Friday, November 7, 2008

Rocks, Paper, Scissors? The facts about the Geologic Ages of the Earth

How many of you recall the old game of Rocks, Paper, Scissors? The first time I witnessed this was in a Sunday School Assembly when I was around nine years old. Two of the older guys were banging their knees three times and then laughing hysterically as the winner hit the loser quite fiercely on the wrist. My curiosity aroused, I wanted to learn how to play the game. Like most, I assumed that nothing could champion rock. Rock seemed powerful and solid, and I was disappointed to find that mere paper could trump it. I quickly realized that if paper could wrap rocks, scissors cut paper, and rocks smash scissors, the whole game went in a circle of futility.

There is another game in which many people assume that rocks are supreme. They are considered primary indices in the current idea that our Earth is billions of years old. Geologists and geochemists repeatedly point to rocks as indicators in a 175 year old guessing game called How old is Planet Earth?

To be sure, the two most common methods of long age dating used by modern science have to do with rocks: 1). Radiometric dating of rocks, and 2). Dating of fossils enclosed in sedimentary rocks by the Carbon-14 method. But is this dating absolute? And how and when did we begin to conceive of a universe vastly older than we had ever imagined before?

For eighteen centuries of church history, these were non-questions, as most people of the western world believed in an earth of roughly 6,000 years of age. Although the Bible does not specify an exact age of the earth, it is filled with chronological information, which if examined carefully, provides sufficient data to calculate its approximate age.

But with the scientific revolution of the seventeenth-century, man began to seek answers to the age of the earth outside of scripture. The discovery of rock strata was thought to possibly provide an alternative view. The science of stratigraphy, a branch of geology which studies layers of rocks, began with an eighteenth-century English surveyor named William Smith, who thought he observed rock distinctions in various coal mines he surveyed in Great Britain. Smith believed that each of these distinctions could be identified, by the fossils it contained. He reasoned that the fossils on the bottom layers, or strata, must have been deposited first and were thus older. He published his findings in a map, which showed various types of rocks and the fossils they contained.

Scottish geologist James Hutton added the concept of uniformitarianism to Smith's ideas. Uniformitarianism, critical to modern scientific notions of great geologic ages and "deep time," is the assumption that the natural processes of the past are the same as the present. This is in direct contrast to the biblical idea of catastrophism, which says that the earth was created by supernatural means and subsequently shaped by a massive catastrophe, the Noahic Flood, into its present condition.

A Scottish lawyer named Charles Lyell expounded on the principles of uniformitarianism in his 1833 work, Principles of Geology. He began dividing rock strata into named periods based upon certain fossils found therein. The strata were assigned dates because of the fossils they contained. Then, the fossils were hypothesized to fall within the age of the strata where they lay. In other words, the fossils were dated by the rocks and the rocks were dated by the fossils. Medieval logisticians would have called Lyell's arguments Circulus in Propando, Latin for "circle in a proof." This is circular reasoning, a classic example of faulty logic. Yet it was hailed as a triumph by geologists and remains uncorrected to this day.

Lyell's work also suggested that the earth might be several million years old. When Charles Darwin, a big fan of Lyell, published his On the Origin of Species in 1859, he assumed that for the slow change of evolution to work, the earth had to be much older than that. He needed the great ages of the earth to accommodate his new theory. By the 1870s the earth was dated at 20 million years, by the 1880s it was 60 million, by the 1890s, 100 million. Each regressive assumption of the earth's age caused the age of rock strata and the fossils they contained to be dated proportionately earlier.

With the advent of radiometric dating in the 20th century, geochemists believed they could date certain rocks in the billions of years, and thus, once and for all prove the age of the earth. This new idea was based upon known decay rates of the element uranium within certain rocks. These decay rates could be measured, they reasoned, to ascertain approximate ages for the rocks. Later, it was discovered that a similar method could be used for the element carbon, found in all plant and animal fossils, to determine the age of these as well.

How well do such dating methods work? It depends on who you're talking to. Science, of course, insists that they supply definitive answers to the mystery of the earth's age. But the truth is, there are a great many problems with radiometric dating methods, just as there are problems with postulates of great geologic ages. For the sake of space, let us focus on two.

1.) The major hypotheses do not correlate. The notions of fossils and strata ages were conceived almost a century before any radiometric dating was developed. Thus, such dating methods must be forced fit into the theories they propose to prove. Dates for any groups of fossils or strata are all over the board. For example, the lava dome at Mount St. Helens, which was created by the eruption of 1980, has been dated by radiometric methods at 2.8 million years. Modern human remains have been found in coal deposits dated at 18 million years. Because of such preposterous discrepancies, the vast majority of samples are invariably thrown out. Only those with dates that fit previous theories are accepted.

2.) Uniformitarianism is based upon unprovable assumptions. It suggests that the present conditions of the earth, atmospheric and otherwise, have remained constant from the beginning. There is simply no empirical way to prove this. It is illogical to suggest that the earth has been a closed system for its entire existence. Natural events, such as the eruption of a volcano, can so corrupt the atmosphere of the planet even for a short time, that they serve to invalidate the idea of uniformity. The over thrusting of continents and the uplifting of mountains, the advance and retreat of glaciation over time, single fossils found across strata lines, which are supposedly separated by millions of years, and layers in the geologic column which are found in reverse order (the more ancient on top of the more modern) from how they are supposed to be. All of these factors and many more, practically scream out the opposite view of uniformitarianism, which is the biblical view of catastrophism.

2 Peter 3:3-7 seems to anticipate modern science's denial of the obvious when it says: "there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, who say, Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation (uniformitarianism). For this they willfully forget, that by the word of God the heavens were of old and formed out of water and by water, through which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by that same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgement and perdition of ungodly men."

God's word is clear that there was a global catastrophe in the form of a massive flood. There is a multitude of evidence outside of scripture which suggests the same thing. Fossil beds on every continent, intact animal skeletons bound in hardened sediment, coal deposits that would require a sudden covering of miles of vegetation, marine fossils found in virtually every mountain range of the earth, and almost three hundred stories of a such a flood from vastly different ancient societies all point to a cataclysmic event that should slice any idea of uniformity in two.

In addition to this, there are over three hundred natural chronometers which indicate a young earth. Again, for the sake of space, we shall focus on only two. The first involves moon dust. That's right, moon dust. It was long believed that the ultraviolet rays of the sun should have crumbled the rocks and surface area of the moon to dust at a certain rate. If calculated at over four billion years ( The approximate age of the moon according to science), there should have been a twenty to sixty foot layer of dust upon the moon. This was such a cause of concern to NASA that before the Apollo 11 landings, they sent an unmanned spacecraft to the moon. They were surprised to find that the surface dust comprised only two to three inches, which of course would indicate a relatively young moon. The earth and the moon are thought to be the same age.

Ocean sediment is another indicator of a young earth. The river systems of our planet dump silt into the oceans at a fixed, observable rate. We can easily calculate the amount of such silt added to the ocean floor on an annual basis from each river system. There are only a few thousand years worth of sediment resting on the ocean floor.

The vast majority of educated people in the world today, including many Christians, readily accept scientific speculation about the earth's age. But the real evidence for such an idea is slim. It isn't so much that we reject science, or disavow rocks (I actually like rocks), or insist blindly on the idea of a young earth. We simply prefer to accept God as our authority rather than man. The sedimentary layers of the earth are filled with the remains of dead animals called fossils. God tells us that death was introduced into the world due to the sinful actions of an initial human being called Adam, whose life fits into a chronological timescale that goes back approximately 6,000 years. There was no death before sin and no sin before Adam.

I believe in a young earth because this is what the Bible teaches, and I see nothing from man, or science, or rocks to tell me otherwise. Jesus Christ taught this same concept when He said in Mark 10:6 that Adam and Eve were created at the beginning, not after billions of years had gone by. In the end, He is the only Rock that truly matters.

Love in Christ,


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Oh, 'Dem Bones: An Examination of the Fossil Record

Brothers and Sisters,

How many of you can recall the words:

The toe bone connected to the foot bone
And the foot bone connected to the ankle bone
And the ankle bone connected to the leg bone
Hear the word of the Lord!

The old spiritual, which I remember singing exuberantly back in grade school (when they actually had music education), refers to the thirty-seventh chapter of Ezekiel and the Valley of the Dry Bones. There, God demonstrates to the prophet that one day He can and will restore life to long dead bones, by showing him a vision of the re-animation of thousands of skeletons.

The tune came to my head recently when I read of a new evolution exhibit at the University of Pennsylvania called Surviving: Body of Evidence. The program, five years in the making, and calculated to appear in conjunction with the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species in 2009, features a paleontology section, which allegedly traces the evolution of homo sapiens from our earliest ancestor to the present. It promises to show full skeleton casts (Please note that no original bones are present) of the famous "Lucy" skeleton, said to be 3.2 million years old, and one of "Nariokotome Boy," said to be 1.6 million years old, plus over 100 touchable casts of fossil bones and skulls.

Like most evolutionary sideshows, the one at Penn places great emphasis on the fossil record as evidence for Darwin's theory. Indeed, Paleontologists, or persons who study fossils, have repeatedly claimed that within the fossil record lies the greatest evidence that evolution has taken place. This is quite natural, for if intraspecies change has occurred, then the bones of now vanished creatures should provide the only plausible documentary evidence for the actual processes over time.

But is this necessarily so? What exactly is the fossil record, and what does it really tell us about the history of life on this planet? The word fossil comes from the Latin term, Fossus, which literally means, "to be dug up." Fossils are the remains of living creatures, whether plant or animal, embedded in sedimentary rock (often called fossiliferous rock). The fossil record can be defined as a catalog of all such remains known to current science.

The study of fossils dates back to ancient times, and has been prevalent among the learned for at least three millennia. The Roman Emperors, Augustus and Tiberius Caesar, were both avid collectors of dinosaur bones, although they did not call them that. Augustus is known to have established the first museum of paleontology, a place which Tiberius happily inherited. The Roman Chronicler Pliny the Elder wrote several treatises on what he called "monster remains," and much of the medieval folklore and legends concerning griffins, gargoyles, and dragons are said to have been inspired by a familiarity with such ancient bones.

With the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the fascination with these bones intensified, but by Darwin's time, relatively few fossils had been found. Darwin understood, even then, that there was an emerging problem with his theory in the light of such remains. He knew that his idea would stand or fall upon the evidence of fossils, and called them the "most serious and obvious objection" to his theory. In his Origin of Species, he asked, "Why, if species have descended from other we not everywhere see innumerable transitional forms? Why is not all nature in confusion, instead of the species being as we see them, well defined."

The great problem of the fossil record for evolutionists, as Darwin himself identified it in the previous quote, is the total dearth of what he called "transitional forms." Let's say that if (a) fishes evolved over millions of years into (b) amphibians, then why do we not have a long series of intermediate fossils that document the transition from a to b. Darwin well realized the implications of the absence. He knew that if his theory was correct, then "innumerable transition forms must have existed." It was finally with considerable exasperation that he asked, "Why do we not find them embedded in countless numbers in the crust of the earth"?

The answer lies in the science of taxonomy, the categorization of all living things, and in the very definition of the word "species." To this day, science defers to a system developed in the eighteenth-century by Swedish botanist, Carolus Linnaeus, in identifying and naming all forms of life on this planet. Linnaeus spent most of his life studying plants and animals and published his findings in 1735 in what he called his Systema Naturae, or system of nature. In this work, Linnaeus came to two main conclusions: First, what he called species were the equivalent of what the Book of Genesis calls "kinds." In fact, the word "species," from the Latin (Linnaeus is the one who first latinized all animal and plant names), actually means kind, or form. Second, there is no violation whatsoever in this principal of kind from the beginning of life to the present. Reproduction of life forms over the centuries occurs only "after their kind," as Genesis says. Each species is created unique and unto itself. There is no changing of one species into another, no matter how much time goes by.

Darwin anticipated that eventually the fossil record would produce transient forms, what he famously called "missing links." Indeed, paleontologists have been hard at work for over a hundred years, seeking this very thing. Each time a new specimen, or more accurately, a new fragment of bone, is unearthed, we are told in glowing terms how this proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt that evolution is fact. To this date, over 100 million fossils have been found and catalogued in museums around the world, testifying to the existence of over 250,000 fossilized species. If evolution is true, with such a wealth of data before us, we should see vast numbers of transitional forms. Instead, what do we actually see? Exactly what Genesis tells us, exactly what Linnaeus told us; species created whole and with characteristics distinct unto themselves.

A useful example of this is what is commonly called the Cambrian Explosion. In evolutionary theory, the lowest strata of rock in which fossils are found is called the Cambrian (Rocks are another convoluted issue that we will examine in a future post). Below that is the Precambrian, which has, for all practical purposes, no fossils. What is found in the Cambrian? Every major plant and animal phylum. All life groups are represented. Sponges, corals, jellyfish, mollusks, crustaceans, and vertebrate fish, many no different in form than what exists today. What's more, spores from flowering plants, considered the most complex of the plant forms, are found profusely in the Cambrian.

Paleontologists only want to tell us about the trilobites, an extinct arthropod, found throughout the Cambrian layer, as if they represent some kind of transient form. Yet upon close examination of trilobite fossils, we see a very complex little creature, with one of the most sophisticated compound eye systems ever examined in nature. So what did this thing evolve from?

The truth is, there are no transitional species leading up to, or preceding the fully formed and complex creatures of the Cambrian. There is no life, and then, suddenly, there is abundant life.

The Cambrian explosion has been particularly devastating for paleontologists. So much so, that by as early as the 1930s, scientists were looking for alternative explanations to the lack of intermediate fossils. Outright ridiculous (and quite embarrassing) notions were put forth into the scientific community, such as Austin Clark's idea of Zoogenesis, which suggests that creatures spontaneously emerge from the elements (Think of a frog being born of mud). Then in 1940, Richard Goldschmidt, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, introduced what he called the "hopeful monster" theory, in which he said new life forms could possibly emerge out of existing species (Think of the same frog giving birth to a cat).

If these are not astounding enough, then consider the current idea of Punctuated Equilibrium, "punk eck" for short. In 1972, two of the world's most respected paleontologists, Stephen Gould of Harvard and Niles Eldredge of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, admitted that they "could never see the processes they professed to study." Translation: no transitional fossils. To explain the absences, they wrote that evolution must occur in sudden overnight surges (punctuation), and then remain static (equilibrium) for millions of years. Now, we can turn into different species while we sleep. As preposterous as this sounds, all of science jumped on it, at least publicly (while the sound of hysterical laughter resounded from laboratories all over the world). This is quite possibly the only postulate ever put forth whose whole hypothesis seeks to explain why no evidence exists to support the original idea. This reveals the depth of desperation of current paleontology, which knows no other way to prove the impossible.

In Romans chapter one, the Apostle Paul tells us that those who refuse to recognize God as the Creator would become "vain in their imaginations," and while "professing themselves to be wise," become "fools." Modern Paleontologists and their evolutionary colleagues are shining examples of this.

The fossil record is evaluated from the assumption of evolution, not from any unbiased examination of the facts. Often we see, for example, illustrations in textbooks and modern periodicals, such as National Geographic, which purport to trace the lineage of, say, ancient man to modern humans. These are nothing but fantasies. No evidence exists whatsoever to prove the transitions suggested, because no intermediate fossils exist to verify them. The fact is, the fossil record shows the exact opposite of evolution, that each species is created whole and "unto its own kind." Evolution has been called a "theory in crisis" for some time now. A major reason is that the bones simply do not connect. "Ankle bone connected to the leg bone"? When analyzing the fossil record, evolutionists don't have a leg to stand on.

Love in Christ,


Sunday, April 27, 2008

Hume's Shadow: The Question of Miracles in Modern Colloquy

Brothers and Sisters,

On a cold February evening in the year 1804, the second occupant of what was then called the Executive Mansion (now called the White House), retired to his study with a stack of folio bibles, a blank book, and a razor blade to pursue an evening's labor. The gentleman in question, none other than Thomas Jefferson, was one of history's great compilers and organizers. He was forever assembling and cataloging books, plants, artifacts, scientific instruments and even ideas. His intention this particular night was nothing less than to create his own bible by cutting out the moral teachings of Jesus, what he called "a paradigm of his doctrine," in four languages: Latin, Greek, French and English, and pasting them in something like chronological order in a blank book.

Jefferson's objective was to produce a portrait of Christ freed from, in his words, "the monkish superstitions" of the Gospel writers. In actuality, he sought a Christ without the miraculous events suggestive of His Deity; no healing, no feeding of the five thousand, no virgin birth, and certainly no resurrection. Our third President questioned any and all such events, not because of any antagonism to Jesus, but because he simply could not believe that miracles were possible. ( Interestingly, twenty-two years later while lying on his deathbed, Jefferson selected as his funeral text, John 11:25, "Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me though he were dead, yet shall he live," a verse that he removed from his redacted bible that night.)

Jefferson's philosophical position was directly influenced by the works of Sir David Hume (1711-1776), a philosopher and historian of the Scottish enlightenment, and perhaps the most persuasive thinker of the so-called Age of Reason. Hume casts a giant shadow over the world in which we live, for his writings are the germination of modern skepticism and its disdain for the miracles of the Bible.

Thanks in a large measure to Hume, most modern scientists, scholars, and liberal academicians possess what we call a presupposition of antisupernaturalism when discussing the Bible. (Whew! Try saying that one three times in succession) What in the world does this mean? It means that they suppose before examining the evidence that any event of a supernatural variety cannot be possible. As we stated in the last post, modern science is completely committed to the idea of our universe as a closed system, where nothing can occur beyond the confines of natural law, and that material reality is the only reality. Every event has its cause within the system, and there can be no interference or intrusion from the outside by God or anything else. Phenomena which go beyond the known laws of nature, such as God or miracles, are simply thought to be ridiculous.

This questioning of miracles reminds me of the old story of the former alcoholic who had recently accepted Christ as his savior. He was asked by one his old drinking buddies, "Do you actually believe that this Jesus changed water to wine"? "I sure do," the man replied, "because over at our house He changed the liquor into new furniture." A recent poll suggested that fully eighty percent of Americans do believe in miracles. Miracles, brothers and sisters, are where the battle lines are being drawn in the current war of the worldviews.

Miracles are of enormous significance to Christianity because we are the only major religion that depends upon them. Buddhism and Hinduism report few miracles, and only pay homage to silly myths. Judaism and Islam, of course, concede the miraculous. The Old Testament is filled with such events, but the central philosophy of each faith is legalistic and revolves around no wondrous happening (The Passover notwithstanding). The prophet Mohammed never claimed to have performed a single miracle.

In contrast, everything about Jesus Christ was miraculous. His existence on this planet was miraculous. His birth was miraculous. His ministry involved miraculous events almost daily. The central event of our faith, the Resurrection, is the greatest miracle ever claimed to have been witnessed by man. It is vital to everything we believe. The Apostle Paul says to the Corinthians, "If Christ is not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain." The assault on the miraculous is therefore a specific assault on Christianity.

Now, for clarity's sake, let us specify what we mean by miracles. A miracle could properly be defined as a special act of God that interrupts the natural course of events. In the first precept of his most influential work, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Hume turns this definition around a bit. He states that a miracle is "a violation of the known laws of nature," which is the same idea without the theistic implications. The argument that follows is the basic anti-supernatural polemic still invoked by atheists today. It goes like this.

  1. A miracle is a violation of the known laws of nature.

  2. We know these laws through repeated & constant observation (empiricism).

  3. The testimony of those who report such miracles contradict the known laws of nature.

  4. Consequently, no one can rationally believe in miracles.

At a glance, we should see a couple of problems with this. First, how can we know the limits of these so-called laws of nature? The human mind is a finite thing. Thomas Edison once said that "we don't know even a millionth of one percent about anything." The more that true science discovers about the boundless nature of our universe the more accurate Edison's statement becomes. The laws of nature simply cannot be defined in any concrete way.

This brings us to another problem with Hume's proof. The second precept suggests that our knowledge of said laws is based upon experience and observation only, what we call empiricism. But as we stated in the last post, many of the ideas within the context of the "laws of nature" cannot be empirically observed. Concerning the origins of life and the universe, nobody was around to see them, but even common events in nature cannot be confirmed empirically. Why? Two reasons: 1) There will always be exceptions, and 2) The number of observations will always be finite.

For example, one of the most prominent fossils discovered by early paleontologists were of an order of fish called the coelacanths. For decades, they were studied, classified, and widely believed to be extinct since the end of the Cretaceous period, supposedly about 65 million years ago. Then, in 1938, a South African fisherman hooked a living coelacanth out in the Indian Ocean and reeled him in. Now that's a fish story. So much for the extinction theory. What this tells us is that we cannot know an infinite truth from finite observation. Even Hume insisted that we cannot be 100% sure that the sun will rise on the morrow.

All such arguments against miracles can be similarly refuted. Yet, they are persistently offered. Why? Because ultimately they are arguments against the existence of God. If miracles occur, then God exists. That is why I say that miracles represent the battle lines. "Miracles are improbable," said Hume, "and their possibility is so remote that no thinking person should consider them." But, we can make a great argument that, not only are miracles possible, they are indeed probable, and as we shall see, actual.

Modern atheists put forth the notion that the universe sprang into being randomly, by chance (one of their favorite terms). But chance can only tell us about the likelihood of events. It is a concept of statistics and probability. Only a force or a power can cause an event. Chance has no power, and thus cannot cause anything.

When we study life and its limitless boundaries, we see system upon system of sophistication and complexity beyond our ability to comprehend. Every minute thing in this maze of incredulity is the product of some cause. Even Jefferson said that "it is impossible for the human mind not to perceive and feel a conviction of design, consumate skill, and indefinate power in every atom" of life. Creation represents the effect of some greater reality. An effect cannot be greater than its cause, nor can it be more complex or more intelligent.

We as Christians call this cause God. The atheist will respond with countless intellectual absurdities as to why He cannot be, but the fact remains that the great design of our universe implies a Designer. This incredible process of design is an act, and if there is an God who can act, then there are clearly acts of God. Because of this, it should be imminently more logical to look at human history with the clear expectation of the miraculous, rather than a dim, unwarranted skepticism of the same.

Following this line of thinking, let us examine three famous miracles of the New Testament which are routinely considered preposterous by modern skeptics. First of all, would the God who spoke the universe, with all of its irreducible complexity, into being, have any particular difficulty in by-passing a single biological component of conception (a process which He, too, created) to produce one very unique child. "What! A virgin birth? No way, not possible," The skeptic stammers in reflex. But, look at who we are talking about here. Can not the Designer tinker with the design? When you think of it that way, there is nothing improbable about it.

How much of a problem would it be for such a being, who created everything we see ex nihilo, from nothing, to produce a large quantity of food from, say, five loaves and three fishes. Does it really seem like such a stretch?

And what of the Resurrection? "Could not possibly have happened," says the atheist. "No sir ree Bob." The separation of the Resurrection from the Gospel is the founding principle of modern Bible criticism. But, again, given that the Creator we are discussing brought a complete human being from the dust of the ground, just how difficult would it be for such a being to simply re-animate a body previously formed and whole? Hmmm?

We human beings have a particular tendency to ignore the common place and to question the unique. The miracles of the Bible are unique. An event such as the sun standing still in the sky in Joshua 10:12-14 (In actuality, the earth pausing in its rotation) goes against the normal pattern of nature. Those who witness such an event marvel and wonder. But when they attempt to tell others of what they have seen, it is normal to expect skepticism and ridicule.

The truth is, there are miracles about us each moment, everywhere we look. We could spend every waking second, if we desired, in the close observation of these wondrous things. But, because there are so many that take place at any given time, they appear commonplace to us, and sadly, are taken for granted. We do not notice them.

The great Russian novelist, Fyodor Dostoeyevsky, once observed that everywhere he saw people praying and hoping for a miracle so that they could have faith. But "it is not miracles that generate faith," he wrote, "but faith that generates miracles." In many ways, miracles are a problem of perception. If we disavow God, then we have already precluded the miraculous. But if we believe in an omnipotent Creator, then we should see the specific miracles of the Bible as confirmation of His message to us, and we should perceive the miracles of the natural world as evidence of His eternal power and majesty.

Love in Christ,


Monday, March 24, 2008

An Accidental Man in an Accidental Universe: A Comparison of Apples to Apples and Faith to Faith

Brothers and Sisters,

Henry Adams, the great-grandson of President John Adams, and the grandson of President John Quincy Adams, was a prominent nineteenth-century historian, intellectual, and social critic. A dour, humorless man, he nevertheless had the unique ability to see beyond his own times into the dark future of our present age. For instance, he once compared science to a wild mustang, upon which man, once mounted, quickly loses control. During the depressing days of the Civil War, he commented: "I firmly believe that before many centuries more, science will be the master of man. The engines he will have invented will be beyond his strength to control."

The statement has proven to be prophetic in ways that Mr. Adams could not have anticipated. The "engines" he spoke of now represent far more than mere technological advances, but a philosophy of scientific materialism which has come to dominate public discourse in today's culture.

Materialism is one of many "isms" I hope to discuss in this blog. Darwinism, atheism, humanism, naturalism, relativism are each essentially a different branch of the same tree. They are philosophies intent on defining our universe by denying the existence of God. Materialism, for its part, suggests that everything can be explained through the existence of matter, and that material things are the only reality. Rocks, dirt, air, grass, these are the only things, in such a view that, well, matter. Spiritual and intellectual impulses are described as only the casual tweaking of neurons in our material brains. Sounds like a pretty boring world to me.

The materialist crowd claims that theirs is a complete framework for understanding the universe, that only science has the capability of revealing all, and that all must be subjected to its methods. Yet, Scientific materialism, in many respects, does not bear close scrutiny. In fact, much of it is blatantly unscientific.

In explanation, I'm reminded of a lecture I once attended on the subject of epistemology, which refers to a theory of knowledge, or how we know what we know. At one point, the lecturer, clearly a materialist, who went on and on about the wonders of Darwinian complexity, announced that he did not take the Bible seriously because it could not be proven scientifically. Most of the audience responded with dutiful leers and a smug nodding of their robotic heads. It was not considered polite to question the speaker during his lecture. But, one young lady snickered loudly and suggested that the speaker should compare apples to apples. What did she mean, the man asked? As she began to explain, she was indignantly interrupted and accused of being an enemy to science. How typical. I have often thought of that young lady and wondered what point she may have argued. I'm not quite sure, but I think I have a good idea. It goes like this.

The Bible is a historical document. Attempting to prove it scientifically is a little like getting the girls down at Accu-Nail to do your taxes. It just doesn't make much sense. There is a misunderstanding on two levels. 1) How to verify historical events, and 2) Ignorance and/or flagrant misuse of the scientific method.

You can choose any date in history, say, for argument's sake, my wife Karen's birthday. I know for a fact that Karen was born on June 25th, 1956 (I just hope she doesn't mind me telling this). Every year she recieves presents and we celebrate on that date in recognition. But I cannot, and she cannot prove that she was born on that date scientifically. Why? Because we're not comparing apples to apples.

The key to the scientific method is empirical observation, or that which can be repeatedly examined by the senses. It is the all-important first step in the process. Then you formulate a hypothesis, or an educated guess, based upon these repeated observations, test your hypothesis by experiment and theorize upon its conclusion. This is basic scientific inquiry.

Because a historical event cannot be observed repeatedly (Please resist the urge to ask if history does not repeat itself), it lies outside the bounds of the scientific method. In other words, we simply cannot watch Karen being born over and over again. However, if a past event can be documented, it can be confirmed in a historical and legal sense. Karen can produce a birth certificate that states she was born on her birthday. This proves, by the same standard of proof used in a court of law, which is beyond a reasonable doubt, that the date of her birth is quite correct. It is a verifiable historical fact.

The New Testament is the most well-attested, best corroborated work to survive from ancient times. The Old Testament comes in second, and many of its events are confirmed in the New. Because they are better documented, the events of the Bible are more verifiable than any in the ancient world. So no, the scientific method cannot tell us much about the Bible. But let's go back to comparing apples to apples. What can it tell us, when accurately applied, to some of the major tenants of materialism?

"Vanity of vanities, all is vanity," Solomon famously writes in the Book of Ecclesiastes. His point is that without God, everything is vanity. It is meaningless, and random. This is exactly the kind of world that material scientists ardently wish for, squeezing their eyes tightly closed, as they attempt to force out any possible element of theism in their constructs, while inexplicably using the language of design in their expression, with such phrases as "evolution produces," or "nature provides." It is perfectly normal to these guys to suggest that the inanimate universe has an intelligence, as long as we do not mention God.

This is the world they have forced upon us, where all the complexity of life is deemed accidental. The universe happened by accident; the sun, the stars, the galaxies, by accident. The earth and its incredible richness of environment and species is an accident. Man is an accident. My big toe is an accident. (That hurts. I'm quite fond of my big toe.)

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy," Hamlet says in Shakespeare's play of the same name. (I always wanted to say that to an atheistic scientist.) Hamlet (Shakespeare) was so right. We only have a finite view of an infinite universe. There is more out there than we can ever begin to know. We accept this as part of God's mystery. The materialist conjures up suppositions that seek to eliminate Him as a source. The problem is that none of these ideas are actually provable by science. Why? Go back to the scientific method. They cannot be empirically observed. There was no one around to see the beginnings of the universe, as science tells us it occurred. There was no one around to tediously watch the so-called "billions of years" development of the earth. There was no one around to see complex organisms spring to life from inanimate matter, and there was certainly no observation of species emerging and evolving into variant and more complex species over eons of time.

None of these notions are scientific facts. They are merely postulates, or assumptions, based upon prior beliefs. The main ones are: 1) There can be no miracles, and 2) There can be no God. So, if this is not science, then what is it? It is faith, pure and simple, naturalistic, materialistic faith. Now, we are comparing apples to apples. I don't know about you, but I'd much rather have faith in a God whose design is "clearly seen," imminently observable, and who has ennobled us with purpose and meaning, than in a universe whose machinations are random and thoughtless.

Love in Christ,


Friday, February 29, 2008

Of Worldviews and the "Big Picture" of Christianity

Brothers and sisters,

A blog? A monthly column? Me write a monthly column? I wasn't sure why God stuck such an elaborate idea in my head, but it has certainly been floating around up there for the past several months. Like many of you, I pray that God will open doors for me, that He will show me ways to do more to serve Him. Was this an answer? In spite of my consistent placement of the notion on the backburner, I was finally convince that it was. I have been a sometime writer in the past; occasionally contributing an article here and there, and I must confess that I do enjoy the activity, but what could I write about that some poor, unsuspecting soul would want to read? And how could such an exercise serve to edify my fellow believers in Christ?

In pondering such questions, I kept returning to a word that I must admit I found a little distasteful. It had a sinister, Orwellian quality to it that seemed incompatible with the message of Jesus Christ. It was one of those trendy, overused terms that float about from mouth to mouth like a bad virus. Yet, I could find no other designation to adequately describe what I felt led to write about. The word was worldview.

Most of us are at least vaguely familiar with the idea, and I'm sure, if asked, we would certainly say that we indeed had a Christian worldview. I am less certain that we would actually know what that means, and why it is so important. So what exactly is a worldview and how does it apply to us?

"Worldview" is a term borrowed from the German idea of weltanschauung, literally meaning "a view of the world." It originated in nineteenth-century German Romanticism, and can be loosely defined as the "overall perspective in which we see and interpret life."

The idea of worldview found particular attraction with the Nazis in the 1930s, who eagerly applied it to represent their twin philosophies of Teutonic largesse and Aryan domination. (Incidentally, the Nazis were never the creative people that most people think they were. They didn't invent racial supremacy, or anti-semitism, or even concentration camps, but they did invent the Volkswagen.)

In more recent years, the idea has been pilfered by secular humanist forces to bunk up the unsteady pillars of moral relativism. The humanists believe that every person's own delicate experience is equally valid, no matter how depraved. Consequently, all worldviews, identified in their terminology as identity narratives, must be equally true. In such a line of thinking, for example, a person could make up whatever standard of morality he desired, and then confidently believe, ridiculous as it sounds, in its equivalence to Christianity. He believes what he believes. We believe what we believe. Everything is warm and fuzzy. But all moral absolutes, such as the big absolute, truth, go out the window.

"Not so," says the Christian, or so he should. Worldview, by its very definition, means overall perspective. It is worldview we are talking about, not point of view. It is therefore comprehensive, all encompassing. In other words, uh oh, it is absolute. It is, and spread your arms out wide when saying this, "The Big Picture." It applies not only to theology, but also to art, science, music, history, literature, ethics, law, and education. Anything you can think of can be viewed with accuracy from our perspective as Christians, because our perspective is absolute. You see, we as Christians have something that no other belief system has. We have the truth. The only way to see the world in such completeness is through the lens of Christ.

Now obviously, we are still talking about faith, which the bible defines as "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen." It is by grace through faith that we receive Christ. Yet, it is not a blind faith. It is, in fact, very reasonable. The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 1"19-20 that what "may be known of God is manifest" in us, and that "the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen." We Christians are pretty certain of what we believe through our faith. In fact, we know the who, what, when, where, and how of it. But sometimes, we're not really sure about the why.

Allow me to illustrate. I heard a story about a guy who was raised in a small town Baptist church very much like our own. He grew up learning about the great themes of the bible in Sunday school and worship service. He made a decision for Christ as a pre-teen and was soon baptized. Never the most eager among the youth of the church, he nevertheless attended regularly and was considered in all respects to be a good boy.

At age eighteen, he went off to college, participating in that convoluted rite of passage known as registration day. He quickly chose the subjects he would require for his major, and then scanned the catalog for an easy elective. There it was, something he already knew about, or so he thought. It was a course entitled Introduction to the Old Testament. He signed up.

Imagine his surprise the first day, when he was told that Moses did not write the Pentateuch, as the bible says, and that it was instead compiled and edited hundreds of years later from various sources. He spoke up, saying that the bible, which clearly identifies Moses as the author, has great validity and could not be wrong. The course instructor, a gray-bearded gentleman in a tweed jacket, chuckled at the remark, and very quickly, the young man found himself ridiculed and marginalized for his candor. What could he do? How could he respond? He knew he was right. He knew he had the truth, but he could not explain why.

As you may have already guessed, that young man was yours truly. Startled by what I was being taught in a major university, I slowly began to investigate for myself. What I found was surprising. The hard evidence for, what we were told, was modern bible scholarship, was actually paper thin, highly speculative, and quite pitiful when compared to the actual documentation of traditional bible historiography.

Yet, every autumn, our young people go off to college and run into a similar experience. In 2nd Corinthians 10:5, Paul speaks of "casting down," or destroying, "every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God." In practically any subject imaginable, these days, do we find such "high things," or worldly opinions, which are put forth as to be superior to the truth of God. Sometimes these opinions can cause us to doubt and to question. But we must never forget that all truth is God's truth. The purpose of this column is to apply God's truth to such "high things," and to help us to construct a Christian "Big Picture" by, as Paul says, "bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ." It is my prayer that this will become an interactive space and that we may open a dialogue concerning the onslaught of the secular world upon that which we know to be the truth; the gospel of Jesus Christ. So please, comment and ask questions. Let's have fun with this.

Love in Christ,