Sunday, February 22, 2009

The problem with Intelligent Design ...

 ... "is not that [it] is wrong." So begins the 14th installment of Gordon Glover's video series on Christian education, evolution and folk science. Following that disclaimer, he proceeds to explain why a Bible-believing Christian like himself rejects the teaching of Intelligent Design in the science classroom. Christians are often perplexed when they hear of fellow believers (such as Glover and myself) who accept evolutionary science, but who oppose the teaching of Intelligent Design. The following image from Glover's presentation helps to bring the issue into focus. It is a quote from Isaac Newton, who did so much to advance our understanding of gravity and the laws of motion. While Newton understood planetary movements better than most of his contemporaries, there were aspects of these movements which he found baffling and inexplicable. In the face of such insurmountable mysteries, he made the mistake of turning to Intelligent Design, and divine intervention for an explanation.

In one sense, what Newton said may be true. But what he meant was that the mysteries of our Solar System could only be understood in terms of God's constant active power. Of course, we now understand the physics of our Solar System, and we see how God has put into place natural laws and phenomena by which these movements are governed. We no longer feel a need to appeal to the constant supernatural intervention of "an intelligent and powerful Being." We can be thankful for scientists like French mathematician and astronomer, Pierre-Simon Laplace, who rejected Newton's Intelligent Design theory and continued to pursue scientific investigation of the astronomical data. Laplace helped us to see how God was able to construct a Solar System which did not require his active supernatural intervention to "make it work". Of course, we all take Laplace's explanations for granted, today.

No believer I know rejects the idea of intelligent design, if by that we mean God is the ultimate architect and Creator of the entire cosmos. But many of us do reject the so-called "scientific" theory of Intelligent Design which is a thinly-veiled attack on evolutionary science. We are grateful to Laplace for refusing Newton's science-stopping explanation. And in the same spirit, we say "press on" to the evolutionary scientists of today (with many Bible-believing Christians among them) who continue to fill out our understanding of the natural history of life on earth. Their work will only be done unfettered by the philosophically and religiously driven theories of Intelligent Design.

The point is this: intelligent design may be good philosophy, and sound spiritual reality; Intelligent Design is bad science. 

If this topic interests you (or angers you!), I recommend Gordon's discussion of Intelligent Design in Lessons 13 and 14 of his series.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Stronghold of Creationism

I will return to the God & Evil series; a post at a friend's site prompted the following ...

I recall a conversation I had with a friend about two years ago. I had recently read Francis Collins’s wonderful book, The Language of God, and I was in the middle of Gordon Glover's Beyond the Firmament. My friend had expressed his astonishment that I accepted the evidence for evolution. I told him that in five years, maybe ten, he too would come to accept evolution, as would most Christians. Wow! How wildly optimistic I was!

I now tell people that I do not expect to live to see the day when most conservative Christians accept evolution, and that it may take another fifty to one hundred years before Christendom abandons its anti-evolution stance. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the publishing of the Origin of the Species. The last time Christians had to adjust to the theological and bibliological implications of unsettling science (following Copernicus and Galileo), the church took 200 years to come to terms. If my 50 year projection is accurate, we're just about on schedule.

Steve Douglas has just posted Why creationists are creationists, an excellent piece detailing the reasons for the solid resistance to evolution in the conservative wing of the American church. I recommend it for those who seek to understand why this resistance is so unyielding. 

Your comments are welcome.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Problem of Evil III. Pristine Creation (?)

After a lengthy pause, I resume the God and Evil series with this, the third post dealing with the Problem of Evil (hereafter referred to as PoE). In this series, I offer my own resolution to the quadrilemma of Epicurus discussed in this earlier post. The series will be several posts long. The full picture will only become clear as all posts are presented. For this reason, I will not generally respond to challenges or arguments to individual posts. But I am more than happy to answer any questions for clarification.

A central tenet of traditional Christian theology is that evil invaded a once pristine Creation. The assumption is that God’s original Creation was idyllic, unspoiled. It is assumed that God would not create a broken universe, one with a component of evil present at the very beginning. Into this unspoiled Creation, evil enters as an unwanted guest, through the rebellion of Satan and his angelic followers, and/or through the rebellion of man as illustrated in the first three chapters of Genesis.

Is this picture correct? Was all of Creation originally an unspoiled Eden? Is evil an interloper, and invader and spoiler of an otherwise ideal, paradisal cosmos? Does Scripture support this view, or does it suggest the contrary? At the culmination of his creative work, God looked at creation and found it to be “very good” (
Genesis 1:31 ); but was it perfect? Can our study of Creation, our scientific investigation of the universe itself, help us to answer this question? I believe it can.

If you believe, as I do, that God faithfully reveals truth through the nature of the universe (see
Romans 1:20), then we can confidently look to the natural history of our cosmos as revealed in science to provide us with insight about God’s creative activity. Amazingly, our study of the present day cosmos has given us a remarkable front-row view of the creation moment. It is as though we can watch God fling this universe into existence. We are treated to such a trail of evidence, echos from the deep past, that astrophysicists today actually subdivide the very first second of time into “epochs” of natural history.

Among other things, they tell us that, following the initial moment of creation (aka “the Big Bang”),there was a very brief period known as the "Planck Epoch"
, which lasted a tiny fraction of millisecond. After this briefest of moments, the cosmos entered into a condition which has continued to the present day: the state of ever increasing entropy. (For a fuller explanation, see my earlier post on entropy) This Law of Entropy (also known as the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics) dictates that the cosmos, as we know it, has a death sentence. We don’t know how long the universe has to live; some predict only about 100 billion years. Other suggest 100 trillion years or more. But we know that the ultimate fate of the universe is death. And now we understand that God made it this way from the very beginning. Not only is the universe winding down, entropy predicts that all matter, including all living beings, will ultimately die and/or decay.

This understanding is in keeping with the teachings of the Bible. The Psalmist declares that “In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment.  Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded” (
Psalm 102:25-26, quoted in Hebrews 1:10-12).

The Christian theological concepts I learned growing up in the church have evil invading the cosmos at some point in time after creation. Following this invasion (either the Fall of Adam and Eve or the judgment of Satan), death and decay begin to spoil an otherwise pristine Creation. Clearly, if 20th century science is close to the truth, this concept does not square with reality. But can the reality of a universe which has included death and decay from its very outset square with the Scriptures?

Your comments are welcome!