more confident in these models and data if climate change advocates would stop claiming “the science is settled,” emphasizing the bogus consensus, and demonizing people who are skeptical of climate change. No more labeling skeptics as “deniers,” and there must be a halt to egregious nonsense like threats from government officials to prosecute climate change skeptics.

If the models and data check out, and the models correctly anticipate temperature trends, hurricane activity, rise in sea levels, and anything else that is currently attributable to climate change for at least ten years, and climate change proponents stop behaving in a hysterical and unethical way, then I’ll believe human-caused climate change is real.

You can generalize all this and apply to any field of science to determine if it’s legitimate science:

  • Do the models have predictive power?
  • Do the models of different groups of scientists produce similar results?
  • Are the models made available to others by request?
  • Are the raw and processed data made available to others by request?
  • Are the models and data deemed legitimate by others not affiliated with the scientists who promote them?
  • Do proponents respond to reasonable skepticism with answers to objections instead of scorn, derision, and hysteria?

If the answer to ALL of these questions is YES, then you have a legitimate science.

My problem with climate science — the reason I am skeptical that human activity is changing the earth’s climate — is that, currently, the answer is NO to all of these questions.

Bill Nye the ignorant guy

A philosophy student asks Bill Nye what he thinks about other science popularizers, such as Neil deGrasse Tyson and Stephen Hawking, dismissing philosophy as unimportant:

While Nye claims in his response that philosophy raises “cool questions,” he essentially dismisses it, and in a manner that betrays an ignorance of essential Western philosophy. A writer at Quark describes his statements as “ludicrously wrong” and explains why philosophy is, in fact, relevant not only to science but to our everyday lives.

What stood out to me in Nye’s dismissal of philosophy was his skepticism of the idea that “reality isn’t real or that what you sense and feel is not authentic.” Most of us do indeed go about our daily lives on the assumption that what we sense and feel is authentic, but that doesn’t mean we can dismiss the idea that it’s all an illusion. So, why does Nye dismiss it? Because he can drop a hammer on his foot and feel the sensation of pain.

I’m a little astonished that a Science Guy would use such an example to address one of the most fundamental questions in philosophy, given that it’s not only a logical fallacy, but demonstrably, scientifically flawed. Amputees experience a sensation known as phantom pain in limbs that no longer exist, and neurological experiments have been able to create the sensation of touch by directly stimulating the brain. The sensations exist in both cases, but are those experiences authentic? Not by Nye’s definition.

I’m also a little astonished that a Science Guy would ignore one of the most fundamental scientific arguments against the authenticity of experience, which is the Boltzmann Brain idea. The Boltzmann Brain idea is a version of the brain-in-a-vat argument that has been popularized by the Christian philosopher, William Lane Craig, who makes frequent use of it in debates with atheists. The idea is that in the absence of a personal entity creating the universe, it’s statistically much more likely that atoms in the universe would spontaneously arrange themselves into brains that hallucinate having experiences than that these same atoms would spontaneously arrange themselves into the vast, complex, and ordered structure we observe in the universe. To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, if we are merely Boltzmann Brains, then the sensations we think we’re experiencing are nothing more than the atoms in our brains, for physical or chemical reasons, arranging themselves in a certain way that give us as a by-product these sensations. The question of whether this is the case goes beyond a simple inability to disprove it; it’s much more likely to be true if the material universe is all that there is.

The only way you can be reasonably certain that you’re not just a brain in a vat is to assume that a personal entity — God — created the universe, an assumption I’m reasonably certain Nye, the avowed agnostic, rejects. Nye is therefore entirely unjustified in dismissing the idea that reality might not be real or that experiences may not be authentic. This is why philosophers have been discussing the nature of reality and experience for thousands of years. It’s also why science could only have arisen from the Christian worldview.

Now, here’s the punchline for the agnostic Science Guy who dismisses the importance of philosophy in favor of the “realism” of science. When you understand the big questions of philosophy sufficiently well, you understand why belief in God is necessary for science to even exist.

Is God’s word difficult to understand? Part II

A reader sent in a question about the difficulty of understanding God’s word. In Part I, Surak clarified and explained how easy it is for the average Christian to acquire the scientific understanding needed to defend scripture. In Part II, Sarah discusses the inherent difficulty (or not) of understanding God’s word.

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?

My response to TF and everyone else who shares his concern is this. How much effort a person has to make to understand the scientific truth about God’s creation depends on two things. First, if someone wants to understand just for himself, the truth is really simple: the opening statement of the Bible and modern scientific agree that our universe had a beginning and was created from nothing. That magnificent truth gained from scripture and confirmed by science is enough understanding to make sense out of the world and our place in it. Everything else is just details.

However, if you aspire to help others find the scientific truth about God and his works, you will have to make a greater effort, because there are many questions about the universe that confuse and trouble other people. As soon as you try to help these people, you will encounter the second problem that makes understanding more difficult. Those who accept the responsibility to scientifically minister to others will encounter individuals and groups who deliberately make understanding more difficult for everyone.

I once spent a frustrating two hours watching a debate between Hugh Ross and Kent Hovind, and much of the discussion centered around this very question. Hugh Ross is a Christian astrophysicist who believes, as I do, that the universe and the Earth are billions of years old. Kent Hovind is a Young-Earth Creationist who claims the Bible says the Earth is just a few thousand years old. The debate centered on the age of the Earth, and how we know what it is.

Hovind stubbornly rejected nearly everything Ross offered as evidence. As a scientist, I can tell you that the evidence Ross offered was scientifically sound and compelling. In fact, Ross’s work is on the cutting edge of scientific efforts to understand the place of humankind in the universe God created. But, Hovind rejected the evidence out of hand and showed no respect for modern science.

One point Hovind repeatedly insisted on during the debate was that people in possession of what he called “special knowledge: about scripture and the world are gurus who are promoting cults, not Christian faith. Hovind implied Ross is a “guru” promoting a “cult” form of Christianity simply because Ross relies heavily on scientific understanding and careful translations of ancient Hebrew to interpret Genesis the way he does.

It is troubling that Hovind regards the study of God’s creation and the study of God’s word in the Old Testament as somehow wrong. His attitude is reminiscent of the Medieval age when science was first getting started, and dogmatic people accused the new scientists of sorcery and witchcraft for their efforts to understand physics, chemistry, and biology. Hovind’s resistance to science has a very primitive feel to it.

Hovind must know that a “guru” is someone who claims to have special knowledge that only they can achieve through some higher spiritual power. The special knowledge of a guru can only be passed down in mystic ways from one guru to the next. The claims of a scholar or scientist are in sharp contrast to those of a guru. The deep knowledge of a scholar is something that is attainable by anyone who has the inclination and time to pursue it — no special spiritual powers are required. Scientific knowledge is something that can be accumulated and passed on from one scholar to another in a rational, testable, non-mystical manner.

I don’t believe TF is making the same point Hovind did, that the knowledge needed to interpret Genesis the way I do is “special.” Hovind is intellectually dishonest, and he was not debating in good faith. He demonstrated no openness to being persuaded by any amount of evidence. On the contrary, he used any means he could to undermine and dismiss the evidence. Science has served humankind so well because it has one ironclad rule — go where the evidence takes you. Hovind is not willing.

I know that TF is asking an honest and important question: is the truth of the Bible accessible to everyone? After all, not everyone has the deep, scholarly knowledge required to discover Schroeder’s interpretation of Genesis or to fully understand it. Does this mean the truth of creation is complex and hard to understand? The answer is both yes and no. I’ll start with the no and then explain the yes.

The truth of creation is not difficult to understand

The essential and fundamental truth of creation is not difficult to understand. God makes the essentials — the things you really need to know to be saved — understandable by everyone. These essentials are:

  1. God is the sovereign Creator of all things.
  2. Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, and through Him we have eternal life.

There is, of course, much more that can be said about the meaning and purpose of the Christian faith, but if a person understood only these two essentials and really believed them, that’s all he would need to be saved.

In terms of the first essential, all a person has to do is read the first few words of the Bible to understand that God is the sovereign Creator of all things: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” That’s it. But it’s such a simple and self-evident concept that a person doesn’t even strictly need a Bible to come to this conclusion.

In my testimony, I explained how, despite virtually no contact with the Christian faith, I arrived at the conclusion that God created everything all on my own, just by looking at the physical world around me. Everything we see in the physical world is testimony to God’s sovereignty. (This is straight out of Psalm 19 and Romans 1:20.)

And, if a person reads a little bit about astronomy and physics, he will find that even the simplest understanding of big bang cosmology is sufficient to support the idea of God as the sovereign Creator. The big bang tells us there was a beginning to the universe, therefore it was created. The Creator logically must exist beyond the universe, must necessarily be beyond the limits of space and time, and is therefore a non-corporeal and timeless entity — is that not a basic description of God? A person doesn’t need a degree in physics or fluency in Hebrew to understand the profoundest truth about God and His creation.

As for the second essential, all we have to do is read the Gospels to understand it. As TF pointed out, Jesus made the truth intelligible to everyone. At the most fundamental level, these two essentials are what a Christian needs to know, and both are completely understandable by anyone.

The truth of creation is difficult to understand

So, if the essentials are all we need to be saved, why bother to search for hidden meanings or deeper truths in scripture, especially if they’re so difficult? The answer is that we make the effort in order to fulfill our Christian mission of growing closer to God. God wants us to make a constant effort to know him, so he challenges us. Knowing God should be a lifelong pursuit. Most of us know from experience that the more valuable a thing, the more difficult it is to attain.

God made his truth very simple when it comes to understanding our relationship to him and how we are to be saved. But, God also made us curious for a reason. People should be most curious about their maker. It is important that we always have questions about him as we are seeking him. People need to feel restless about their understanding of God to avoid becoming complacent. We should never become so arrogant that we feel we’ve reached some ultimate level of understanding. Our lack of understanding reminds us to be humble before our Creator.

Christian author, Frank Viola, listed several “shocking” beliefs of St. Augustine, and this one is relevant here: “If you are going to teach Scripture, you must have a knowledge of the natural world, mathematics, music, science, history, the liberal arts, and a mastery of dialectics (the science of disputing).” This doesn’t mean you have to be an expert in all of these things (which is impossible anyway), but it does mean you are obligated to have a broad knowledge that encompasses these things.

The study of the Bible and the world is more difficult for those who aspire to teach others. Ministering to others is a great calling and a heavy responsibility that requires one’s best efforts. Fortunately, it doesn’t require a lifetime of university-level study, but it does require some basic proficiency.

There was a time when I wanted to become proficient in ancient Hebrew so that I could really delve into Genesis, but I soon realized I have neither the time nor the inclination. Instead, I rely on the work of Hebrew scholars to determine the nuanced meaning of certain Hebrew passages. This doesn’t mean I’m off the hook — this still requires familiarizing myself with the basics of Hebrew and the methods scholars use to determine meaning from ancient texts. Even though I will never become anywhere near as proficient as someone like Gleason Archer, I’ve learned enough to evaluate the credibility of what the scholars are saying.

Some people balk at the idea of relying on experts, but the way I see it is this. God gave us Biblical scholars and scientists, just as God gave us engineers, physicians, craftsmen, musicians, storytellers, and every other type of person we need to have a functioning civilization. These are people who have the desire and God-given talent for doing specific things very well so that we don’t each have to try to master everything ourselves.

God made us into social beings for this reason. We are admonished to love one another, and part of loving is trusting each other and working together. So, I accept the honest efforts of other scientists and scholars and do my best to build on it. I know that people are fallible in their understanding of scripture and the world, but in general scientists help each other to correct mistakes and make steady progress in the search for God’s truth.

So my message to TF and all of those who doubt their ability to understand God and his works through science is this. You have willingly taken on the role of a teacher. God loves you for your honest question and your genuine desire to know. Your lack of confidence in the face of such a great challenge is understandable, but you cannot fail as long as you keep trying. Every step on the path to understanding God and his works is a triumph. It is a testimony to your commitment that you will never know enough to satisfy your desire to know God. It is enough that you will be able to help others who share your holy desire.

It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out. — Proverbs 25:2.

Fire Back: Where the Readers Respond

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In which we discuss the scientific method in terms of the gospels and one beginning.

PS writes:

Thanks for taking time to answer my questions. I find the Biblical notion of the Gospel very intriguing, as well as current notions within the field of cosmology.

1. When doing science, we employ the scientific method to arrive at a particular degree of certainty for a given problem. How does belief in Jesus differ? Are we to use the same scientific method when assessing the veracity of the Gospel? Or is there another method, rigorously defined and assessed, that we can employ?

2. To what degree of certainty does the average professional cosmologist think space/time had a single beginning? I think I’ve noted that cosmologist who actually study this notion are not very dogmatic.

3. What percentage of actual cosmologists hold to a high degree of certainty (95%?) that space/time had a single beginning?

4. What degree of certainty do you have that the Gospel is true? Is it possible for you to change your mind in the future?

Sorry if these are tough questions, but I’ve been very curious about these notions for a long time.

The eminent cosmologist and professor of philosophy, Michael Heller, points out in his book, Ultimate Explanations of the Universe, that the scientific method has proved so powerful a tool for investigating the physical world that there is a tendency to misapply it by extending its use to anything a person might wish to study. However, the scientific method is not only not applicable to everything we could ever want to investigate, it’s not even applicable to the majority of things we could ever want to investigate.

1. The scientific method is not applicable to the gospels. We couldn’t use science to test them any more than we could use science to test the historical claims about George Washington or Alexander the Great. Instead, we apply the legal-historical method to determine if the claims about Jesus in the gospels are true. My friend, J. Warner Wallace, who is a homicide detective and skilled apologist, explains this approach in his book, Cold Case Christianity.

2. Presumably PS is referring to a cyclical model in which the universe bangs, expands, contracts, and crunches, over and over, possibly for eternity, but the question isn’t answerable as written. We can assign a certainty to something like the measured age of the universe, but not to something that is beyond our ability to measure. Theoretical cosmologists have attempted to come up with models that take the current physical evidence and fit it into a cyclical timeline, and these do have some testable aspects. In terms of the physical evidence, however, there is no support for multiple beginnings, and the models just don’t work. It looks like we’re stuck with one beginning.

3. I have no idea. But, as the link above shows, the best and the brightest in theoretical cosmology have not been able to make cyclical models work. In terms of the models and evidence, the cyclical universe is currently a dead end. That doesn’t mean some cosmologists won’t hold to it for personal or philosophical reasons.

4. I can’t quantify it, but I’m as certain about the claims of the gospels as I am of the claims about other major historical events that are widely accepted, which is to say very certain. Enough to bet my life on it. It’s always possible for me to change my mind about something, given sufficient evidence.

Image: Sermon on the Mount by Carl Bloch

Theory is not fact

Whenever someone even hints at a criticism of Darwinism or “climate change,” the True Believers come out of the woodwork to try to shame the heretics. You can always tell who they are, because they say things like “climate change is a fact” or “evolution is a fact the same way gravity is a fact.” The implication here is, you wouldn’t be so dumb as to deny the reality of gravity, would you, so why are you denying the reality of evolution or climate change?

But here the True Believer shows his blind faith, for with his inability to distinguish between fact and theory he exposes himself as someone whose understanding of how science works doesn’t even rise to the level of middle school. Another way to describe this sort of blind faith is science fetishism. As I told the anklebiting commenter to Surak’s article, we do not permit people to fetishize science here.

A fact is something we observe; for example, that objects in free fall accelerate toward the Earth’s center at a rate of 9.8 m/s2 or that the Moon orbits the Earth with an average orbital speed of 3700 km/s. There is no doubt of the fact that objects fall toward each other, because we see it and measure it all the time; this is what the science fetishist means when he says “gravity is a fact.” But what he apparently doesn’t realize is that gravity is a theory. Theories are not facts, they are models that attempt to make sense of the facts. And, as it turns out, there are several theories of gravity that attempt to make sense of what we know: Newton’s universal law of gravitation, Einstein’s general theory of relativity, modified Newtonian dynamics, and so on. And, as we all know from the various scientific revolutions that have taken place in the last several hundred years, no theory is invulnerable to being overturned by new and better evidence or new ways of thinking.

When a science fetishist leaps into a conversation to tell you that evolution is a fact, the first thing you should tell him is that you are fully aware of the fact that different lifeforms have emerged over the course of the Earth’s natural history and that lifeforms have been observed to change over relatively short periods of time. And then ask him which theory explains it — microevolution, macroevolution, speciation, microbial evolution, or chemical evolution — and why. At that point you will expose what Hugh Ross describes as the evolution shell game when fetishists argue about evolution, wherein he will either substitute the facts of fossils and other evidence for theory or well-established forms of evolution for those that are not at all supported.

As for climate change as “fact,” I can only surmise that our True Believer is not aware that scientists — including the famous hockey stick guy, himself — are now finally admitting that there has been no significant warming in the last two decades. It’s only a matter of time before the whole edifice of human-caused “climate change” collapses.

UPDATE: im2l844 asks in the comments:

Do you have a concise response to the “consensus” argument that is invariably trotted out by the AGW faithful?

Yes, there are two responses: who cares? and what consensus?

Who cares if there’s a consensus? Reality isn’t decided by a vote. There was a time when 97% of scientists thought the Earth was the center of the universe, so that tells you the value of consensus.

The reality is, there isn’t a consensus about global warming or climate change or whatever the True Believer wants to call it. The 97% statistic that is invariably trotted out is based on a laughably small number of scientists polled — just 77 — who met the criteria for a 2-minute survey. What the True Believer either doesn’t know or refuses to acknowledge is that 31,000 scientists from an array of climate-related fields have signed a petition stating they believe “there is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate.”

Science as true worship, Part III

In Part I of this series, Sarah talked about the Christian influence on the philosophy of science and the increasing corruption of science the further it moves from its Christian roots. In Part II, she discussed how to avoid this corruption. In Part III, Surak delves into where science has dangerously strayed from the pursuit of truth.

Modern science arose in only one time and place: Western Europe, during its peak as the realm of Christendom. Science as an institution is the result of cultures based on Christian beliefs, values, and faith. No other belief system or culture that has ever existed has proven itself capable of originating or sustaining science. With the collapse of Christian culture in Western Europe and North America, one of the most urgent questions mankind faces is whether or not there is any hope that some emerging belief system or culture other than Christianity can effectively support the continued scientific search for knowledge.

The evidence says no. The only likely candidate for the next cultural champion of science is the secular humanist culture that has replaced Christian culture in Western Europe and Canada, and is currently locked in a winner-take-all struggle with Christian culture in the United States. Secular humanists constantly congratulate themselves on how scientifically superior they are to Christians, but the evidence leaves no doubt that humanists have done nothing but corrupt science in the fields of study they’ve dominated for the last century and a half. Let’s examine them.

Biology

It was inevitable that Darwin would get lots of things wrong. He was a scientific pioneer who came up with his theory before the first major work was done on dinosaur fossils, so he couldn’t have known about the profound effects natural catastrophes had on the development of life on earth. He wrote his books before the discovery of the Burgess Shale fossils that led to the discovery of the Cambrian Explosion of animal life about 540 million years ago. All of the fossil evidence uncovered since the publication of Origin of Species has destroyed Darwin’s primary conjecture of a gradual evolution of life on earth, as the modern biologist Niles Eldredge made very clear to his fellow biologists in the early 1970s.

Darwin also formulated his theory long before all of the great advances in the field of genetics. The most recent discoveries in the new field of Evolutionary Development (Evo Devo), which combines the study of embryology with the study of evolution, has utterly destroyed the Neo-Darwinian notion of the ‘tree of life.’

None of this has been publicly admitted by biologists, because biology is no longer a faithful servant of science. Biology’s first loyalty is to the militantly missionary faith of atheistic secular humanism. Thomas Huxley, Darwin’s original arch defender, initiated the use of evolution theory to attack the beliefs and influence of Christianity even though he did not believe in two key parts of Darwinism: gradualism and natural selection. Huxley rightly pointed out to his friend and colleague that there was no evidence for these necessary elements of early evolutionary theory. Darwin countered that people should be patient because as yet undiscovered fossil evidence was sure to confirm his hypotheses. The fossil and genetic evidence has done just the opposite, but humanists dogmatically oppose any challenge to Darwin’s beliefs because he has been anointed as one of the three great prophets of atheistic humanism.

There is a simple way to test this assertion. Find a professional biologist and try to get him to say the following, “Darwin was wrong about most things.” This statement is undeniably true. Darwin was a true scientist worthy of honor, and a case can be made that Darwin’s contributions in the field of biology are equal to those of Copernicus in astrophysics. But, physicists have no problem giving Copernicus credit for his immense contribution to modern science while fully accepting and publicly acknowledging that he was wrong about a lot of things. Biologists who cannot or will not make a similar public statement about Darwin’s limitations because of their opposition to Christianity are not true scientists, they are apologists for atheism who are corrupting science.

Behavioral Science

The effects of secular humanism are even worse than the corruption of an existing science such as biology. Secular humanism has proven to be an absolute barrier to new science. The other two prophets of atheistic humanism, Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud, are truly disturbing examples of the deadening effects of humanism on science.

Marx’s so-called ‘scientific socialism’ was dominant for generations in the social sciences. The application of truly scientific beliefs based on Christianity led to genuine science, the Industrial Revolutions, and the rise of governments based on the observance of human rights. Efforts to reform societies according to Marx’s atheistic ‘science’ led to the horrendous death, destruction, and inhumanity of the communist movement. It is truly appalling that after such complete theoretical and practical failure, Marxism is still influential on America’s college campuses.

Freud, the other great prophet of atheism, dominated the study of individual behavior from the beginning of the 20th century. Freud was a charlatan who couldn’t even cure himself or offer any credible evidence for his beliefs. He gained his immense power over behavioral science by simply telling humanists what they wanted to hear — that Christianity is bad. His influence and that of many other atheist intellectuals has prevented psychology from becoming a true science. Again, if you doubt this, ask yourself, “Where are the great accomplishments of the behavioral sciences?”

Around the time Marx and Darwin were becoming influential, true scientists in the field of medicine were developing the germ theory of disease. Through the work of genuine scientists, such as the devoutly Christian Louis Pasteur, medical science has saved and improved countless millions of lives through advances in sterilization and immunology. If psychology, sociology, economics, and the other behavioral disciplines had become true sciences, there would be similar scientific accomplishments and benefits to humankind by now. There is a reason that emotional disorders like chronic depression cannot be prevented or cured, and that reason is, psychology is not yet a true science. It will never be a true science as long as the study of human behavior is dominated by humanists who consistently bend science in their pursuit of social influence and political power.

Humanists will never renounce the three greatest prophets of atheism, because Darwinism, Marxism, and Freudianism form the dogmatic foundation of the secular anti-Christian belief system. Darwin is used to argue that God is not necessary. Freud gave a thin scientific veneer to the atheist lie that Christian values constitute unhealthy restrictions on human desires. Marx justified an all-out assault on Christian culture by falsely characterizing it as an intolerable oppression of the masses. The behavioral disciplines will only become true sciences if secular humanism is overthrown and the barriers to truth that humanism has built over the last fifteen decades are torn down.

Climate Change

The corrupting influence of humanism on science is getting worse. The failed science of climate change demonstrates that not only does humanism stand in the way of science, it is diverting humankind in the direction of collective insanity.

The first clue that something was terribly wrong in the study of ‘global warming’ was the assertion that the science is settled. No true scientist would ever utter or condone such a blatantly anti-scientific statement. Science is never settled! It will never be settled unless people someday achieve a god-like understanding of the world in which they exist. The greatest scientists in the study of physics understand this and would recoil in disgust at any suggestion that the great questions in the fields of astrophysics or quantum mechanics are settled. Any person who makes such a statement or agrees with it is a dangerous enemy of science.

Climate change alarmists constantly disregard the basic law of science, which is to go where the evidence takes you no matter what. They violate the rule, because humanist political goals are more important to them than the search for truth, which Christians hold as sacred. Climate change activists posing as scientists have ignored the evidence about global temperatures from satellites that shows no global warming for almost two decades, they’ve ignored the evidence about global temperatures from weather balloons that confirms the satellite evidence, and they have been caught shamelessly manipulating the ground station evidence so that it conforms to their failed climate models.

Christian beliefs, values, and faith lifted the majority of mankind out of ignorance, squalor, and tyranny through genuine science, the Industrial Revolutions, and the pursuit of human rights. At the beginning of the 20th century about three-quarters of the world’s population lived in abject poverty. At the end of the century only about one-quarter of humanity remained in poverty. The world economy fueled by fossil sources of energy and fired by the Christian scientific spirit could put an end to poverty by the middle of the 21st century if current economic trends are allowed to continue.

The stark reality that mankind should be focused on is the estimated 18 million people around the world who still die as a result of poverty each year. If humanists succeed in stopping economic growth by restricting the use of fossil fuels, over a half billion people could die needlessly of poverty by 2050. Climate alarmists have expressed no concern about these hundreds of millions of victims of poverty. Instead the anti-scientists of the global warming crusade obsess about saving polar bears and preventing a modest rise in sea levels, which even if it occurred would pose only a relatively mild inconvenience to nations free of poverty. It is truly insane to believe that science has achieved the ability to control the climate of the world. It is nowhere near that goal. It is absolutely insane to stop the economic progress that is benefitting billions of people in order to prevent mythical hazards. We can only hope that the evidence that refutes climate change theory becomes so overwhelming that it will be impossible to ignore.

Christians have allowed themselves to become alienated from the science generated by Christian beliefs and faith. There is no past or foreseeable alternative to Christian culture as the champion of science. The humanist corruption of, resistance to, and abuse of science must be ended. Christians have to take back science and turn it back into the search for God’s truth.

Reflections on physics and Christian faith

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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