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.

Why You Think the Way You Do: The Story of Western Worldviews from Rome to Home by Glenn Sunshine A review

Glenn Sunshine is a Professor of History at Central Connecticut State University, while also serving on the faculty of the Centurions Program of the Colson Center, and as the faculty advisor for Ratio Christi at CCSU. He has a BA in linguistics from Michigan State University, an MA in Church History from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, an MA in Reformation History from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a PhD in Renaissance-Reformation History from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As a Christian and a historian, Sunshine has a passion for helping Christians see how worldview affects culture, and vice versa.

The thesis of Why You Think the Way You Do is that the history of Western Civilization can be traced according to its changing relationship to Christianity. Moreover, the successes and failures of Western culture can be linked to its acceptance or rejection of a Christian worldview.

The book opens with an explanation of the idea of worldview, and how it affects individuals and societies as a whole. It then traces the trajectory of Western culture from the Roman Empire, its transformation by the spread of Christianity, and the periods that followed. The chapters address major periods from the Middle Ages to the renaissance, to the modern “enlightenment” era, to the post-modern period to today. Sunshine shows how changes in worldviews impacted major events such as three great revolutions in England, France and America. This section was especially helpful to understand why the American Revolution succeeded where the Glorious Revolution, and the French Revolutions failed.

As history unfolds in more recent decades, we see the consequences of elevating personal autonomy to the point where ultimate freedom for all means little freedom for some. We see where the only thing considered immoral is considering something immoral. Moreover, we see how struggles for equality have become struggles for privilege by claiming victim status. We see tolerance become meaningless since tolerance entails disagreement, but disagreement is considered intolerance.

Sunshine has painted a clear picture of the consequences of the absence of the Christian worldview in the public square. While the history of Christendom is checkered with its wars of religion, Sunshine gives fair treatment of the issue, acknowledging excesses while noting where these diverge from Christian teaching.

It is not only society, however, that has lost a conscious Christian worldview. This is also missing in much of the Church. We in the church need to read this book and take its lessons to heart if we hope to have an impact on our culture.

This book is accessible to middle-school students, while being rich enough to not bore those with advanced degrees. Church youth leaders and students would do well to study this book. Our future as a nation may well depend upon it.

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.

Mike Licona explains the As, Bs, Cs, Ds and Es of New Testament reliability

WINTERY KNIGHT

Mike Licona is one of my favorite Christian apologists, and here is an excellent lecture to show you why.

In the lecture, he explains why the four biographies in the New Testament should be accepted as historically accurate: (55 minutes)

Summary:

  • What a Baltimore Ravens helmet teaches us about the importance of truth
  • What happens to Christians when they go off to university?
  • The 2007 study on attitudes of American professors to evangelical Christians
  • Authors: Who wrote the gospels?
  • Bias: Did the bias of the authors cause them to distort history?
  • Contradictions: What about the different descriptions of events in the gospels?
  • Dating: When were the gospels written?
  • Eyewitnesses: Do the gospel accounts go back to eyewitness testimony?

This is basic training for Christians. It would be nice if every Christian was equipped in church to be able to make a case like this.

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Be on the Lookout!!

Melissa Cain Travis

The cover story for the April issue of Christianity Today Magazine is on women working in the field of apologetics!

My colleagues and I were honored to be featured in the article. I hope you’ll check it out.

CT COVER IMAGE

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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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