Posts tagged ‘Creation’

Back To The Beginning

greenland-fossils

A couple of weeks ago, a scientific discovery significant enough to merit coverage in The New York Times was revealed.  Geologists have discovered the world’s oldest fossils in Greenland.  According to these researchers, the fossils are around 3.7 billion years old and are thought to be stromatolites, which are formed by the growth of layers of cyanobacteria, a single-celled microbe that lives in shallow water.  But the discovery has posed a problem for scientists.  Nicholas Wade explains:

The great age of the fossils complicates the task of reconstructing the evolution of life from the chemicals naturally present on the early Earth. It leaves comparatively little time for evolution to have occurred and puts the process close to a time when Earth was being bombarded by destructive asteroids.[1]

For years, scientists have struggled to date the age of and construct a prehistory of the earth.  Just when a consensus about the earth’s age seems to emerge, new evidence surfaces that forces scientists to rethink the prevailing wisdom.  Theories of the earth’s origins and the origins of life are constantly being modified.

Part of the trouble with the discovery of this fossil is that it forces the origins of life, from an evolutionary perspective, back to more than 4 billion years ago. This timeframe coincides with cataclysmic meteor events on the earth, including a hit by a meteor so big that it tore out a chunk of our planet that spun into orbit and become our moon.  As Mr. Wade notes in his article, “It is difficult to see how life could have begun under such circumstances.”  It is difficult, indeed.  That is, unless there’s more to life than evolutionary chance.

Whenever a discovery like this is made, it points not only to the wonder of the earth, but to the problems that emerge with what appears to be a designer planet when one denies any sort of a Designer.  This is why the Bible opens its pages with a declaration of one Designer: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).  Whatever one might think of fossils that are purported to be billions of years old, this much the Bible says we can know:  the fossils, and the life they represent, did not happen by accident.  Someone formed life and, through whatever this planet has endured, has sustained life.  This is why some researchers struggle so mightily to reconstruct earth’s origins.  They work out of a worldview that will simply not allow an author and sustainer of life.  They may study fossils to date them, but they do not take the time to marvel at the very existence of them.

The question each of us must answer is this:  am I wedded – philosophically and academically – to a universe that is constrained by naturalism?  Do I believe that there is no cause of anything save what we can see and measure?  Or, as Christianity claims, am I open – philosophically and academically – to a universe that bears the marks of supernaturalism?  Do I believe that what we see is simply too fantastic to be described in merely mechanical terms?  Do I believe that things can also be described in theological terms?

Christians should by no means be closed off to scientific study and discovery.  Curiosity, after all, is hardwired into the human spirit.  But scientists also should not close themselves off to God. For if one is subscribes to sheer naturalism, he may be able to accumulate lots of information about what he sees, but he will still be left with little meaning as to why it’s all here.

Christianity tells us that everything is here because, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  He is why everything exists.  He is why we exist.  And that means He is worth at least considering in any theory of origins.

The fossils got here somehow.

_________________________

[1] Nicholas Wade, “World’s Oldest Fossils Found in Greenland,” The New York Times (8.31.2016).

September 19, 2016 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Why I Don’t Read The Bible Literally (But I Do Take It Seriously)

Bible in PewIt never ceases to amaze me how misunderstood the orthodox Christian belief concerning Holy Scripture is.  Even The New York Times can’t seem to figure it out.  Take Charles Blow, an op-ed columnist for the Times, who stands stunned at the views of many Americans on the Bible.  With a mixture of disbelief and disdain, he reports:

One Gallup report issued last week found that 42 percent of Americans believe “God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago.”

Even among people who said that they were “very familiar” with the theory of evolution, a third still believed that God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago.

It’s not clear what the respondents meant by being “very familiar” – did they fully understand the science upon which evolution’s based, or was their understanding something short of that, as in, very familiar with it as being antithetical to creationist concepts?

Whatever the case, on this issue as well as many others in America, the truth is not the light.[1]

Blow goes on to cite people’s opinions on the Bible itself according to this same Gallup pole:

Nearly a third of Americans continue to believe that the Bible “is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word.”

Furthermore, nearly half believe that it is “the inspired word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally.”

About a fifth of Americans said they believe the Bible is “an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by man.”

The questions Gallup asks concerning the nature and character of the Bible frustrate me.  Gallup wants to know, “Do you believe the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word?”  Personally, I would have to answer “yes” and “no.”  Do I believe the Bible is “the actual word of God”?  Yes.  Do I believe it is to be “taken literally, word for word”?  No.  But this is not because I want to discredit the Bible’s veracity, authority, or inerrancy.  Rather, this is because I follow the Bible’s lead when it interprets itself non-literally in some places.  The Bible is full of metaphors, symbols, and other figures of speech as even an elementary reading of it will uncover. One need look no farther than “The LORD is my shepherd” (Psalm 23) to find a metaphor – and a beautiful metaphor, I would add – of Scripture.  Thus, I would find myself more at ease with Gallup’s second position:  “The Bible is the inspired word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally.”

Blow, however, summarily dismisses this second position:

I am curious which parts would get a pass from most of these respondents and which wouldn’t. Would the origins of the world fall into the literal camp? What about the rules – all or some – in books like Deuteronomy?

Perhaps Blow has not yet discovered the difference between reading something literally and reading something contextually.  Just because I don’t practice, for instance, the sacrifices outlined in Deuteronomy doesn’t mean I don’t understand them literally.  It just means that I read them in light of Hebrews 10:10:  “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”  Christ’s sacrifice for sin put an end to all those Old Testament sacrifices for sin.  For me to try to follow those laws would be like me taking a ticket for an Elvis concert, going to the venue listed thereon, and expecting a concert usher to let me in!  Though I may read the ticket “literally,” that ticket’s time is past.  So it is with the Old Testament sacrificial system.  Its time too is past because it has been fulfilled by Christ.  But that isn’t me reading the Bible non-literally.  That’s just me reading the Bible contextually.

I suspect part of the reason Blow disparages option two when it comes to reading and interpreting the Bible is because, for him, only option three, which says the Bible is “an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by man,” is viable.  He writes:

I don’t seek to deny anyone the right to believe as he or she chooses. I have at points in my own life been quite religious, and my own children have complicated views about religion. As my oldest son once told me, “I’d hate to live in a world where a God couldn’t exist.”

That is his choice, as it is every individual’s choice, and I respect it.

What worries me is that some Americans seem to live in a world where facts can’t exist.

Facts such as the idea that the world is ancient, and that all living things evolved and some – like dinosaurs – became extinct. Facts like the proven warming of the world. Facts like the very real possibility that such warming could cause a catastrophic sea-level rise.

Ah yes, facts.  Facts like the Bohr model of the atom or the rallying cry of biogenetics: “Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.”  Oh, wait.  Those “facts” turned out to be not quite as factual as we once thought.  Contrary to Blow, I’m not so sure that a great uprising of people who want facts to not exist is the problem.  The problem is there are people who disagree with him on what the fullness of the facts are and how the data that form the facts should be interpreted.  Now, I’m not saying these other people are correct on the facts.  I’m just saying these other people with other thoughts on what the facts are that contradict Blow’s thoughts on what the facts are not necessarily rejecting facts themselves.

Blow says he is “both shocked and fascinated by Americans’ religious literalism.”  I don’t think he even understands what “religious literalism” is.  Nor do I think he understands that many serious people of faith understand and trust the Bible theologically, morally, and historically without always reading it literally.  No wonder he’s so shocked and fascinated.  He simply doesn’t understand.  Then again, I’m not so sure he wants to.

__________________________

[1] Charles Blow, “Religious Constriction,” The New York Times (6.8.2014).

June 16, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Explaining Our Existence

Creation HandsI recently came across two articles – both dealing with gender concerns – that caught my attention.  The first article is by Lisa Wade of Salon and addresses the deep friendships – or the lack thereof – between men.  Wade opens her article:

Of all people in America, adult, white, heterosexual men have the fewest friends. Moreover, the friendships they have, if they’re with other men, provide less emotional support and involve lower levels of self-disclosure and trust than other types of friendships. When men get together, they’re more likely to do stuff than have a conversation …

When I first began researching this topic I thought, surely this is too stereotypical to be true. Or, if it is true, I wondered, perhaps the research is biased in favor of female-type friendships. In other words, maybe we’re measuring male friendships with a female yardstick. It’s possible that men don’t want as many or the same kinds of friendships as women.

But they do. When asked about what they desire from their friendships, men are just as likely as women to say that they want intimacy. And, just like women, their satisfaction with their friendships is strongly correlated with the level of self-disclosure.[1]

Men want friends, Wade contends – real friends, with whom they can share real cares, concerns, and fears.  But most do not have these kinds of friends.  Why is this?  Wade chalks it up to society’s assertions concerning what it means to be a “real man.”  She explains:

[Real men] are supposed to be self-interested, competitive, non-emotional, strong (with no insecurities at all), and able to deal with their emotional problems without help. Being a good friend, then, as well as needing a good friend, is the equivalent of being girly.

Real men, our society says, keep their emotions hermetically sealed.  This is why so many men eschew forming deep and abiding friendships.  But as many men seek to be really masculine through sensitivity sequestration, they only wind up being really isolated.

The second article I found interesting is by Sarah Elizabeth Richards of the New York Times. Richards tells the story of Andy Inkster – a woman who underwent surgery and took testosterone to become a man, but has now stopped taking testosterone because she wants to get pregnant.  As it turns out, Andy had trouble getting pregnant and sought fertility treatments from Baystate Reproductive Medicine.  Baystate denied her request.  She received help from another clinic and got pregnant, but sued Baystate for discrimination.

Such a desire of transgendered people to have children is not unique to Andy:

One study published last year in the journal Human Reproduction of 90 transgender men in Belgium found that 54 percent wished to have children … Other research, published in 2002, by Belgian fertility doctors with Western European transgender women found that 40 percent wanted to have children, and 77 percent felt they should have the option to preserve their sperm before hormone treatment. As fertility technology improves and becomes more widely available, transgender people are realizing that they will have more options in the future.[2]

Transgendered people apparently have a strong desire to have children in biologically traditional ways despite their deep reservations with their biologically assigned genders.

At first glance, these two articles seem to address phenomena on opposite ends of the cultural spectrum.  The first has to do with entrenched machismo while the second has to do with blurred gender identity.  But for all their differences, there exists a common theological root:  the divorce of human existence from divine creation.

Foundational to the Christian conception of the cosmos is the belief that everything came from somewhere.  Or, to put it more precisely, Christians believe that everything came from someone.  We do not just exist.  We were created.

It is from the Scriptural story of creation that we learn not just that we are, but who we are.  We are creatures and not the Creator (cf. Genesis 3:5).  We are fashioned in the image of God (cf. Genesis 1:27).  We are fearfully and wonderfully made (cf. Psalm 139:14), which is to say that God intentionally and lovingly fashioned us to be a certain kind of person, the corruption of sin notwithstanding.  In the old “nature versus nurture” debate, the story of creation tells us that nature does indeed shape us, but not by naturalistic means.  Rather, we are shaped through nature by the One who made nature.

Both of the articles above exemplify with a convicting candor what happens when people forget this story.  Men who try to play the role of the sturdy and strong lone ranger forget the part of the story where God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).  People who undergo surgeries and treatments in an effort to change their gender forget the part of the story where God revels in how He has created us “male and female” (Genesis 1:27).

The apostle Peter warns there will come a time when people will “deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed” (2 Peter 3:5).  They will forget their existence is a product of God’s creative word.  And they will forget their existence is to be guided by God’s sacred Word.  May it never be so of us.  May we always be able to say:  “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth…and of me.”


[1] Lisa Wade, “American men’s hidden crisis: They need more friends!Salon (12.7.2013).

[2] Sarah Elizabeth Richards, “The Next Frontier in Fertility Treatment,” New York Times (1.12.2014).

January 27, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Cosmology and Philosophy

Your philosophy is an inextricable concomitant of your cosmology.  Charles Darwin knew this all too well.  Most people are at least passingly familiar with Darwin’s seminal work, The Origin of Species.  In it, he proffers a framework for understanding the origins of human life – and all life – using his mechanism of evolution by natural selection.  In his own words, here is Darwin’s theory in a nutshell:

As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive, and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected.  From the strong principle of inheritance, any selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form. (Origin of Species, p. 29)

Darwin begins with the assumption that life, at its root, is a struggle for survival.  He then concludes that those who win the struggle for survival carry on while those who lose the struggle do not.  This is natural selection.  Moreover, those who win the struggle for survival propagate more of their kind and develop “modified” characteristics which further benefit them in their struggle.  This is evolution.  Over time – indeed, over lots and lots of time – these beneficial characteristics continue to evolve so radically that whole new species arise from common ancestors while other, weaker species die out.  This, then, is the origin of species.  This is the origin of our species.  We are the product of the cold hand of evolution by natural selection.  This is Darwin’s cosmology, that is, his view of the laws of the world and, by extension, the cosmos.

But how you view things cosmologically inevitably informs how you view things philosophically.  That is why, after publishing The Origin of Species, Darwin published The Descent of Man, a philosophical take on his cosmological theory.  Thus, Darwin lamented according to the presuppositions of his cosmological theory of evolution:

We civilized men do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment.  There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox.  Thus, the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind.  No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man.  It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed. (Descent of Man, p. 168)

Darwin laments that humans work against evolutionary progress through wrongheaded ignorant attempts to save and care for those which natural selection would eliminate.  If evolution by natural selection is the incontrovertible law of the forward progress of life, then to work against it by tending to the weak and sick is to take life backwards rather than forwards.

Most people, of course, are not nearly so bold connecting cosmological evolution to philosophical evolution as was Darwin.  Allowing our sick and maimed to die in the name of natural selection would appall the vast majority us.  And yet, Darwin is simply teasing out the philosophical inevitabilities of his cosmological presuppositions.  He is being perfectly consistent.  Why aren’t we?

The fact of the matter is, the way one views the universe informs and, finally, dictates the morals and ethics one holds.  Darwinian evolution, if it is perceived to be the engine behind the improvement of life, cannot be meddled with by the likes of so-called “do-gooders” who are not really doing good at all.  For such people are slowing evolution’s forward march by caring for the lesser evolved among us.

Christianity, of course, has a very different view of humanity’s place and value.  According to Christianity, human beings are not merely the products of an inexorable evolutionary march, eventually to be displaced as the kings of the cosmos by a better and higher form of life thanks to natural selection.  Rather, we are specially created by God “in His own image” (Genesis 1:27) to be the caretakers of His creation (cf. Genesis 1:28-31).  Thus, we can, and are even bound, not by some unfathomably lengthy evolutionary progress, but by the intentions of our Creator.  And one of His intentions for us is “to love mercy” (Micah 6:8).  So, we are merciful to each other.  We care for those who cannot care for themselves.

Your philosophy is an inextricable concomitant of your cosmology.  So what is your cosmology?  One that is driven by evolution by natural selection?  Or one that rejoices in the merciful, creative hand of our God?  How you answer that question makes all the difference in how you view your life…and the lives of others.

December 8, 2010 at 3:19 pm Leave a comment

ABC Extra – On The Multiverse

This past weekend in worship and ABC, we continued our series ”Credo!” with a look at the doctrine of creation.  As part of our study, talked about how the how the modern, broad consensus among scientists concerning the universe’s origins is often antagonistic and dismissive toward the biblical account of creation.  Thus, many scientists and theologians alike have sought to reconcile these two seemingly conflicting accounts using different theories, two of which I briefly mentioned in ABC:  the “Day-Age Theory” and the “Theistic Evolution Theory.”

In order for the theory of evolution to be correct, two things are needed:  lots and lots of time and lots and lots of death.  You need lots and lots of time because one species does not evolve into another overnight.  Rather, billions of years are needed for one species to adapt in such a way that it actually becomes another species.  You needs lots and lots of death because the mechanism by which evolution functions is natural selection, a.k.a., the survival of the fittest.   In other words, for evolution to happen, species with less desirable traits must die out and give rise to species with more desirable traits.  The “Day-Age Theory” of creation, which asserts that each of the days in Genesis 1 are equal to thousands, and probably millions, of years, accounts for the lots and lots of time that evolution requires, while the theory of Theistic Evolution, which states that God got the ball rolling on creation, but then it pretty much evolved the way scientists say it did, accounts for the lots and lots of death demanded by natural selection.

And yet, there is something else needed.  Scientists have long noted that the earth and, indeed, even our solar system and universe, seems “fine-tuned” to support our life.  In other words, there is a constellation of factors, each of which, if they were even the slightest bit different, would not have allowed evolution to happen at all because the environment would not have supported any life at all, no matter how strong or desirable an organism’s traits might have been!  Scientists describe this as the “anthropic principle.”  In a recent article for the Wall Street Journal, Stephen Hawking, professor at the University of Cambridge, explains:

The emergence of the complex structures capable of supporting intelligent observers seems to be very fragile. The laws of nature form a system that is extremely fine-tuned. What can we make of these coincidences? Luck in the precise form and nature of fundamental physical law is a different kind of luck from the luck we find in environmental factors. It raises the natural question of why it is that way. (Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, “Why God Did Not Create the Universe,” Wall Street Journal, 9/3/10)

It is Hawking’s final question, posed as a statement, “It raises the natural question of why it is that way,” that he spends the balance of his article seeking to address.  And he seeks to address it apart from God:

Our universe seems to be one of many, each with different laws…Each universe has many possible histories and many possible states. Only a very few would allow creatures like us to exist.

Stephen Hawking adds another need to the arsenal of requirements for our existence.  Not only does our existence require lots and lots of time and lots and lots of death according to the theory of evolution, it also needs lots and lots of space according to the theory of the origins of the universe.  For evolution, as it stands, can account only for the existence of life on this planet, not the existence of this planet itself.  Something else must account for that.  If this something else is not accounted for, then evolution becomes somewhat of a “red herring” theory, for how can evolution account for one form of life giving rise to another form of life, and even a form of non-life giving rise to the first form of life, if it cannot account for that non-life material itself?  Enter Stephen Hawking’s theory.  Hawking postulates that there are an infinite number of universes, each with their own laws, which have spontaneously arisen out of nothing.  Thus, if there are “multiverses” which, taken in toto, exhaust every possible combination of astrophysical laws, it is not surprising at all that our universe and our solar system and our planet with our life should exist.  It is merely the inevitable consequence of a countless number of universes doing a countless number of different things.

How does Hawking know these multiple universes exist?  Has he observed them?  Has he tested them?  No!  Instead, the multiverse theory “is a consequence predicted by many theories in modern cosmology.”  In other words, it is a theory predicated on other theories.  Is it just me, or does that sound a little speculative for science?  Thus, according to Hawking, “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”  It is here that we find Hawking’s real motive for postulating the multiverse:  it makes the need for God’s creative hand even more obsolete than does evolution.  It puts God out of business, so to speak.

It is important to note that Hawking’s theory is nothing new.  He, along with other scientists, have promoted the multiverse theory before.  And there are many who are scrambling to explain why God is still needed even if there are indeed many universes.  But we need not join them in their scramble.  For rather than adopting a “God-in-the-gaps” strategy, where we seek to shoehorn God into the spots that science cannot answer by means of its speculative, naturalistic mechanisms, I would suggest that it’s better to take the creation account as it stands, believing in the best intentions of its human author and the divine inspiration of its giver.  For the doctrine of creation does not exist merely to explain how God set into motion all the stuff for which science cannot account.  Rather, it assures that we have a God who not only created the heavens and the earth a long time ago, but also:

Has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my limbs, my reason, and all my senses, and still preserves them…He provides me richly and daily with all that I need to support this body and life, protects me from all danger, and guards me and preserves me from all evil; and all this out of pure, fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me…This is most certainly true! (Martin Luther, Small Catechism, First Article of the Creed)

And this is most certainly the proper doctrine of creation!

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September 20, 2010 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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