Finding Truth: The Study Guide Chapter 1 Question 1 Part 2

Origin of life:

Having begun to exist, and having the constants mentioned in the book and elsewhere, that means life’s origin and development are inevitable, right? Not so fast. Pearcey points out the necessity for massive amounts of information found in DNA for even the simplest life forms. Moreover, in every other experience we have had, information comes from an intelligent source.

This is a huge problem for a naturalistic explanation for the origin of life, but there are other nearly insurmountable hurdles that prebiotic chemistry must overcome before you even get to the level of DNA.

Many genes code for the production of proteins. In living systems, these proteins are formed from 20 amino acids. Amino acids form in three-dimensional shapes that form right-and left-handed structures. Those that form in living systems are left-handed (and the sugars that bind with them are right-handed.) When these same amino acids form in nature outside of living systems, or are produced in the lab, they form in equal mixtures of left- and right-handed forms. This is called a racemic mixture. In the presence of a racemic mixture, proteins cannot form. This is not merely a case that we do not know how amino acids could form proteins for the first life. It is a case where natural chemical processes prevent such proteins from forming. As Fazale Rana writes, “…without preexisting reservoirs of exclusively left-handed amino acids and exclusively right-handed sugars, the naturalistic assembly of proteins, DNA and RNA is prohibited.”[1]

Some astrobiologists (the only field of science completely devoid of data) have suggested that life could be based on some other element than carbon, such as silicon. However, as Rana points out,

Silicon belongs to the same chemical group as carbon and should display similar chemical properties, prompting some astrobiologists to propose that life could be based on this element. But while silicon does form rings and chains, these structures lack the stability and the range of complexity found in carbon-based compounds. Silicon-silicon bonds are much weaker than the corresponding carbon-carbon bonds, and unlike carbon-carbon bonds, they are susceptible to oxidation.[2]

This leaves carbon as likely the only element from which biochemistry can arise. It also explains why the search for habitable planets begins with planets that could possibly sustain liquid water, since carbon is most reactive in the same range of temperatures in which water is liquid.

Some have accused theists of appealing to “god-of-the-gaps,” saying we are invoking God to explain what we do not understand. This is not the case. We have numerous reasons to think God exists and that he has revealed himself. Part of that revelation is that he created the universe and life. Natural obstacles to undirected processes and information that requires an intelligent source are evidence that this is so.

[1] Fazale Rana, Creating Life in the Lab: How New Discoveries in Synthetic Biology Make a Case for the Creator (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2011), 34-45.

[2] http://www.reasons.org/articles/strange-new-worlds-life-based-on-silicon-arsenic

Finding Truth: The Study Guide Chapter 1 Question 1 Part 1

Nancy Pearcy’s Finding Truth includes a study guide. Since my Sunday school class will be studying this book, I decided to blog some thoughts on how I would answer the questions. Today’s post will address the first part of the first question from Chapter 1.

Training Manual for Today’s “Romans”

  1. The atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell was once asked what he would say if he died, stood before God, and God asked him, “Why didn’t you believe in Me?” Russell replied, “I would say, ‘Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!’” Summarize the evidence from physical nature described in the text:

Origin of the universe[1]:

Paul wrote to the Roman church:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20)

Pearcey notes that this is born out by science in the areas of the origin of universe and the origin of life. However, instead of unpacking the evidence of the origin of the universe, Pearcey changes focus to the fine-tuning of the universe for life. She mentions five of the constants that are exquisitely fine-tuned. (A list of 93 such constants can be found at http://www.reasons.org/articles/fine-tuning-for-life-in-the-universe.) The fine-tuning argument is powerful, but I would like to say something about the origin of the universe itself.

The 18th century philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz asked, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” The only options are either that there has always been something, or that things began to exist.

To say that something (like the universe) has always existed is philosophically unsustainable, scientifically falsified, and contrary to Scripture. Philosophy helps us see that if the universe were eternal, that would mean the universe would have to have passed through an infinite number of moments of time in order to arrive at the present. But, you could never get an infinite number of things, (events, minutes, hours, years, widgets, zombies, bananas, take your pick) by successive addition. In other words, you can’t count to infinity because you never get there. Scientifically, we know from the Second Law of Thermodynamics that if the universe were eternal, it would have long since run out of usable energy. Moreover, the work of Albert Einstein and Edwin Hubble shows that the universe had a beginning in the finite past. Scripturally, Genesis 1:1 tells us “In the beginning God made the heavens and the earth.” The phrase “the heavens and the earth” in Hebrew is what is called a merism, which is a pair of contrasting words that express a totality or completeness.

If the universe is not eternal, then it must have had a beginning. Leibniz formulated an idea called the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR.) This was the idea that anything that exists has a reason for its existence that can be found in something else, or itself. In other words, there is no effect without a cause.[2] Moreover, as William Lane Craig has shown in his work on the Kalam Cosmological Argument, anything that begins to exist must have a cause. Since the universe (by which I mean all of matter, space and time,) began to exist it must have a cause. The universe could not have cause itself to exist, since this would mean it would have to exist before it existed. For the materialist to appeal to a natural cause for the beginning of the universe would be absurd, since the universe just is nature. To say they will someday discover how nature caused itself to begin to exist is like saying someday I will discover how I gave birth to my grandmother. The only option left is that something or someone outside the universe would have had to be the cause. Could it be something or does it have to be someone? What’s the difference? Either what cause the universe was sufficient conditions, or an agent that had the ability to exercise will which means the agent had the ability to not cause the universe to begin.[3] As noted above, there could not have been an infinite succession of moments during which the necessary conditions existed and for some reason produced the effect that is the universe. That leaves someone. That someone would have to be immaterial, non-spatial, timeless (at least without creation) and extremely powerful and intelligent. That sounds like the kind of being we would call God. Therefore, the beginning of the universe is powerful evidence of the existence of some kind of God. It is not enough to get to the God of the Bible, but it shows that an atheistic worldview is false.

Tomorrow I will address the issue of the origin of life.

[1] Nancy Pearcey, Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes(Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2015), 333.

 

[2] http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/leibniz/#PriSufRea

[3] For more on this, see J.P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City.

Lydia McGrew’s review of The Lost World of Genesis 1 by John Walton

http://whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2015/03/review_of_john_h_waltons_the_l.html

John H. Walton’s book The Lost World of Genesis One has (I understand) been very influential among evangelicals in leading them to believe that Scripture is compatible with a full acceptance of whatever mainstream science happens to declare concerning the origin of the world and biological life, including humans. In point of fact, this book says little about human origins; that subject is the topic of The Lost World of Adam and Eve. I have just received a copy of The Lost World of Adam and Eve in the mail and will be reviewing it next.

Was early Earth’s atmosphere suitable for creating the building blocks of life?

WINTERY KNIGHT

Do the Miller-Urey experiments simulate the early Earth? The Miller-Urey experiments

Biochemist Dr. Fazale Rana of Reasons to Believe offers some evidence.

Excerpt:

Today, the Miller-Urey experiment is considered to be irrelevant to the origin-of-life question. Current understanding of the composition of early Earth’s atmosphere differs significantly from the gas mix used by Miller. Most planetary scientists now think that the Earth’s primeval atmosphere consisted of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and water vapor. Laboratory experiments indicate that this gas mixture is incapable of yielding organic materials in Miller-Urey-type experiments.

In May 2003 origin-of-life researchers Jeffrey Bada and Antonio Lazcano, long-time associates of Miller, wrote an essay for Science (May 2, 2003, pp. 745-746)commemorating the 50-year anniversary of the publication of Miller’s initial results.They pointed out that the Miller-Urey experiment has historical significance, but not scientific importance in contemporary origin-of-life thought. Bada and Lazcano wrote:

Is the “prebiotic soup” theory a reasonable explanation for the emergence of life? Contemporary geoscientists tend to…

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Walter Bradley: three scientific evidences that point to a designed universe

WINTERY KNIGHT

Dr. Walter L. Bradley Dr. Walter L. Bradley

Dr. Walter L. Bradley (C.V. here) is the Distinguished Professor of Engineering at Baylor.

Here’s a bio:

Walter Bradley (B.S., Ph.D. University of Texas at Austin) is Distinguished Professor of Engineering at Baylor. He comes to Baylor from Texas A&M University where he helped develop a nationally recognized program in polymeric composite materials. At Texas A&M, he served as director of the Polymer Technology Center for 10 years and as Department Head of Mechanical Engineering, a department of 67 professors that was ranked as high as 12th nationally during his tenure. Bradley has authored over 150 refereed research publications including book chapters, articles in archival journals such as the Journal of Material Science, Journal of Reinforced Plastics and Composites, Mechanics of Time-Dependent Materials, Journal of Composites Technology and Research, Composite Science and Technology, Journal of Metals, Polymer Engineering and Science, and Journal of Materials Science, and…

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Why the Universe Is the Way It Is

Hugh Ross is the founder and president of Reasons to Believe, a science/faith think tank that looks for harmony between God’s general revelation through the “book” of nature and his Special revelation through the book of Scripture. Ross has a PhD in astronomy from Toronto University. Additionally he serves as adjunct faculty at Tozer Seminary and Southern Evangelical Seminary.

Ross’ background in physics and astronomy, as well as having other physicists and a biochemist on his staff makes him eminently qualified to write the scientific content of the book. While clearly qualified to speak to the scientific issues of this book, Ross does not have any formal theological training.[1] As president of Reasons to Believe, however, he has access to advice from Kenneth Samples, who is a theologian and philosopher. Having read Samples’ work, however, it is not clear how much influence he has had on Ross’ theological conclusions. I do not think it is necessary for someone to have advanced degrees in theology to offer opinions on the theological implications of what they study. However, one of the benefits of formal education in any discipline is that it helps you be aware of what you do not know. This issue shows up in a few areas in this book.

Ross’ passion for spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and understanding how to use his scientific knowledge to respond to objections to the message provide the impetus for this book.

The main thesis of Why the Universe Is the Way It Is is that the universe has a purpose and that this purpose can be discerned by studying its origin, history, and structure, as well as scripture. The book is divided into two sections. In the first section, Ross addresses features of the universe that present a puzzle to many and how science has discovered the significance of these features for humanity. In the second section, Ross argues that the Bible accurately describes many features of the universe long before they were discovered by scientists, and that it reveals the purposes for which the creator designed it.

In chapter one, Ross explains the need to address the questions in the book. The next seven chapters answer “why” questions about the size, age, population, darkness, decay, alternative, and conditions of the universe. In chapter 2, Ross explains the relationship between the size of the universe and the fundamental laws of physics, as well as the exquisitely fine-tuned mass and energy density and how these allow for a place where advanced life can live. In chapter 3, Ross tells us how stellar evolution (there’s that word again) lead to the necessary materials for life, and how long the process takes. Chapter 4 explores the difficulties of interstellar space travel and how this impacts the question of if we can know of other advanced life in the universe. In chapter 5 Ross explains the benefits of low levels of ambient light. Chapter 6 analyzes the benefits of decay. In chapter 7, Ross argues that a collection of improbable features of the universe point to another world beyond this one. Chapter 8 catalogs the fine-tuning parameters that make earth ideally suited for advanced life.

Section two opens with a defense of the Bible from scientifically interpreted verses. Chapter 10 offers a scientific response to the problem of evil. Chapter 11 argues that the laws of physics provide predictable consequences for our actions that give them meaning. Chapter 12 argues that there will be two creations because the first prepares us for the second. Chapter 13 exposits Ross’ view of the new creation in a manner that reflects his views of dimensionality and time. Ross includes appendices on the age of the universe, fine-tuning, design, creation accounts beyond Genesis, and the new Heavens and the new Earth.

Of all the strengths of this book, one that stands out in particular is the irenic tone. Ross is passionate about the subject matter, but his passion comes across as excitement, rather than anger. His attitude toward skeptics of his view seems like they are opportunities to share his view rather than mortal enemies. There are no accusations of deception, heresy, or ulterior motives directed at those who disagree with him. This is especially remarkable considering the kinds of attacks Ross has experienced from Christians who have disagreed with him.

Another strength of the book is the clarity with which Ross makes issues of the size and age of the universe accessible to the layperson. I have personally heard the question, “Why is the universe so big if God only wanted to put life on earth?” (Unfortunately, this was long before I read this book.) I was at a loss to answer the question even to my own satisfaction. While the question of life on other planets is an open question, Ross makes it clear that whether there is or not, the universe would still be just as big, and necessarily so given the laws of physics. Moreover, Ross offers a powerful argument that the universe was created to support advanced, intelligent, physical life. Additionally, as Luke Nix points out, Ross offers a cogent explanation of the problem of evil with respect to cosmic design.[2] It seems to me that another strength of the book worth noting can be found in the content of the review by David Koerner, writing for the National Center for Science Education. Despite Koerner’s expertise as a PhD in Planetary Science from the California Institute of Technology, his entire review is one long ad hominem rant. [3]While absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence, it is if you should expect evidence. In this case, if this is all Koerner can do, it suggests Ross’ case lacks serious scientific issues.

With respect to weaknesses, the first that comes to mind is more methodological than content. Ross holds a strong concordance view, which means he sees a very strong correlation between science and Scripture. This is expressed when Ross writes, “After months of intensive investigation, I couldn’t escape the stunning (and unique) consistency of the biblical texts with scientists’ emerging discoveries about the universe, with natural history, and even with current events in human history.”[4] While I believe in inerrancy, that the Bible is without error in what it affirms, and that the Bible does not contradict science in any of its affirmations, I disagree with the level of agreement Ross finds. In their fine book on hermeneutics, Fee and Stuart note “A text cannot mean what it never meant.”[5] Miller and Soden likewise chime in on the issue when they write:

The ancient world, as represented by texts from Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Canaan, presents significant parallels with the biblical account of creation, which suggests that the author was arguing against the worldview inundating Israel while defending the uniqueness of Yahweh.[6]
In other words it seems more likely that God was seeking to correct their understanding of what the world was and who made it, rather than how or when. Similarly, Walton argues “they thought about the cosmos in much the same way that anyone in the ancient world thought, and not at all like anyone thinks today. And God did not think it important to revise their thinking.”[7] Applying the principle of understanding how the original readers/hearers would have understood the text, it is difficult to see how they would have found modern scientific concepts in Scripture. Some would object that there are instances where writers of Scripture themselves sometimes did not know what their messages meant, such as prophets. As 2 Peter 1:20-21 says, “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” When Isaiah wrote, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14 NASB) neither he nor his original readers/hearers could have known he was referring to the coming Messiah. However, we only know that because of another writer of Scripture, Matthew, who wrote, “Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which translated means, ‘God with us.’”(Matthew 1:22-23)

In another example of concordism, Ross cites Psalm 104:2 and Isaiah 40:22 as Biblical evidence of an expanding universe.[8] Ross draws a parallel between the stretching of a tent and the continuous expansion of the universe, but there is no reason to think the Psalmist or Isaiah would have had this in mind.

One instance that is theologically problematic comes where one of Ross’ explanations seems to deny, or at best overlook, divine omniscience. Figure 9.3 offers a suggestion for how it could be possible for God to hear billions of simultaneous prayers. This explanation suggests God operates in a different time dimension. However, classical Christian theology holds to omniscience as an essential attribute of God, and this attribute entails some form of foreknowledge. As such, God knew what everyone who would ever exist would pray for and when, as well as when and how he would respond, logically prior to the creative decree. Ross’ model for multidimensional access to human prayers is unnecessary since God already knows the content and timing of those prayers and acts in time accordingly. Ross’ explanation suggests he is unaware of this doctrine, or rejects it. This is issue also surfaces in chapter 9 when Ross claims, “Because humans are trapped in time, where time is linear and cannot be halted or reversed, the idea that anything could exist “before” time defies imagination. Yet both the Old and New Testaments, uniquely among premodern texts, refer to God’s activities ‘before the beginning of time’”[9] Here again, the doctrine of the divine decree, which was in the mind of God timelessly without creation, makes such speculative interpretations of the Scriptures Ross cites in support of his claim unnecessary. This is a reflection of his lack of formal theological training. As a scientist, Ross is likely to default to his discipline to solve problems he encounters. It is not clear if he consulted Samples on this.

As an apologetics book, Ross would have two purposes in mind for writing; to persuade the skeptic, and to strengthen the faith of the believer. There seems to be much more of the latter than the former here. For the skeptic, a better book would be Ross’ Creator and the Cosmos.

Ross has supported his main thesis well for those who already believe in God. The length and technical level of the book do not lend themselves to adequate support for the educated skeptic. However, references to Ross’ other books such as Creator and the Cosmos and Origins of Life, which he coauthored with Fazale Rana, could have been helpful for an honest skeptic. For example, a student member of the Secular Student Alliance wrote a review for their website in which his rejoinder to Ross’ argument from the just-right amount of carbon was that this only applies to carbon-based life.[10] However, Ross and his team address this concern in Creating Life in the Lab.[11]

Any Christian who wants to know how science and faith work together would benefit from reading this book. The material covered, as well as the technical level, make it suitable for high school students and even for scientists who want to understand why there is an interest in Intelligent Design.

Even with the issues I pointed out, I would recommend this book for Christians who want to understand how “The heavens declare to glory of God,” and that they need not fear science. Moreover, the book offers good reasons Christians need not feel as though an ancient universe lends strong support to metaphysical naturalism.

[1] Email correspondence with Reasons to Believe, 12/4/2014

[2] Luke Nix, “Review: Why the Universe Is the Way It Is by Hugh Ross,” Apologetics 315 (blog), August 31, 2013, accessed November 28, 2014, http://www.apologetics315.com/2013/08/review-why-universe-is-way-it-is-by.html.

[3] David Koerner, “Review: Why the Universe Is the Way It Is by Hugh Ross,” Reports of the NCSE 29, no. 5 (2009): 43-45, accessed November 28, 2014, http://ncse.com/rncse/29/5/review-why-universe-is-way-it-is.

[4] Hugh Ross, Why the Universe Is the Way It Is (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2008), 19.

[5] Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 30.

[6] Johnny Miller and John Soden, In the Beginning… We Misunderstood: Interpreting Genesis 1 in Its Original (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publishing, 2012), 1012, Kindle Edition.

[7] John Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010), 167, Kindle Edition.

[8] Ross, 133-134

[9] Ibid., 128

[10] Kevin B., ““Why the Universe Is the Way It Is” Critique – Part 1: Posts,” SecSI, April 25, 2014, accessed December 24, 2014, http://secularstudents.org.uiowa.edu/hughrosspart1/.

[11] Fazale Rana, Creating Life in the Lab: How New Discoveries in Synthetic Biology Make a Case for the Creator (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2011),  84-85