Five Things Science Cannot Prove (that are necessary to do science)

Perhaps the most common misunderstanding of science today is the idea that it alone operates only on what can be proven.  The scientist, we are told, unlike the historian, sociologist, or (shudder) the theologian, believes nothing except what is proven to be true by the scientific method; therefore he or she alone is the oracle of true knowledge of the physical world.

It is remarkable how prevalent this thought is, even when not articulated, since it is so easily shown to be not the case.  Science is a wonderful and noble way of exploring and understanding this world we find ourselves in, but it in no way operates solely on the basis of proof. Some things it must assume. I will list a few of them.

[Note: nothing I can say will stop some people from viewing this as an attack on science; it is anything but, as I think any reasonable reading will show. ]

  1. 1. Reality is rational.

That is, its makeup is such that it exhibits order and consistency, so that we can make predictions and postulate laws and theories.  Now this may seem like common sense, but that would be common only to sensibilities formed in and shaped by what could loosely be defined as “western” thought (though of course we mean history more than geography here).  To the ancients, and to many of the east today, the idea that the universe is rational and subject completely in its physical workings to consistency and order is not something assumed at all.

Nor can reality be “proven” to be rational.  Indeed, ask yourself how this would be proven from the viewpoint of someone within this reality.  You cannot prove it by experiment, for you cannot experiment on reality as a whole. You cannot prove it by induction, arguing that since everything we have studied has proven rational that reality itself must be. An inductive argument like this fails for four reasons.  First, an inductive argument of this sort will only grant a probable truth, not a certain one, so the best we could say is that, “reality is probably rational” which is a world different from saying “reality is rational”. Second, we have no way of measuring how much of reality we have “figured out” versus how much we have not, so there is no way of knowing if we have high probability or very low probability for our inductive claim.  Thirdly, it is simply not the case that we have figured out everything we have been able to study.  When Richard Fenyman wrote, ‘I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics,’ he was including himself which is disconcerting given how many books he wrote on that very subject.  No-one today can give a satisfactory answer to the most basic question of physics (how quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity can both be true since they contradict each other) nor can astronomers and astrophysicists give an agreed upon answer to the quandary that most of the matter of the universe (dark matter and dark energy) cannot even be observed (but must be assumed to make sense of everything else).  Fourth, even if everything we can study shows rationality, that is no proof that we do not inhabit a slice or bubble of the universe that has qualities different than the universe as a whole (an idea which some astrophysicists argue as possible).

Now, I do believe reality is rational, for I believe it is the creation of a rational being.  And I suspect the legacy of this belief gives a clue to why science developed more successfully in theistic societies than pagan, pantheistic or animistic ones.  So I am not arguing that reality is not rational, but that science is logically dependent on a belief that it cannot prove.  Unless reality is rational, science is not possible.

  1. 2. Reality is knowable.

This is not the same argument as above.  The success of the scientific method assumes not only that reality has the quality of rationality, but that it is also knowable. That is, it is conceivable that realist is rational, but I could be irrational, and not able to form valid conclusions about reality.  My mind must be “on the same wavelength” to capture its rationality.

Steven Pinker, the famous evolutionary biologist, unwittingly encounters this very issue when he writes on page 561 of “How the Mind Works”:

We are organisms, not angels, and our minds are organs, not pipelines to the truth. Our minds evolved by natural selection to solve problems that were life-and-death matters to our ancestors, not to commune with correctness or to answer any question we are capable of asking.

Somehow, one gets the impression that Pinker feels his own mind is an exception to this rule, else why would he write the book (or even ask us to believe the above quote).

But indeed, how could we prove that the human mind is a capable tool for understanding reality and finding truth, especially on the assumptions Pinker makes (that the mind evolved to solve practical problems that affect reproductive success, not to find truth)?  But without the belief that the human mind can understand reality, there is no reason to study reality.  One is better off not wasting the time.

Again, I am not arguing that reality is not knowable.  I believe it is because I believe the same rational being who created reality (thus ensuring its rationality) also created mankind in His own image, thus ensuring the possibility of valid knowledge of, and reasoning about, that reality. No, I cannot prove that scientifically.  But neither can the scientist prove that his or her mind is capable of anything more than an utilitarian problem solving that may or may not speak actual truth.

  1. 3. The uniformity of nature across time and space

Quick, what is the speed of light?  299 792 458 meters per second, of course.   But what was speed of light a second after the big bang? Or 4 billion years ago?  Or what will it be 4 billion years from now (or even next week?)  Of course we don’t know, in one sense. No-one measured the speed of light 4 billion years ago, and any knowledge of the measuring of the speed of light in the future is inaccessible to us.  Nor can we measure the speed of light right now except in that small sliver of the universe we can actually observe.  And the same is true of other laws of nature: gravity, the interplay of the parts of the atom, etc…

It should be noted here that the speed of light, for example, is derived from observation.  Every time we observe it, it is always that speed (or its speed makes possible other equations that correspond to present reality). But nothing in the nature of reality mandates that it must be at that speed; other speeds for light are at least conceivable.

So how do we know that the speed of light or other laws of physics apply across the universe (when we’ve only studied a sliver) and across time (when we only have access to the present?).  Technically, we do not know.  We assume.  Since all the places and times we have been able to observe follow these laws, it seems logical to assume that is also the case for the places and times we cannot observe.  But notice, this is an inductive argument, and as such can only give a probable conclusion, not an air-tight certainty.  Yet every science, if you dig deep enough, operates on the assumption of continuity and uniformity.  This is no mark against science; it can hardly do otherwise.  But it is still worth noting that the foundation is an assumed deduction, not a proven fact.

  1. 4. Causation

Surely, if there is one thing science can prove, it is that one thing causes another, right?  Actually, nothing could be farther from the case.  The very idea of causation must be assumed.

David Hume, of course, is the one who most famously has shown this.  Imagine, he said, I have one hundred windows in a row, and I take a hammer and hit the first 99.  All of them shatter.  I approach the last one.  Will it shatter also when I hit it?  Hume argues that you cannot know that, for there is no way of proving that the impact of the hammer caused the other windows to break. It is conceivable (even if unlikely) that some other forces or forces broke the windows at the exact time the hammer hit them.  Causation, he argued, is an attribute of the mind, by which it tries to make sense what happens in the world.  But there is no way to prove beyond doubt that causality applies beyond the mind’s interpretation.

Hume’s argument is epistemological, that is, a question of how we know things.  But 20th century science (in the form of quantum mechanics) itself has undermined the concept of causation (please read up on simultaneous causation and the uncertainty principle to see this).

Also, as I am writing this, the world of science has been shocked by the apparent find of a team at the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) that some particles travel faster than the speed of light. One article notes,

The existence of faster-than-light particles would wreak havoc on scientific theories of cause and effect.

“If things travel faster than the speed of light, A can cause B, [but] B can also cause A,” Parke [head of the theoretical physics department at the U.S. government-run Fermilab near Chicago, Illinois] said.

“If that happens, the concept of causality becomes ambiguous, and that would cause a great deal of trouble.”

At this point, both philosophically and scientifically, the simple idea of causation (A causes B) is very much a working assumption that makes science possible, not the result of science itself.  [Please note I am talking about the concept of causation, not examples of one thing causing another].

  1. 5. The very existence of an external universe consisting of matter

I will spend the least time here, for this is unable to be proven by any worldview or any method of knowledge.  Suffice it to say that both solipsism and idealism would deny the existence of an externally existing material universe.   Solipsism argues this world does not exist outside my mental projections, or, as my epistemology professor put it, “I’m the only pebble on the beach. And there is no beach”. Idealism argues that only the spiritual is real, and the material world is an illusion (or, as for Berkeley, real only as the thoughts of God).  Technically, neither idea is refutable (any arguments against them must come from inside the projection or illusion).

Again, this does not count in any way against science.  Of all the five things on this list, this is to me the least substantial (since no-one can consistently live out this idea).  I include it here to remind us of the need for intellectual humility, whether we are a scientist or theologian.

Other presuppositions of science include the following:

  • The laws of logic (especially the law of non-contradiction)
  • The adequacy of language to communicate reality and truth
  • The existence of numbers

All these have been argued by philosophers and others, and none of them can be proven by the scientific method.  In short, they are metaphysical assumptions, not proven facts.

Also, related to this but somewhat a distinct issue is that science assumes certain values in order to proceed, without being able to scientifically prove the validity of these values.  Chief among these values is that of honesty.

All this to say that science is a wonderful tool for granting knowledge about this universe we find ourselves in.  It in no way is to be despised or denigrated.  But enough of the foolish talk that it alone traffics in certainty and what is beyond doubt.  It is an invaluable servant, but makes a terrible idol.

What is Heaven?

Few words carry such meaning and confusion as “Heaven”.  Little children address assign both their prayers and hopes to heaven, while the word’s sheer breadth of meaning confuse elderly academics. 

Part of the confusion stems from what C. S. Lewis called transposition.  That word derives from the activity of re-composing a piece written for one musical instrument, say, the piano, for another instrument, say, a guitar.  The piano, of course, can play many more notes than the guitar, so often several notes or chords written for the piano piece will be represented by only one note or chord on the guitar. 

In the same way, the word “heaven” is used to describe more than one thing.  In fact, it designates several related but separate ideas, and only by pulling the strands of the knot apart can we gain access to the meaning.

First, heaven can mean the air or the atmosphere.  Birds and clouds fill this heaven, and it is from this heaven that the rain quenches the thirst of the earth.

Second, heaven can mean what we refer to as space, or what is beyond our atmosphere. This heaven is populated not with birds, but stars and planets. 

Now, both these two senses sometimes blend together to refer to all things that are above the earth.  In this sense, sometimes all physical creation is designated by the terms, “the heavens and the earth”, as in Genesis 1:1.  But they can also be distinguished.  For example, Psalm 8 refers to the heavens in verse 3 as being filled with the “moon and stars, which you have set in place”.  That same Psalm could later speak of man’s role of dominion over the things of this planet, which include the beasts of the field, the fish of the sea, and the birds of the heavens (verses 6-8). 

Another sense of the word heaven is also used in that same psalm.  Verse five says that mankind has been made, “a little lower than the heavenly beings”.  Both the context and the New Testament usage (Hebrews 2:5-8) tell us that this means that mankind is made a little lower than angelic beings, that is, inhabitants of the spirit world.

The third sense heaven, then is as a spiritual realm, not a place in the universe.  Heaven in this sense is not somewhere one could travel physically; it is nowhere on the map on the universe, nor does it exist physically “outside” the universe.  This is apparently what Paul meant when he said he was given a vision of “the third heaven” ( II Corinthians 12:2). I will be speaking of this heaven the rest of the way.

This meaning of heaven is inherently difficult for those not in heaven to understand, just as a three-dimensional universe would be inherently obscure to a person who lived in only two dimensions (as Edwin Abbot illustrated in his wonderful classic novel, Flatland).  It speaks of what is both beyond this world, and what is not like this world.  Yet, as Ecclesiastes seems to hint in that enigmatic phrase, “you have set eternity in our hearts”, humans have been reluctant to give up the idea that something is “beyond”, even if it proves difficult to comprehend.

It may be helpful to distinguish four aspects of this third sense of heaven.  These distinctions are conceptual, not actual (or noetic, not ontological, if you like being technical).  That is, they distinguish between four different aspects of the third meaning of heaven, not four different additional heavens.

The first aspect of this heaven (that would be 3a for you obsessive types), is that of the spirit world.  Psalm Eight calls angels heavenly beings because heaven is their abode, as it were (though again, not physical abode).  It is their sphere of existence and activity.  Of course, angels also interact with humanity, for humans are spiritual beings as well as physical beings, and humans alone are, by nature, both physical and spiritual.  Angels are not.  They have, by nature, no physical body, though they can adopt at least the appearance of one in order to communicate with mankind. 

By the way, in this sense, even demons (fallen angels) are said to exist in heaven.  Paul reminds us that our struggle is not against physical foes, but spiritual ones, who exist “in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). 

In this sense, then, the main emphasis is on what heaven is not: a physical place in the universe.  It exists in a totally different (and more fundamental way) than the universe.  Think of an aquarium constructed at the factory, then filled with water, plants and fish by the hobbyist.  What exists outside the aquarium is both prior to and more fundamental than what exists inside it (since forces and wills outside the aquarium affect what is inside it).

The second aspect of heaven (3b) is as the place where God “dwells”.  Now, of course, both the scriptures and all orthodox Christian theology insist that God does not have a body of any kind.  He is a spiritual being (John 4:24) and thus does not occupy space.  Space and time are features of this universe, and the concepts of time and space simply do not apply to the one who created this universe with its space and time.  We use phrases like that God existed before the universe or exists outside the universe, but these expressions are concessions to the poverty of our words to express what we have no experience of; they are not technically accurate.

What can it mean, then, when scripture pictures God as dwelling in heaven?  Why would Jesus teach us to pray, for example, “our father, which art in Heaven?” God is emphasizing, through metaphor, His transcendence over our existence, and his control over all that happens in this universe.  Transcendence means that He is not contained in this universe, nor limited by anything in this universe (neither the laws and forces of nature or the schemes and power of man).  To say that God is “in heaven” is to affirm not that he exists physically in a place one could point to on a map, but that this world can neither contain Him nor limit Him. 

For the believer, one other thing about heaven as God’s existence is also dear. That is the idea that we will in some way share that dwelling with Him.  This is the idea behind the promise of Jesus that “in my father’s house are many rooms…I am going to prepare a place for you….on that day you will realize that I am in my father, and you are in me, and I am in you” (John 14).  The mystery and ambiguity of what this actually looks like spring from the incredible, category-breaking nature of the promise: that somehow, physical and once-fallen beings like ourselves will dwell with the Spirit who is beyond all. 

The third aspect of heaven (3c) is the place of perfection and power which somehow exists “alongside” this world we experience.  Though heaven in this aspect is often seen as being “above” our world, this is metaphorical, not literal.  It is good to raise our eyes or voice to heaven, as long as we understand the reality beyond the symbol. 

In this sense, help comes from heaven to the supplicant believer.  Isaiah 57:15 says,

 For this is what the high and exalted One says—
   he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
“I live in a high and holy place,
   but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly
   and to revive the heart of the contrite.

James 3:15-17 speaks of wisdom that comes “from heaven”, Psalm 14:2 says the Lord examines men by looking down from heaven, while psalm 105:40 testifies that he satisfied his people by sending the “bread of heaven” (manna).   All these verses, and dozens more, speak of heaven as not only the place God dwells, but the place from which he interacts with this world.

Finally, the fourth aspect of heaven(3d) describes the coming, perfect kingdom: the perfect order and beauty of the eternal state, the place where true believers will, in a resurrected body, commune with God, worship God, and rule with God over a perfected physical creation.  Interestingly, this is not usually called “heaven” in the scriptures, but in many ways this is the goal and fulfillment of the first three aspects of heaven. The eternal dwelling of God in the spirit realm, with all its beauty, holiness, power, and perfection, is now open to a new humanity.  As the oak replaces the acorn, the new heaven and new earth (that is, the entirety of the physical creation) replace the old heaven and old earth.   This New Jerusalem both comes down from heaven (Rev. 21:2) and becomes heaven, the place where God and His people now dwell together.  The shout raised at the event will celebrate the marriage of heaven and earth, of God and His people: “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them, and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away (Rev. 21:3-4). 

One final question needs to be addressed: Is it correct to say that when a believer dies, they “go to heaven”? 

I think the answer to this is yes, but we should understand that in a full way, not a simplistic, childish way.  God is not dwelling on a cloud somewhere beyond the planets, waiting for us to come and pick up our harps and join him. And certainly the fullest and final expression of heaven (3d) awaits the judgment and resurrection, events that are still in the future from our perspective.  Yet, Paul could also speak of his impending death with the comforting thought that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (Phil. 1:19-26), and Jesus could promise the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise”. 

The paradox between these two themes (immediate communion with Christ after death versus the wait for the judgment, resurrection, marriage feast and New Jerusalem) has led many biblical scholars to posit something of an intermediate state between our present death and our future resurrection.  That is, when we die we exist in some state in communion with Christ, but are not resurrected bodily till the general resurrection in the last days.  Others have suggested that the intermediary state should be called soul-sleep, that is, that our body seems to be asleep while our soul is with Christ.  My own problem with this is understanding how we could exist in a disembodied state.  The idea goes beyond our human experience, and thus, our human reason.  This does not mean it should be rejected, but it does suggest we leave the description of the intermediate state open. 

But perhaps the tension between our immediate communion with Christ (at death) and our delayed resurrection should not bother us too much if we remember that time is a category of this world only, and that what we may experience immediately (while not in this world) may, from the perspective of this world, be far in the future. 

So, in this sense, I think it is permissible to speak of believers going to heaven when they die, as long as we understand that the emphasis of the scripture is not on our individual entrance to the pearly gates, but God’s plan to redeem and perfect creation (of which we, amazingly, can be a part). It is when we fully understand that the overwhelming purpose of God is to create a new resurrected humanity capable of dwelling with Him as rulers over a perfected new creation, so that He can expand the circle of Trinitarian love to (for He is love), that we truly long with creation itself (Romans 8: 18-25) for the day when the voice cries out: “Now [at last!] the dwelling of God is with men!”. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

Christian Science

No, I am not talking about the religion called “Christian Science”.  That religion always reminds me of Grape Nuts (its neither grapes, nor nuts).  I am talking about how a Christian does science, or understands science, or appreciates science. 

This is not a question to be settled only by the people in the lab coats.  All of us are affected by science, and oft those outside the trenches are best able to take in the meaning of the battle.  I claim no expertise, then, but simply lay out my opinion for your comments and thoughts.

First, a Christian doing science will use the same methodology as anyone else doing science.  He or she will use the scientific method appropriate to the field of study.  Appeals to the bible or the viewpoints of the church (as if the church was univocal) will be totally out of place in deciding scientific questions. Nor will the Christian scientist be affected by the question of whether or not God exists.  The reason is that if God does exist, he has presumably left the area of science under investigation subject to the natural laws of physics he established.  Miracles are more the realm of the historian than of the scientist.  This combination (of belief in God and metaphysical neutrality in methodology) actually gives the Christian an advantage: He or she is able to be content with saying of some things: “we don’t know”, rather than forcing facts into ill-fitting theories that try to explain everything from a naturalistic viewpoint. 

Second, the Christian doing science or appreciating science is able to understand the picture, not just examine the brushstrokes.  I take this metaphor from the times I have stood staring at a Van Gogh at a local museum.  With my face a few inches from the glass I have wondered and been amazed at how the crazy brushstrokes conveyed the weary face of the farm worker, or the beautiful mess of the haystack.  And the crucial work of those in the lab coats is to unveil or to shine light on, the various parts of the painting.  A few, whom I will call meta-scientists, will step a few feet back and show how all the parts of the painting work together to create, not isolated images, but a blended panorama.  A Christian (or, substitute most religious persons here) are not those who see different things in the painting, but are those who can consult, as it were, Van Gogh’s diary on why he painted what he did.  They see not just the beauty of the painting, but the meaning of the painting.  They praise not only the glory of the masterpiece, but the glory of the master.

Of course, others are free to view with skepticism whether the religious folk have the real diary, or even if the painting had a painter.  But those are not scientific questions.  And the religious folks, alleged diary in hand, are free to respond, “And what is your explanation, not for what the painting is, but what it means, and how do you justify that explanation? I’m all ears.”

The Sin of the Orthodox

[note: by “Orthodox” I am referring to those who are biblical and traditional in their theology; I am not referring to the Orthodox church]

 

Each time I read the book of Job I find deeper meanings.  As I read it this week, one idea that kept coming to my mind was the sin of those who thought they had God all figured out.

At the conclusion of the book, God responds to Job, and then responds to Eliphaz and his friends.  The friends were, you will recall, the “miserable comforters” who debated with Job about the justice of God. The substance of their great debate could be summarized this way: The friends argue that since God is just, Job’s afflictions must be the punishment for some hidden sin.  Job argues in response (repeatedly): Look, I don’t have any “secret sin” that deserves this kind of punishment, so God is not being just to me.  The friends then accuse him of undermining the notion of God’s justice.  Job responds by repeating what he knows: I am innocent, yet enduring incredible suffering, and this suffering seems to come from God himself.  Again, Job implies, “God is not being just with me”.

Now, of course, we readers are let into a secret.  Chapters one and two describe the scene in heaven where God twice describes Job, “a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil”.  In fact, God says, “there is none like him on earth”.  So we know before the dialogue begins that the three friends are in the wrong.  Job’s afflictions are not punishments.  Job is blameless before God.

But imagine if we did not have this information.  Imagine we walked in to the story right where the dialogue starts.  On the one hand, we have three wise, older men who have an exalted view of God and are eager to defend his ways.  They are completely orthodox in their understanding, and their first priority is to protect God’s reputation.  On the other hand, you have Job, who seems to be not only suffering, but positively afflicted by God (the suddenness and completeness of his losses cannot be mere coincidence).  Job argues that he is blameless, therefore God is not being just, while the orthodox friends argue that God is just, therefore Job is not blameless.  Who is right?

Wait: before you answer, again try to strip your mind of what you know from chapters one and two.  And you may find yourself in the position of Elihu.  Elihu is a rather mysterious figure.  He shows up without introduction and his name is not mentioned again after his long speech (chapters 32-37).  His speech does not serve to advance the dialogue at all, and neither God nor Job nor the friends respond to it.  Here is what I think: Elihu is intended to function as a warning to the reader.  His viewpoint and speech (“Job, you are wrong; I know wisdom, and you are speaking folly”) are the natural conclusion we are tempted to draw simply by listening to the speeches (without the prologue).  In his speeches, he not only agrees with the orthodox friends, but is angry at them for not being able to withstand Job’s arguments. 

It is right after his speech that God Himself arrives on the scene and, incredibly, joins in the argument.  God does two things.  First, he reproves Job (chapters 38-41) for failing to understand what Kierkegaard would later call “the infinite qualitative distinction” between God and man.  Job is wrong because He simply is not in a place to understand God’s ways, and therefore is recklessly hasty in saying that God is unjust to him.  The second thing God does, then, is surprising.  He approves Job, especially in contrast to his orthodox friends.  Twice he tells the orthodox, “you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has”.  In fact, God regards this not only as a mistake, but a sin, for which they need to offer a sacrifice and ask Job(!) to pray for them.  God seems less upset by Job yelling at Him than the friends yelling at Job on God’s behalf.

This, then, is the surprising conclusion to the dialogue: Elihu listens and takes the side of the orthodox friends and rebukes Job, while God listens and ultimately takes the side of Job and rebukes the orthodox.  And this is the heart of the book of Job: God’s ways are, in the final analysis, not able to be fully understood by man, simply because we are never in the position that He is in.  Even the most godly (like Job) and the most orthodox and cerebral (like Job’s friends) can never understand God in the same way they understand the things of this world.  In fact, God describes the words of the orthodox friends, who felt they were speaking godly wisdom, as “folly”. 

Now, here is where the rubber hits the road.  I have always taken pride in holding correct, orthodox views of God and theology.  And I still feel that the traditional, conservative, biblical viewpoint is the best way to understand the world in which we find ourselves in.  Yet, books like Job warn me to be very humble about this.  In the end, I have little doubt that my orthodox, evangelical theology will be like the fig leafs the first couple used to clothe themselves: wholly inadequate, and replaced by something else by God’s grace. 

What does this mean practically?  It means that we should be careful that our study of theology should never outstrip our understanding of “the infinite qualitative distinction”.  It means our eagerness to defend God should never come at the expense of loving people.  It means we must learn to live out our worldview fully, all the while realizing that when we see Him all of our previous “knowledge” will be fig leaves of foolishness.

The Small god of Modern Evangelicalism

Yes, the non-capitalization of the third word in the title is deliberate.  I don’t think the god I am talked about deserves to be capitalized.  For I am not talking about the God of the scriptures, but the god that is worshipped in much of modern American evangelicalism.

This god is good, but small and not very powerful.  This god is not able to use the foolish, weak and lowly things of this world to shame and nullify the wise, strong, and powerful ((see I Corinthians 1:26-31).  That is why those who lead this god’s churches must attempt to change the foolish things into things wise in the ways of this world, and must change the lowly and despised things into things this world likes and respects. 

This god and his message must be made appealing to the world, much like Mary Poppins made the medicine more palatable by a spoon full of sugar.  The sweeteners  of coolness, relevance and freshness coat the message of this god, while those doing the coating tell us it doesn’t change the fundamental recipe.  Perhaps not, but the very fact that the sweeteners are added betray a lack of faith in the inherent power of the message, and the power of the god who gives it.

It is not that the followers of this small god don’t believe the message; they just don’t believe it has much power without their help.  It’s not that they want to distort this message.  It’s just that the don’t reflect on how its distortion flows naturally from the help they give it.

This is why we see increasingly that not only do many of the leaders have a small god, but so do the people in their churches.  These are people who view god as some sort of personal life-enhancement, not the author and judge of their life. They obey his commands selectively, and feel free to ignore or re-interpret those that might cause too much change, or that conflict too fiercely with the spirit of the age.  They view his church not as something they are deeply privileged to be a part of, but something they consume like any other form of entertainment, and that had better keep the goods coming. 

This leads to the following scenario, in which I will ask the reader to see past the exaggerations and ask if it does not reflect reality somewhat.

The pastor of [insert trendy name here] Church heads into his office Monday morning.  His first action is to check the numbers: attendance, giving, google rank.  He soon begins to think of this week’s sermon and worship (or, if well organized, those of the weeks ahead).  He has 7 hours for that this week (it used to be 15, but that was before he took on more ceo type responsibilities).  How does he spend those 7 hours?  The options are basically these: exegesis, prayer, presentation, and practice.  Since his main concern (though he would never admit it) is to impress or at least interest the hearers, so that they feel good enough about the message that they continue to come (and hopefully invite friends), he ends up spending most of the seven hours on the last two.  After all, not many will notice and fewer will care if he doesn’t get the meaning of the passage exactly right.  But everyone will notice and care if he is not interesting or relevant to the felt needs of the audience. 

In similar way, the worship leader, taking his cue from the pastor, chooses songs based on the criteria of what the people will find enjoyable or “meaningful”.  Of course, he would never choose songs that are not scriptural.  But that leaves a lot of leeway.  He may try to coordinate the songs with the sermon and the other parts of the service.  But he will not spend a significant percentage of his time in prayer, nor will the focus of that prayer be seeking wisdom for how God would be pleased in the worship.

The parishioners do their job on Sunday: they attend.  They are happy that their kids enjoy the music, and that the sermon is not too long.  The church is full, and seems to have energy, which further boosts their self-esteem for having chosen to be a part of such an excellent church. The message focuses on how God can improve their marriage, and they leave glad that God wants to help them.  As one wife would say later in the week, “I just love God! He does so much for me.”

Is it even possible that the children of this church will ever view god as something more than a cosmic vending machine? 

This is the morass into which we have sunk.

Logical and Factual Problems with Naturalistic Evolution

By Daniel Jepsen

Intro:  this is my attempt to show why I have not been persuaded by the scientific arguments for materialist evolution, that is, evolution within a naturalistic worldview. This type of worldview is one that states that only matter (or, only matter and energy) exists, and therefore all life, including our existence, must be accounted for by the unguided process of natural selection.  Most of these arguments will not be relevant to the various theories of theistic evolution. 

Also, there is one other problem with a materialistic account of origins which I will not develop here (because it is covered elsewhere in this journal) but which I feel is cogent: the fact that matter exists at all, that is, that there is something rather than nothing.  While this is not technically a problem with evolution, it is a problem for a worldview (naturalism) which underlies the type of evolution I am discussing here.

So, in brief summary, here are the problem areas for unguided evolution:

A. the origin of life

A theist looks to a creator to explain the origin of life. This answer will not satisfy all people, but it is an answer internally consistent with its worldview.  The materialists, however, have no answer here.  Their sole source of knowledge, empirical science, simply cannot give an explanation for this crucial phenomenon. 

 Everything we see of life around us have the following characteristic:  it arises from life.  A baby is born from its mother, a plant develops from a living seed, a cell is produced from another cell.  This is called biogenesis, and is the common fact of our experience. Materialism, however, must also choose to believe in what we have never seen: abiogenesis, that life arose from non-life.  The reason materialists must choose to believe what they have not seen is simple: we have life now, but at some point in time there was nothing but non-life.  Without recourse to a creator, materialists must explain this phenomenon. 

Of course, it does no good to say that evolutionary theory only deals with things already living.  If evolution professes to give an adequate account of the world we live in, it cannot simply skip over the most startling fact of all: that life is here.  If it cannot explain the origin of life, its answers to the modification of life will seem at best to be incomplete, and at worst to be pointless.

Some of the more un-informed will point to the Urey/Miller experiments in 1953 as proof that life, or at least the building blocks of life, can be simulated in a lab. This is false for two reasons.  First, even if the experiment were a success, it would not support evolution, but intelligent creation.  The raw materials in the experiment did not simply show up in the lab by chance.  They were chosen by intelligent beings with the design of trying to create life.  Secondly, the experiments were a failure, not a success.   I will allow microbiologist Jerry Bergman to summarize the experiment and its problem (you may skip the italicized sections if you don’t want to get technical).

The most famous origin of life experiment was completed in 1953 by Stanley Miller at the University of Chicago.  At the time Miller was a 23-year-old graduate student working under Urey who was trying to recreate in his laboratory the conditions then thought to have preceded the origin of life.  The Miller/Urey experiments involved filling a sealed glass apparatus with methane, ammonia, hydrogen gases (representing what they thought composed the early atmosphere) and water vapor (to simulate the ocean).  Next, they used a spark-discharge device to strike the gases in the flask with simulated lightning while a heating coil kept the water boiling.  Within a few days, the water and gas mix produced a reddish stain on the sides of the flask.  After analyzing the substances that had been formed, they found several types of amino acids.  Eventually Miller and other scientists were able to produce 10 of the 20 amino acids required for life by techniques similar to the original Miller/ Urey experiments.

Urey and Miller assumed that the results were significant because some of the organic compounds produced were the building blocks of proteins, the basic structure of all life (Horgan, 1996, p. 130).  Although widely heralded by the press as “proving” the origin of life could have occurred on the early earth under natural conditions without intelligence, the experiment actually provided compelling evidence for exactly the opposite conclusion.  For example, equal quantities of both right- and left-handed organic molecules always were produced by the Urey/Miller procedure.  In real life, nearly all amino acids found in proteins are left handed, almost all polymers of carbohydrates are right handed, and the opposite type can be toxic to the cell.  In a summary the famous Urey/Miller origin-of-life experiment, Horgan concluded:

Miller’s results seem to provide stunning evidence that life could arise from what the British chemist J.B.S. Haldane had called the “primordial soup.” Pundits speculated that scientists, like Mary Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein, would shortly conjure up living organisms in their laboratories and thereby demonstrate in detail how genesis unfolded.  It hasn’t worked out that way.  In fact, almost 40 years after his original experiment, Miller told me that solving the riddle of the origin of life had turned out to be more difficult than he or anyone else had envisioned (1996, p. 138).

The reasons why creating life in a test tube turned out to be far more difficult than Miller or anyone else expected are numerous and include the fact that scientists now know that the complexity of life is far greater than Miller or anyone else in pre-DNA revolution 1953 ever imagined.  Actually life is far more complex and contains far more information than anyone in the 1980s believed possible

The major problem of Millers experiment is well put by Davies,

Making the building blocks of life is easy—amino acids have been found in meteorites and even in outer space.  But just as bricks alone don’t make a house, so it takes more than a random collection of amino acids to make life.  Like house bricks, the building blocks of life have to be assembled in a very specific and exceedingly elaborate way before they have the desired function (Davies, 1999, p. 28)….

Yet another difficulty is, even if the source of the amino acids and the many other compounds needed for life could be explained, it still must be explained as to how these many diverse elements became aggregated in the same area and then properly assembled themselves.  This problem is a major stumbling block to any theory of abiogenesis…

As Coppedge (1973) notes, even 1) postulating a primordial sea with every single component necessary for life, 2) speeding up the bonding rate so as to form different chemical combinations a trillion times more rapidly than hypothesized to have occurred, 3) allowing for a 4.6 billion- year-old earth and 4) using all atoms on the earth still leaves the probability of a single protein molecule being arranged by chance is 1 in 10,261.  Using the lowest estimate made before the discoveries of the past two decades raised the number several fold.  Coppedge estimates the probability of 1 in 10119,879 is necessary to obtain the minimum set of the required estimate of 239 protein molecules for the smallest theoretical life form.

At this rate he estimates it would require 10119,831 years on the average to obtain a set of these proteins by naturalistic evolution (1973, pp. 110, 114).  The number he obtained is 10119,831 greater than the current estimate for the age of the earth (4.6 billion years).  In other words, this event is outside the range of probability.  Natural selection cannot occur until an organism exists and is able to reproduce which requires that the first complex life form first exist as a functioning unit.

The situation is so bad for the naturalist that many of them are openly discussing what most people would consider a rather bizarre belief: that living organisms came from another planet.  This theory, called Panspermia, has two major variations: undirected panspermia (life accidentally hitched a ride on a meteor that landed on earth), and directed panspermia (life was purposefully sent from aliens to earth).  As strange as that last theory may seem, it was the espoused view of the late Francis Crick, an evolutionary advocate and winner of a Nobel prize. 

Of course, Panspermia has a host of problems, both logical and scientific:

•           First, it does not solve the question of how life could arise from non-life, but merely pushes it back to another planet in the hopes of increasing the timeframe.

•           Secondly, by doing so, it implicitly violates materialist methodology by postulating a whole area of human origins to a time and place we cannot examine.  A believer in panspermia seeks answers “outside the system” as surely as creationists do.

•           Thirdly, scientific problems abound.  Space is a damaging environment for life, as it would be exposed to radiation, cosmic rays and stellar winds. Studies of bacteria frozen in Antarctic glaciers have shown that DNA has a half-life of 1.1 million years under such conditions, suggesting that while life may have potentially moved around within the Solar System it is unlikely that it could have arrived from an interstellar source. Also, life as we know it requires heavy elements carbon, nitrogen and oxygen (C, N and O, respectively) to exist at sufficient densities and temperatures for the chemical reactions between them to occur. These conditions are not widespread in the Universe, so this limits the distribution of life as an ongoing process.

Some naturalists, looking at the evidence, yet clinging to a naturalistic viewpoint, then make the following argument:  Well, we know it occurred, so somehow it must have occurred.  This of course, is the very definition of circular reasoning, but has not stopped many evolutionists from making the argument.  Some will augment this argument by postulating a multitude or an infinity of universes.  In an infinity of universes, the argument goes, even the most implausible things are bound to happen in at least one or two of the universes.  The second objection to panspermia (above) applies equally well to this desperate argument.

B. The transition from one species to another 

My first  point here is that many of the arguments to support evolutionary theory, despite their impressive data, are fallaciously argued.  Some scientists either are not well-trained in logical argumentation, or their allegiance to a system of thought blinds them to problems with their thinking.

One example, quoted above, is circular reasoning.  This occurs whenever the theory of evolution is somehow snuck into arguments for analyzing the facts for evolution.  You can see this is many textbooks, but especially when you hear the author saying something like, “well, we don’t know how this evolved, but we know it did, so it must have worked somehow”.  Or you may read something like this, “while we don’t know how this could have occurred in this time frame, the fact that it did simply shows that we will figure it out someday”.

A more hidden type of circular reasoning is even more commonplace.  This occurs when a person who is thoroughly committed to a system of thought finds a new piece of evidence, and automatically (that is, without deliberation), evaluates that piece of evidence only from the viewpoint of that system of thought.  If one is already committed to the belief that birds evolved from dinosaurs, then a fossil like Archaeopteryx (which appears to be something like a dinosaur with feathers and wings) confirms this belief.  If one is not, then the fact that Archaeopteryx could apparently not raise its wings above its head, nor flap them (and so could not fly), and the fact that it occurs in the fossil record before the dinosaurs is supposedly evolved from, and the fact that we have no fossils that look anything like steady stream of transitions from dinosaurs to Archaeopteryx, all lead to a rather different conclusion.  See more examples in the next note.

Another type of faulty reasoning frequently found in evolutionary arguments (especially textbooks) is the fallacy of equivocation.  Basically, this means using a term in two different ways, or using one term to describe two different things, but confusing the meanings in your argumentation. 

The two chief examples here are the equivocation between natural selection and guided selection, and the equivocation between micro-evolution and macro-evolution. 

First, one will often see examples of guided change used to support natural selection.  Any time you hear an argument for the change of species based on the breeding of dogs or other domestic animals, this fallacy is in play.  The argument they are trying to make is that species change.  The argument they are really proving is that species change, within certain boundaries, when someone with intelligence, power, and direction facilitates that change.  But of course, no-one argues against that last point. 

Second, related to the example above, their also seems to be a huge equivocation in most evolutionary arguments between micro-evolution (that species change physically based on changes in their environment) and macro-evolution (that species change into completely different species).  Two of the very famous examples here are the variations of Finches beaks, and the peppered moth study in England.  Lets take these in reverse order.  I will allow R. Matthews to summarize the experiment of the Peppered Moths, and what is wrong with it:

The “evolution” of the peppered moth, Biston betularia, whose story is recounted in almost every textbook on evolution, now appears to be based upon spurious data. According to the standard account, only one version of Biston existed before the mid-19th century: a white variety, peppered with black spots. During the Industrial Revolution its numbers plummeted because it became easy prey for birds as it rested on the pollution-blackened trunks of trees. In its place a mutant, pitch-black form of the peppered moth began to thrive, as it could rest on tree trunks without fear of being eaten. Precisely as predicted by Darwin’s theory of natural selection, this more fit mutant moth rapidly outnumbered the white version, reaching 100 per cent levels in some industrial areas. However, during the 1950′s, naturalists discovered a resurgence of the white variety, thought to be the result of the Clean Air Acts.  Scientists soon discovered that the white variety flourished again well before the return of pollution-free trees, while the black type continued to thrive in areas unaffected by industry. In addition, experiments showed that neither variety of moth chooses resting places best suited to its camouflage. Despite 40 years of effort, scientists have seen only two moths ever resting on tree trunks – they never have landed consistently on tree trunks, but hide under branches! It looks like the evolution textbooks will have to be rewritten. Evolutionist Richard Dawkins dismissed the new data, saying that, “nothing momentous hangs on these experiments.”

Now think carefully about what would be proved even if the evolutionary proponents were correct that somehow a white moth population turned dark in response to environmental change.  What exactly does this mean in regards to evolution?  Exactly nothing.  Since both varieties existed before the industrial revolution, no change of the species was involved, simply a change in the population demographics within the species.  As an example, imagine if a virus started to infest mankind that killed every person except for those with blue eyes (or every person without dark skin, or whatever).  If this occurred, it would certainly seem that our species had changed:  Now, every human has blue eyes.  However, notice what it would not prove: it would not prove that our species could change beyond the normal variations of eye color that we already have.  It would not add any genetic information to our species.  It would prove exactly nothing about whether our species could evolve into another species.

This fallacy is so obvious that it amazes me that the peppered moth example was put into the textbooks at all.  What is even more amazing is that it is still there, even after numerous holes have been seen, both in the facts of the case and their interpretation.  Yet here is the California Department of Education 2003 Science Framework for California Public Schools:

“An example of natural selection is the effect of industrial ‘melanism,’ or darkness of pigmentation, on the peppered moths of Manchester, England. These moths come in two varieties, one darker than the other. Before the industrial revolution, the dark moth was rare; however, during the industrial revolution the light moth seldom appeared. Throughout the industrial revolution, much coal was burned in the region, emitting soot and sulfur dioxide. For reasons not completely understood, the light-colored moth had successfully adapted to the cleaner air conditions that existed in preindustrial times and that exist in the region today. However, the light-colored moth appears to have lost its survival advantage during times of heavy industrial air pollution. One early explanation is that when soot covered tree bark, light moths became highly visible to predatory birds. Once this change happened, the dark-peppered moth had an inherited survival advantage because it was harder to see against the sooty background. This explanation may not have been the cause, and an alternative one is that the white-peppered moth was more susceptible to the sulfur dioxide emissions of the industrial revolution. In any case, in the evolution of the moth, mutations of the genes produced light and dark moths. Through natural selection the light moth had an adaptive advantage until environmental conditions changed, increasing the population of the dark moths and depleting that of the light moths.”  (California 2003 Science Framework, p. 241; see Part 5)

For those who may not realize this, textbook publishers tend to take their cues from California’s guidelines, because they do not want to give up such a large market; in other words, they make their books for the whole country conform to California’s guidelines. Thus, textbooks around the country are still telling children about spotted moths as proof of evolution.

I won’t go into all the details here, but it seems to me that the same equivocation between micro-evolution and macro-evolution is also at play whenever Darwin’s example of finch-beak variations comes into the discussion.  Carl Zimmer comments on the 30-year study by Peter and Rosemary Grant:

            Look at this situation, the classic textbook illustration of natural selection that is supposed to give us giraffe necks and bat sonar and spider webs and monarch butterflies over time.  All the Grants have observed is a tiny 4% change, that reverted almost all the way back when the rains returned.  And the fact that the birds can interbreed and produce fertile offspring means that these are not really distinct species that have evolved apart, let alone evolved into something new.  Most important, there has been no gain in genetic information.  Any observed changes merely oscillated back and forth depending on climate and food availability.  Where’s the evolution?  The birds are still finches, the beaks are still beaks, and the short-term changes do not translate into any long-term trend.

My second point is that, despite common misperception, the fossil record is inconsistent with natural selection.

The fossil record is often cited as lending support to the theory of natural selection.  In fact, it is a huge embarrassment to natural selection, and theories abound as to why the fossil record does not fit in with the theory of evolution.  This has been well known to informed thinkers for decades.  Randall Niles does a good job of stating the problem:

Let’s start by looking at a few more of Darwin’s very honest statements:

Firstly, why, if species have descended from other species by insensibly fine gradations, do 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? 1

But, as by this theory, innumerable transitional forms must have existed, why do we not find them embedded in countless numbers in the crust of the earth? 2

Lastly, looking not to any one time, but to all time, if my theory be true, numberless intermediate varieties, linking closely together all the species of the same group, must assuredly have existed. 3

Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory. 4

 

Since Darwin put forth his original theory, scientists have sought fossil evidence indicating past organic transitions. Nearly 150 years later, there has been no evidence of evolutionary transition found thus far in the fossil record. In Darwin’s own words, if his theory of “macro-evolution” were true, we would see a vast number of fossils at intermediate stages of biological development. In fact, based on standard mathematical models, we would see far more transitional forms in the fossil record than complete specimens. However, we see none — not one true transitional specimen has ever been found.

Our museums now contain hundreds of millions of fossil specimens (40 million alone are contained in the Smithsonian Natural History Museum). If Darwin’s theory were true, we should see at least tens of millions of unquestionable transitional forms. We see none. Even the late Stephen Jay Gould, Professor of Geology and Paleontology at Harvard University and the leading spokesman for evolutionary theory prior to his recent death, confessed “the extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology.”  He goes on:

The history of most fossil species includes two features inconsistent with gradualism: 1. Statis. Most species exhibit no directional change during their tenure on earth. They appear in the fossil record looking much the same as when they disappear… 2. Sudden Appearance. In any local area, a species does not arise gradually by the steady transformation of its ancestors; it appears all at once and ‘fully formed’.  The evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches; the rest is inference, however reasonable, not the evidence of fossils.

Author Luther Sunderland saw the problems with the fossil record, so he determined to get the definitive answer from the top museums themselves. Sunderland interviewed five respected museum officials, recognized authorities in their individual fields of study, including representatives from the American Museum, the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, and the British Museum of Natural History. None of the five officials were able to offer a single example of a transitional series of fossilized organisms that document the transformation of one kind of plant or animal into another.

The British Museum of Natural History boasts the largest collection of fossils in the world. Among the five respected museum officials, Sunderland interviewed Dr. Colin Patterson, Senior Paleontologist at the British Museum and editor of a prestigious scientific journal. Patterson is a well known expert having an intimate knowledge of the fossil record. He was unable to give a single example of Macro-Evolutionary transition. In fact, Patterson wrote a book for the British Museum of Natural History entitled, “Evolution”. When asked why he had not included a single photograph of a transitional fossil in his book, Patterson responded:

…I fully agree with your comments on the lack of direct illustration of evolutionary transitions in my book. If I knew of any, fossil or living, I would certainly have included them. You suggest that an artist should be used to visualize such transformations, but where would he get the information from? I could not, honestly, provide it, and if I were to leave it to artistic license, would that not mislead the reader? I wrote the text of my book four years ago. If I were to write it now, I think the book would be rather different. Gradualism is a concept I believe in, not just because of Darwin’s authority, but because my understanding of genetics seems to demand it. Yet Gould and the American Museum people are hard to contradict when they say there are no transitional fossils. As a paleontologist myself, I am much occupied with the philosophical problems of identifying ancestral forms in the fossil record. You say that I should at least “show a photo of the fossil from which each type of organism was derived.” I will lay it on the line – there is not one such fossil for which one could make a watertight argument.

David B. Kitts. PhD (Zoology) is Head Curator of the Department of Geology at the Stoval Museum. In an evolutionary trade journal, he wrote:

Despite the bright promise that paleontology provides a means of “seeing” evolution, it has presented some nasty difficulties for evolutionists, the most notorious of which is the presence of “gaps” in the fossil record. Evolution requires intermediate forms between species and paleontology does not provide them…

N. Heribert Nilsson, a famous botanist, evolutionist and professor at Lund University in Sweden, continues:

My attempts to demonstrate evolution by an experiment carried on for more than 40 years have completely failed… The fossil material is now so complete that it has been possible to construct new classes, and the lack of transitional series cannot be explained as being due to scarcity of material. The deficiencies are real, they will never be filled.

Even the popular press is catching on. This is from an article in Newsweek magazine: The missing link between man and apes, whose absence has comforted religious fundamentalists since the days of Darwin, is merely the most glamorous of a whole hierarchy of phantom creatures … The more scientists have searched for the transitional forms that lie between species, the more they have been frustrated.

This covers the main points here. 

Additional note:  One of the cardinal tenets of evolutionary theory has been that birds emerged from dinosaurs.  This is the reason that Archaeopteryx is so celebrated, even with the problems already mentioned.  However, as Science Daily (June 9, 2009) recently reported, that no longer seems tenable: 

            Researchers at Oregon State University have made a fundamental new discovery about how birds breathe and have a lung capacity that allows for flight – and the finding means it’s unlikely that birds descended from any known theropod dinosaurs.

The conclusions add to other evolving evidence that may finally force many paleontologists to reconsider their long-held belief that modern birds are the direct descendants of ancient, meat-eating dinosaurs, OSU researchers say.

            “It’s really kind of amazing that after centuries of studying birds and flight we still didn’t understand a basic aspect of bird biology,” said John Ruben, an OSU professor of zoology. “This discovery probably means that birds evolved on a parallel path alongside dinosaurs, starting that process before most dinosaur species even existed.”

            It’s been known for decades that the femur or thigh bone in birds is largely fixed and makes birds into “knee runners,” unlike virtually all other land animals, the OSU experts say. What was just discovered, however, is that it’s this fixed position of bird bones and musculature that keeps their air-sac lung from collapsing when the bird inhales.

            Warm-blooded birds need about 20 times more oxygen than cold-blooded reptiles, and have evolved a unique lung structure that allows for a high rate of gas exchange and high activity level. Their unusual thigh complex is what helps support the lung and prevent its collapse.

            “This is fundamental to bird physiology,” said Devon Quick, an OSU instructor of zoology who completed this work as part of her doctoral studies. “It’s really strange that no one realized this before. The position of the thigh bone and muscles in birds is critical to their lung function, which in turn is what gives them enough lung capacity for flight.”

            However, every other animal that has walked on land, the scientists said, has a moveable thigh bone that is involved in their motion – including humans, elephants, dogs, lizards and – in the ancient past – dinosaurs.

            The implication, the researchers said, is that birds almost certainly did not descend from theropod dinosaurs, such as tyrannosaurus or allosaurus. The findings add to a growing body of evidence in the past two decades that challenge some of the most widely-held beliefs about animal evolution.

            “For one thing, birds are found earlier in the fossil record than the dinosaurs they are supposed to have descended from,” Ruben said. “That’s a pretty serious problem, and there are other inconsistencies with the bird-from-dinosaur theories.

Obviously, space does not permit me to examine every proposed “transitional” fossil.  I will just say that every one I have examined has turned out to be extremely problematic. 

3. The transition from animal life to human life.

Simply put, I don’t see any way that natural selection can account for the uniqueness of homo sapiens.  Not only is the descent of man extremely problematic on the basis of the fossil record, but even if it were perfect it could not explain many of the key virtues which make us human.

First, related to above, natural selection, despite 150 years of trying, has not been able to create a clear descent for man from a non-human ancestor. 

When I was in school, the progress of man was depicted in a fairly straight line. But the old story of apes and man having descent from a common ancestor, and the modern human arising from a straight line through various intermediate types, is long a thing of the past.  In the first place, many of the examples used for decades as transitional forms between our ape-like ancestor and ourselves are now recognized as NOT being our ancestors after all.  This includes the Neanderthal, the Cro-Magnon, Homo Erectus and Homo Habilus.  The chart below represents as much consensus as there is in this field.  The following notes accompany the chart:

NOTES

• Each colored bar represents the time interval spanned by recovered fossils associated with that species. Dotted lines indicate the conjectural evolutionary lines of descent.

• Under each species name is a list of the national areas where all or most of its fossil remains have been found.

• White numbers inside the species bars indicate the approximate count of distinct individuals in each species from whom fossil remains survive. This is considerably smaller than the number of fossil specimens, because a specimen can be a single tooth, bone or bone fragment.

• The human fossil record from about 2.5 to 1.0 million years ago is especially sparse — only about 50 individuals are known, many of them represented by only a single tooth or jaw fragment — and the evolutionary connections from australopithecus to homo erectus, including the evolutionary relationships between habilis, ergaster and erectus, are in dire need of clarification.

• Time spans for modern humans, Neanderthals and archaic Homo sapiens (H. heidelbergensis) have been extended back beyond accepted fossil limits to accommodate recent genetic evidence that the divergence between the Neanderthal and human lines occurred around 500,000 years ago.

• As environmental or climate context, the major Ice Age epochs in recent human experience were [1] the Wisconsin, 11,000-35,000 years ago (the most extreme of recent coolings), and [2] the Illinoian, 130,000-190,000 years ago, with an intermediate ice era around 60,000-70,000 years ago.

• Four human species proposed in the literature — H. floresiensis, H. pekinensis, H. georgicus and H. rhodesiensis — have been omitted as conjectural or controversial

 

 

(see chart in it’s original site)

So, according to the current theory, man (Homo) first appeared just over two million years ago, but the relationship between modern man and any of his supposed predecessors is still uncertain.  Again, this is after 150 years of dedicated search.

Even more interesting, a new fossil has appeared which seemingly destroys any consensus at all about human origins.  In Chad, a fossil described as Toumai was discovered within the last few years.  It has caused a stir because of the combination of two facts: 1. that it is a species much more human and less ape-like than Australopithecus species, and 2. that it is dated at 7 million BC.  In other words, the descent of man charts will again have to be revised, but in this case the entire bottom of the chart is suspect.  One is left with two alternatives: either all the dating is incorrect (which means the fossils would say precious little about a descent of man) or that the process of finding a coherent pattern of hominid evolution is little more than a shell game.

Other facts about the hominid fossils you may not have learned in school:

            •           Homo erectus maintains the same appearance over its two million year history (again, the evolutionary time scale)

            •           At the bottom of Bed I in the Olduvai gorge is a circular stone structure 14 ft. in diameter made by humans, similar to those in use today by the Okombambi tribe of Southwest Africa. That means true humans were around 2 million years ago by the evolutionist’s time scale, before Homo erectus and the Australopithecines (Lubenow, 1992, 172-173).

            •           Modern Homo sapiens, Neanderthal, archaic Homo sapiens and Homo erectus all lived as contemporaries at one time or another. There is no trend for robust forms evolving into more gracile forms. In the case of Neanderthals and archaic Homo sapiens, the more robust forms are the more recent.

            •           Fossils only record bone structure. What about the fact that apes have 48 chromosomes and man only 46? This is a significant difference that is rarely mentioned.

            •           It should be remembered that an individual fossil can sometimes mean nothing more than a part of a skull, a piece of the femur, or a tooth.  Some scholars estimate that the entire pre-man hominoid fossils collection could fit within one coffin.

In summary, I do not have much confidence that paleontologists have proven anything conclusive regarding man’s descent.

Secondly, natural selection fails to adequately account for the uniqueness of humans

This is a long and complicated discussion, so I will only summarize what to me seem the most unique aspects of human identity, and which seem the least likely to have come about by natural selection:

1.         Humans uniquely have language skills that are beyond rudimentary.  We are the only species that seems to communicate abstract ideas by language, the only one to create an alphabet or any type of written language, the only one to show development in language, and the only one which seems to teach language.

2.         Humans have unique analytic skills, which are of a difference in kind, not just quality, from animals.

3.         Humans alone advance their culture by the transmission of knowledge through generations.

4.         Humans alone have an objective yet internal sense of morality.  Other species can be taught what is or is not desired or acceptable (by humans or other of their species), and can display aggression-avoidance techniques (like a cowering dog).  This is completely different than the morality that resides at the heart of the human.  It is not too much to say that other animals see only one dimension of reality: what is.  Humans alone see the second element: what ought to be.

5.         Humans alone display a love for beauty.  Other animals interact with their environment functionally; we do it with evaluation.  Not only do even advanced animals seem to not appreciate the beauty of the world around them (from everything we can tell about them), but beauty itself seems to not be a category of thought.

6.         Humans alone display certain emotions, and with other emotions they display them to a much more profound level than animals.  A dog whose pup dies will show a reaction of puzzlement or even sadness for a day or two (often not even that).  A woman whose infant dies will never be the same.

7.         Humans seem unique in their consciousness.  They know not only that they exist, but reflect upon their existence.  This may seem trivial, but its uniqueness in nature, and its importance for human culture, demands it be taken very seriously.

Of course, each of these issues has been tackled by materialists, who attempt to show that each could have arisen from natural selection.  I find their answers extremely unpersuasive.

Darwinists are fond of pointing out that we share 98.5 percent of our genes with chimps.  This statistic is not meaningless, but it can be very misleading.  Scientists are now sequencing the murine (mouse) genome and have come upon some rather startling data regarding a comparison of the murine and human genomes. So far, only chromosome 16 has been fully sequenced in both species. However, the results show that human and murine DNA differ from each other by only 2.5%. This is very surprising, since, according the evolutionary theory, the two species diverged 90 million years ago. The problem for the theory of evolution is that this small difference between mice and humans makes the difference between humans and chimpanzees look huge. Whereas, according to evolutionary theory, it took 90 million years of evolution to produce 2.5% difference in DNA sequence, humans and chimpanzees diverge 1.5% in less than 10 million years.

4.  the intellectual coherence of natural selection:

This last point is not about fossils or DNA.  It is a simple logical issue.

A firm believer in natural selection faces a conundrum.  Here is why: because according to his theory, all brains, including his own, did not necessarily evolve to report truth, but to increase reproductive capacity.  The same brain making the statement, “everything evolved through a process without design, which rewarded those characteristics associated with increased fertility”, is the same brain which itself evolved in this way.  But of course, there is no way to get from, “my thoughts increase my fertility”, to “my thoughts are true”.  It could be argued that only true thoughts increase fertility, but this has two problems: first, we can easily think of numerous scenarios where believing something untrue actually increases fertility.  Secondly, this statement itself seems to be under the same curse: it could be that I only think that true thoughts increase fertility because that belief increases fertility, not because it is true.

Steven Pinker is one of the most influential writers in the Darwinian Camp.  His book, “How the Mind Works” is something of a classic in its field, despite the fact that toward the end of it he acknowledges that neither he nor anyone else can explain fully things like sentience, the self, free will, meaning, knowledge, and morality (quite a substantial list).  He then goes on to make a most remarkable statement, illustrating the dilemma I have just brought up.  On page 516, he says this:

“We are organisms, not angels, and our minds are organs, not pipelines to the truth. Our minds evolved by natural selection to solve problems that were life-and-death matters to our ancestors, not to commune with correctness or to answer any question we are capable of asking.”

This is not an off-hand remark made in the spur of the moment.  It is the published writing of a leading Darwinian, and, indeed, it is hard to escape the logic of the statement if natural selection is true.  If everything else evolved, then certainly our minds did as well.  But they did not necessarily evolve to find truth.

As one reads this statement by Pinker, the inevitable question comes to mind: “But, Dr. Pinker, did you mean that as a true statement?  If yes, how is that possible if you have just destroyed the belief that the mind can know things truly and with correctness?  Is your mind an exception?  If no, then I have just wasted the time reading 515 pages of some sort of sophomoric joke”. 

Again, this is not just Pinker’s dilemma.  He simply is brave enough to put into words the natural consequence of natural selection.  A theory which undercuts itself so badly, a theory which is not even consistent with itself, is a theory impossible to believe, except on faith.

Conclusion:

•           The wealth of evidence and argumentation in this area is complex and spans biology, genetics, paleontology, geology, zoology, botany, as well as logic, philosophy, and, in particular, the philosophy of science.  Quite simply, no-one can be an expert in all these areas, (or even most), so we should all be humble in our conclusions, charitable in our words, and open in our thoughts.

•           Nevertheless, if my arguments are correct, they demonstrate that natural selection is insufficient by itself to account for the evidence around us.

Glossary of Apolologetic Terms

Agnostic - One who believes that it is not possible to know if God exists.  Either the evidence is insufficient, or our ability to analyze it objectively is impossible.  It may also be defined as one who is undecided on the question of God.

Anthropic Principle – The observation that the universe and the world seem to be designed for human life.

Anthropomorphism – The act of ascribing human characteristics to non-humans (especially to God).

Antithesis – An idea in opposition to a particular proposition or thesis.

A Priori - Latin for “from before”; that which is known independently of sense perception and thus often held to be undeniable.  Often used in the sense of one’s presuppositions, which are brought to bear on a question before any data has even been evaluated.

Apologetics – The venture of defending the truth and rationality of a position, for example, Christianity.

Atheist - Someone who asserts that there is no God.

Cosmological Argument – The philosophical argument (can also be argued from physics and astronomy) that the existence of the universe demands a theistic cause.

Deism – The idea that God is not personally involved with the material world after having created it.  The imagery is of a clock maker who winds the clock and allows it to run according to its own design.  Miracles have no place in the deistic worldview.

Determinism – The view that everything in the universe is controlled by previous conditions, and therefore could not be otherwise.  On this view, free will is an illusion since all actions (including man’s actions are ultimately driven by predetermining causes.

Empiricism - The belief that all knowledge is acquired through the experience of the five senses.  Often contrasted with Rationalism.

Epistemology – The branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of knowledge, i.e., What is knowledge? How do we come to know things? What is truth? How do we derive certainty?  etc.

Eschatology -Study of last things (the future).

 

Ethics – The study of right and wrong, of what one ought to do.  

FallacyAn invalid inference; a logical error.

Fideism – The view that faith means choosing to believe totally without objective reasons. Also called volunteerism

General Revelation - God’s revelation of himself through the created universe..  Also known as “Natural Revelation.” 

Humanism – Humanism is essentially an attempt to construct a non-theistic system of beliefs and values around the central idea that mankind is supreme (there is nothing above him)

IdealismThe philosophy which holds that reality consists of minds and ideas rather than matter.

Kalam Cosmological Argument – A form of the Cosmological Argument that divides the argument down into the following logical premises, which are then independently argued for.

  1. The universe either had (a) a beginning or (b) no beginning.
  2. If it had a beginning, the beginning was either (a) caused or (b) uncaused.
  3. If it had a cause, the cause was either (a) personal or (b) non-personal.

Materialism – The philosophical perspective that nothing exists except the material, physical world.  This view is also know as “Naturalism”, (because the only thing real is the “natural”).  Modern materialist have sometimes preferred the term, “physicalism”, since this term includes both matter and energy.

Metaphysics – The branch or field of philosophy concerned with the ultimate nature, structure, and characteristics of reality.  A narrow usage of the term refers to the study of that which lies beyond the physical realm (i.e., the supernatural realm).

MonismThe metaphysical view that all reality is one.

Moral Relativism – The idea that there is no objective good and evil.

Natural Theology – Doctrines concerning God which are attainable via nature and reason, as opposed to those that require special revelation (e.g., scripture).

Naturalism – See “Materialism.”

Natural Revelation - See General Revelation.

Negative Apologetics – Defending Christianity against criticisms.

NihilismThe view that there is no value or being in the universe.

Ockham’s Razor – The idea that the explanation for a problem or effect that fits the facts with the least number of assumptions is the best. 

Ontology – The study of “being,” or existence.

Ontological argument – The argument devised by Anselm for God’s existence which claims that from our idea of God’s essence we can conclude God must exist

Pantheism – The idea that god and the world are inseparable — God is all, and all is god.  The most important, and emphasized, implication of this is that we (being of the same substance) are gods as well.  This view originates in the Eastern religious traditions and plays heavily into the New Age worldview as well.

Polytheism - The belief in many gods.

Positive Apologetics – Advancing Christianity via arguments or evidence.

Postmodernism – A reaction to the optimistic modernist perspectives on truth, reason, and science.  Postmodernism values subjectivity over objectivity, feeling over reasoning, creativity over conformity, defining meaning over seeking meaning, and tolerance over discernment.  It especially supports such ideas as sexual and cultural diversity, religious pluralism, moral relativism, and an individualized view of “truth.”

Pragmatism - The philosophy that makes practical consequences the criterion for truth.

Rationalism – Broadly speaking, the epistemological view that stresses reason as the test of truth.  In a strict sense, the belief that at least some knowledge is acquired independent of sense experience.  Contrasted with Empiricism.

Religious Pluralism – The idea that all religious traditions should be given equal value in society.  Behind this is the postmodern idea that none have a monopoly on truth, if “truth” even exists.  Consequently, all religions should be valued and afforded equal status.

SkepticismThe belief that one should doubt or suspend judgment on philosophical or theological questions.

Special Revelation – Knowledge of God supplied directly to humanity.  For modern Christians this generally refers to scripture.

Syncretism – The blending of different beliefs or practices.

Theistic Evolution – The idea that evolution is true, but that it proceeded under the direct guidance or subtle prodding of God.  There are many forms of this.

TheismThe world view that affirms the existence of a personal, infinitely powerful and all-perfect Creator of the world, who is both transcendent over the world and immanent in it.

Teleological Argument – An argument for God from the design/purpose (telos) seen in nature.

UtilitarianismIn ethics, the view that one should act to bring about the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

 

Why Isn’t God More Obvious?

 

By Daniel Jepsen

In his book, Contact, Carl Sagan satirically asks why God doesn’t place a glowing cross in the sky at night to serve as irrefutable proof of Jesus’ resurrection. One could just as well ask why God doesn’t set up a website, or place billboards around.  Why must we read and understand an ancient book to know God?  Bertland Russell, the famous British atheist, once was asked what he would say, if, after his death, he came face to face with the God he had denied in life.  Russell’s response: “Not enough evidence”.

This is not just a question for non-believers.  As Christians, surely we all wonder why the evidence for God can be denied.  Doesn’t God want us to all know Him?  Then why doesn’t He make himself more obvious?  Why doesn’t he shout from heaven?  We certainly agree with Moses’ statement, “You are a God who hides himself”, but we usually have no clue why.

I think the answer to that is in understanding the difference between faith and knowledge, and why God desires faith.

Briefly, knowledge is the intellectual knowledge of what is (yes, I am aware of the different debates about knowledge, but am not going to get into them here, as they do not affect my main point).  Faith is a little more difficult to define.  I define it this way: Faith is choosing, for good but not unassailable reasons, to believe something is true, and then acting on that belief.  This seems to me the definition most inline with the New Testament word (pistis in Greek) which is translated faith, belief, or trust.

Notice a couple things about this definition:

  • First, it is a belief that has consequences.  It is not a trivial thing, for this type of faith affects our choices (unlike, say, the belief that 2 plus 2 equals four, or that the sun is around a million times the size of the earth). 
  • Secondly, it is based on reason and evidence, but it is not compelled by them.  That is, it is not against reason or evidence, but may sometimes go beyond them.  I believe my spouse is faithful to me, not because I can prove it by evidence (I don’t have her video-taped 24/7) but because it is consistent with what I do know of her and our life together.
  • Third, to some degree, it is a choice.  I have no real choice in believing that snow is cold, or that the chair I am sitting in is black.  Unless I want to deny my sense experience, the belief is forced upon me.  Nor can my belief that two  plus two equals four be a faith decision; it is self-evident and irrefutable.  But faith is a flower that can only be cultivated in the ground between reason and certainty. 

 

Now, if this is so, then we may begin to see why God makes faith our only acceptable response to Him: Since faith is a choice, it involves moral, and not just intellectual, implications.  That is, to some degree, I will choose not just whether there is a God or not, but if I want there to be a God or not.  This is not to imply faith has no intellectual content, but to affirm that is also has moral content.  Reason can lead me to the water, but it can’t make me drink.  I still must choose.

This is then consistent with that, as C. S. Lewis said, hell is locked from the inside.  The believer says to God, “I want you”, the unbeliever says, “I don’t want you”, and God says to them both, “Your will be done”.

Finally, we should also stop to ponder the question of what effect it would have on our faith if God was more obvious, and his ways shown with certainty to be true.  For example, why doesn’t God automatically and visibly reward each act of faith and obedience?  Every time I refuse some tempting sin, or every time I obey Him, why doesn’t He boom from Heaven, “Good job!”, and send down a twenty dollar bill (or solve whatever problem is bothering me)?

When put in terms like these, it is easy to see how this would distort our relationship with God.  We would be treating Him as an object, something we manipulate for our own gain.  Faith here would not only be stunted, but warped.

The example of Israel may be instructive here.  If God was ever obvious, it was in His dealings with the Israelites, especially in the early years under the leadership of Moses.  Just think: they saw the plagues on Egypt.  They experienced the crossing of the Red Sea.  They heard God thunder from the top of Mt. Sinai.  In fact, the last verses of Exodus tell us that the visible sign of God’s presence was always with them:

            In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud (representing God’s presence) lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; but if it did not life, they did not set out – until the day it lifted.  So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels. (Exodus 40: 36-38).

God certainly could not have been much clearer than that.  Yet, the faith and obedience of the Israelites in the desert was anything but exemplary.  Philip Yancey notes:

I also noticed a telling pattern in the Old Testament accounts: the very clarity of God’s will had a stunting effect on the Israelite’s faith.  Why pursue God when He had already revealed Himself so clearly?  Why step out in faith when God had already guaranteed the results? …In short, why should the Israelites act like adults when they could act like children?  And act like children they did, grumbling against their leaders, cheating on the strict rules governing manna, whining about every food or water shortage. (Disappointment with God)

On the contrary, when God wanted to raise up David as His ideal King (thus representing His people) He did so by often seeming silent and even unfair (just check out the Psalms).  In short, God knows what He is doing with us, and His silence and hiddeness have purpose.