The Orphan of the Universe by Dean Ohlman

We are fortunate to have a guest post from my colleague and fellow member of the facebook group, Celebrating Creation by Natural Selection, Dean OhlmanDean is retired from Our Daily Bread Ministries (formerly RBC Ministries) where he was a Christian nature writer, website host, editor, and associate TV producer. This is his second guest blog on the Book of Works. 

As I understand it, the naturalistic theory of origins says that for billions of years after the unknown and unknowable beginning there was nobody. There was something, but it wasn’t somebody. As the universe was developing and organizing without order or purpose, nobody knew or observed it. Throughout time and space there was no person, no intelligence, no will, no consciousness, no sensory awareness, no knowledge, no thought, no reason, no word—nowhere! For millions of eons something was here, but no conscious mind was aware that something was here. There was no purpose or intent, yet without anybody or anything here to direct it, this something followed an orderly progression from a simplicity that’s never been observed to a complexity we can’t understand.

How do we understand ultimate cosmic origins? Naturalism gives credit to a big, unimaginable “explosion” that caused immateriality to take on materiality. Purposelessness then created a cosmos. Chaos organized itself. Unconsciousness awoke. Deadness begot life. Asexuality engendered sexuality. No one became someone. Impersonality gained personhood. Irrationality became rational. Non-entity became a self. And this material self functioned for millions of years according to the principle of self-preservation to evolve into a being who, oddly, could even purposely will to give up his life for the belief that everybody and everything have a spiritual (super-cosmic/super-natural) cause, purpose, and destiny. So godlessness created God. And because of that belief, amorality produced morality, which in turn developed into complex moral and ethical systems based on apparently irrational beliefs about deity, spirituality, goodness, love, and immortality.

To summarize: For all but the last tiny eon of existence, nothing had knowledge of anything else; yet something lifeless and unconscious cooperated with something else lifeless and unconscious to bring into existence the living, knowing, conscious, intelligent, rational creature called man who survives by deliberate cooperative relationships. This accidental—and oddly naked—ape communicating in symbols invented language and made poetry. The uncreated thing created music and art, and its evolved and embarrassingly illogical emotions cause it to weep in wonder over the stunning beauty, grandeur, and mathematical perfection of its apparent purposeless and meaningless environment. This reasoning, decision-making, sensory somebody who came into existence by the will of nobody can yet will to love or hate, kill or allow itself to be killed, and even develop the capacity to senselessly alter or destroy the natural systems that created it—threatening to send everything back into unconsciousness.
So according to naturalism, man is nothing but a cosmic orphan overwhelmed by the knowledge that he has no ultimate purpose and no ultimate hope. Shakespeare’s Macbeth articulated it well:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Man is the orphan of the universe.”

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Objectivist Fallacy

There is a very popular atheist argument that only objective “scientific” facts count as evidence for anything. I call this the Objectivist Fallacy (OF), which is a form of scientism. Examples of the OF include the often-heard statements and questions addressed to theists  “How can you believe in something you cannot prove?” and “I am rational – I only believe what has been objectively proven with scientific evidence”. Then there are the evidentiary statements like “Your feelings are not evidence” and “Please list any evidence for the existence of God”, by which they mean experimental, objective, and repeatable evidence, as would be useful for establishing the existence of a new planet or a new species.

We can see that the objectivist arguments of atheists are fallacious when applied to many areas of human thought such as artistic criticism, creativity (even scientific creativity), politics, economics, fashion and popular culture. The idea that there exists a single factual truth, demonstrable by objective evidence, is actually a faith statement without much basis from objective evidence in the majority of cases. It is not even universally true in science – far from it.

I think most people would agree that it makes no sense to ask for objective evidence to back up the following statements of belief:

“Kandinsky is the greatest artist of the past 150 years.”

“Wagner was a terrible composer.”

“The Democratic Party platform is the only hope for national survival.”

Arguments can be marshalled in favor or against each of these, but the idea of finding objective evidence to prove any of them is absurd. I once asked an atheist objectivist if there was any way to gather objective scientific evidence for the quality of artwork. He said that such evidence is simple – the commercial value of a piece of artwork gives a quantitative “objective” measure of its quality. I think that answer illustrates, if anything, the depth of desperation that anti-theists find themselves when resorting to these arguments.

Here are some other such statements:

“The origin of life began with metabolic cycles, and replicator molecules were a later addition.”

“The origin of life began with replicators, which allowed for metabolism to occur.”

“Both replication and metabolism, each of which depend on the other, occurred simultaneously during the origin of life.”

These three scientific statements represent beliefs based on the same body of data, and the scientists who are proponents of these divergent viewpoints have for many decades fiercely debated them.

One might argue that scientific disputes happen all the time (indeed they do) but they are all eventually resolved by more evidence. And yes, that happens most of the time, but not always. There are some areas of science where different interpretations of the same facts have led to divergent viewpoints that have persisted, despite piles of evidence, for almost a century. One of these areas involves the various interpretations of quantum mechanics. Another is the origin of life.

My point is that the demand for evidence is fallacious when applied to issues of faith.  If someone says that she felt herself called by the Holy Spirit and discovered faith after some personal crisis, the objectivist might ask her for verifiable evidence, beyond her own testimony that this really happened. If she reports that she experienced a dream or a vision, she would be told that “feelings don’t count, they are simply brain chemistry.” As if this provides any sort of argument against the reality of the woman’s experience. The idea that the scientific discovery of a neurological correlate or mechanism for a subjective experience renders that experience somehow “not real” is  profoundly non-scientific.

What the people who use the OF fail to understand is that not all evidence is objective. The faith claim that it is cannot be proven to be true, and is easily falsified for so many areas of human endeavor. Most of the things we know come from subjective experience, without any possibility of being objectively proven. If I am asked what I ate for breakfast three days ago, I might remember, but I cannot back up my claim with any evidence. Courts of law tend to trust eyewitness reports from reliable people, even though it often cannot be objectively corroborated. If we were to reject the truth of all subjective experience on the grounds that they are not scientifically confirmed, we could not live or remain sane.

So, the next time you hear an atheist say “Where is your evidence for your sky daddy?” you can respond with “Sorry, that is the ‘Objectivist Fallacy’” and move on.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

March for Science

My friend and colleague Mike Beidler just posted something on facebook that I thought was worth re-posting here. Mike is the President of the Washington DC metro section of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA), and a well respected writer on science and faith, including work with Biologos, and others. As the VP of the same ASA section, I have worked with Mike for a few years, and have great respect his thoughts. I am honored to be able to post his comment here on the historic March for Science, that we both participated in. 

IMG_0694

The primary role of science in society is to expand and disseminate human knowledge about the universe God created. What society does with that knowledge is a different, albeit related, question. That’s where the discussion about ethics, which resides more in the realm of politics and shared moral values, comes into the picture as we struggle to apply scientific findings to issues regarding health, the environment, and the economy. Eventually, the conclusions that result from science’s continued exploration of God’s cosmos must find their way into public discourse where we can conduct debates about how we should apply (or should not apply) the knowledge we’ve gained as a species.

In general, scientists should continue doing what they do best: exploring the great and small of God’s universe. This is an apolitical endeavor. However, scientists as individual human beings — conferred with God’s image and responsible for the proper treatment of any domain we enter — cannot simply let knowledge be knowledge and never care about what’s done with that knowledge. Scientists must become adept at wearing two hats: the “scientist hat” in the laboratory or the field, and the “God’s image hat” in the realm of polity. For me, the March for Science is an opportunity for scientists and supporters of science — regardless of religious creed or lack thereof — to don their “God’s image hat,” celebrate the achievements of our God-given minds, call for the proper use of our scientific findings, and attempt to influence policy in a positive direction.

The March for Science was/is definitely a political movement that demands that our elected representatives, regardless of party, consider very carefully the knowledge we’ve obtained and shape policy for the betterment of not just human lives but also the world in which we live. However, this demand for principled political action shouldn’t be partisan. Both the political left (GMOs, nuclear energy) and the right (evolution, climate change) have their pet non-evidence-based policies or policy proposals, so it’s incumbent upon any future March for Science organizers to take a careful look at their programs to ensure a proper balance of issues are represented, and even reach out for support in the religious community.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

A new day

Before this Easter seasons fades into our memories, I would like to share this blog, from Tricia Frasman, since it is so harmonious with my latest post about Peter. Tricia’s blog is Random Ramblings

Random Ramblings

I’ve always loved the Sabbath. Time to stop and be with my family. Time to appreciate God’s goodness to us and remember His promises.

The Sabbath of Passover week is always especially a time of joy. We have remembered the escape from Egypt, we thank Yahweh for his deliverance and look forward to the coming of Messiah.

Yesterday was not like any other Sabbath. The day was empty of all meaning. Between the numbness I could not get the sights, the sounds, and the smells of Friday out of my head. How could my Lord be dead?

On Thursday when we heard that He had been taken by the temple guard, we went as quickly as we could to the temple courts, we watched people come and go. Peter was there as were other disciples, mostly keeping a low profile. Peter of course got noticed, how could he not? Big and burly…

View original post 941 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Simply, Simon; Redux

It is Holy Week, and I would like to repost something that I put up on Holy Saturday last year.

Holy Saturday is the day in-between. Very little is written about what happened on that day, but we can imagine.  We can imagine a man, much like us. A man defeated, alone, miserable and afraid. This man, who was once called a rock, today thinks of himself as simply – Simon. Imagine him sitting in a strange house in a city not his own, staring out the window, seeing nothing but his own failure, and the loss of all of his hopes and dreams. I have felt this way at times, and perhaps you have also.

He thinks of the glorious promise that he has witnessed the past months, the miraculous and wonderful things he has seen and heard. He thinks of the Man who showed so much faith in him, the Man who has now gone, died, left them all alone, without hope or will. But most of all he thinks of his own terrible failure and betrayal. A failure that his leader had predicted, and which he himself would never have imagined possible.

Yesterday, that black day, had proven to the man once called the rock, that he was made of no more than weak, mortal, human clay. Three times he had confirmed his human cowardice, his unworthiness to lead, or even to live. On this Saturday, the man who now once again thinks of himself simply as Simon, is filled with an unimaginable despair at the loss of everything he once valued, most especially his own dignity.

Have you  been there? Have you had to face the fact that you are unworthy because of your actions? No excuses, you simply failed. The time for heroism, for standing tall, for being more than you thought you could be, the time to prove yourself truly a rock of faith, of hope, of goodness, the time had come, and you…you had failed to heed the call. In your weakness or fear, you had simply turned away, waving your hand in dismissal. “No” you said “I don’t know anything about that, Leave me alone”. And not just once, but often. And then it was over, the terrible moment passed, and you were left with only the taste of the ashes of your own personal failure, as the whole glorious edifice you believed in and had worked so hard for, came crashing down in chaos and defeat.

I have been there. That is why I have long been so fascinated by this day that lies between the day of anguish and the day of triumph. On this day, Simon sits in agony and stares into space, not yet knowing that tomorrow everything will change again. Today, he is still unaware of tomorrow’s miracle that will change everything in the world forever. Today is the lowest point in his life, but tomorrow he, along with his dispersed friends, will be witness to a breathtaking renewal of hope. The resurrection of tomorrow means not only the resurrection of the living God, not only the rising of the Son of Man, but also the rising of man himself. A man like Simon, weak, afraid, defeated, failed, a man whose despicable actions on the Friday have left him hopeless and full of self-loathing, also rises on Easter Sunday, and once more becomes Peter the Rock.

Like us, he is all too human, and yet like us, he is capable of all that he later accomplished. I do not believe he ever forgot his acts of betrayal. But through grace and faith, and his human moral strength, he rose above them, and he fulfilled his destiny as a great fisher of men. So of all the miracles of tomorrow and the days and years that follow, for me the greatest is the miracle of the redemption of the man – the mortal, ordinary fisherman named simply, Simon.  Peace be with you in this holy season.

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Wisdom from The Biologos Conference

I signed up for the live streaming of the Biologos Conference held in Houston last week and have watched most of the plenary lectures. They were all very  good, and I think some were outstanding.

I was moved and inspired by Jim Stump’s (Senior Editor at Biologos) talk. Jim presented a form of logical analysis related to claims by some Christians against the Evolutionary Creationist (EC) position on evolution, which I found to be compelling. He presented four arguments used by either Young Earth Creationists or atheists (sometimes both!) that depend on flawed reasoning. These arguments take the form of a chain of “If A, then B; if B, then C;…”  statements. What Jim convincingly argued was that in each case, at least one –  and usually several – of the conclusions in the chain do not necessarily follow from their premises, making the final conclusion wrong. Here is one of the examples he presented:

  1. If evolution is true,
  2. Then we didn’t descend from only two people,
  3. Therefore there was no Adam and Eve,
  4. Therefore we couldn’t have inherited original sin,
  5. So there is no need for a savior

As Jim pointed out, while B does follow from A, none of the other if-then statements are necessarily correct. Adam and Eve could have existed even if we didn’t all descend from them, and even if they were not the only two people on earth. But even if C is true, D makes no sense unless we assume that  sin is passed on genetically, which also seems doubtful. And, finally, even if D were true, E does not follow. We need a savior because we all sin, whether or not we “inherited” original sin.

After covering three more such fallacious lines of reasoning against evolutionary creationism, Jim gave a moving and insightful summation of many of the core principles behind the Biologos (and EC) world view. While not word for word accurate, and certainly not complete, here are some these thoughts:

God acts in ways that science can describe and in ways that science cannot explain. The center of Christian theology holds. I believe that EC is a good system but I hope your faith is not in a human construct like EC. The center of our faith is a person: it is Christ who holds all things together.

The other speaker that left me breathless, with a sense that the Holy Spirit had entered my soul, was Andy Crouch. He began by speaking about a mystery that I have always wondered about: why people tend to remember painful emotional experiences more than pleasurable ones. We remember all the bad things that are said about us, but very little of the good.

Listening to this, I thought of the fact that people tend to focus on bad news, something I became keenly aware of after publishing my first book (10 years ago) on progress in environmental quality.

As an example, Andy pointed out that it is generally forgotten that one of the earliest and staunchest defenders of Darwin’s theory of evolution, the famous American botanist Asa Gray, was a faithful Christian, but everyone remembers the conflictual Scopes trial. Andy proposed that the persistence of conflict between some Christians and evolution is partially due to the importance of the alienating scorn of people for those on the other side.

Shifting gears, Andy presented a fascinating biphasic model in the form of a cross, where one axis is abundance and the other is order. Genesis 1 makes it clear that God favors abundance, He wants the air to be teeming with birds and the sea teeming with fish. Included in this concept of abundance are variation, surprise, and even randomness. Order refers to the character of our natural created world that makes understanding it through science possible.

Andy’s argument is that we must have both. Abundance without order is chaos. And order without abundance is a machine. “The best time to be an atheist was around 1890” Andy said, since Enlightenment science viewed the world as a machine. Nature was thought to be precisely structured, with no messy parts, no surprises. But that view turned out to be wrong. The 20th century showed, with quantum mechanics, that the world is not a clock but is full of surprising variation and complex twists. Our world has both order and abundance beyond any mechanical ability to describe. Our world is not a machine – nor is life, nor are people, nor is God.  Life is ordered abundance.

Science is not a machine, either, but a human and unpredictable enterprise.  Andy also said something I have been telling grad students for a long time: most of the time,  scientific work simply fails.

And, of course, Christian doctrine is also not a machine: it is flexible, and we are always learning.

I note that both of these talks were by non-scientists, and perhaps the reason they resonated so strongly with me was that I could learn so much from them. This is not to diminish the excellent talks by scientists Deb Haarsma (which I also found to be spiritually very moving), April Maskiewicz, Praveen Sethupathy, or Dennis Venema, all of which were of the highest quality, but mostly confirmed and extended what I already knew, rather than provided me personally with new insights. I am leaving the brilliance of NT Wright and Francis Collins, mentioned in my previous post, in a separate category – I will get back to their wisdom later.

Biologos has promised to make all of these plenary talk videos available in the near future, and if they follow what they did for the first Conference (2015), we should also get access to the audio of the other talks and workshops that include John Walton, Jeff Schloss, Josh Swamidass, Denis Lamoureux, Jennifer Secki Shields, and many others.

Congratulations to Biologos for an outstanding conference.

 

.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Amazing Grace

I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.

On Wednesday evening, March 29, Dr. Francis Collins and Professor N.T. Wright spoke at the opening session of the second Biologos Conference on Christ and Creation in Houston, Texas. I attended the first conference, but could not make it to Houston, so we live-streamed the event. My wife and collaborator, Aniko and I were blessed to watch it with my Pastor, Martha Meredith  and her husband, also my friend, Mark Meredith.

It was an exciting evening – the talks by these two giants in the science and Christianity dialogue were brilliant and provided a great deal of food for thought. I am sure I will come back to the content of what they said in future posts.

CollinsWright

And then, after they had spoken and answered questions moderated by Andy Crouch, the two men picked up their guitars and sang two of their composed songs to the delight of the audience. It was not the first time that  these two –  one of the most eminent Biblical scholars of our time and one of the most eminent scientists – had picked up guitars and played and sang together. I was blessed to have been present at the first time this happened, back in April of 2013. It was also at a Biologos meeting, (where the photo was taken) a much smaller one, held in New York City. For several years, the Biologos Foundation held these workshops attended by about 100 invitees (mostly in New York) to present the Biologos vision of harmony between science and faith to a select audience of pastors, campus ministries, donors and others.

I had become acquainted with the Biologos past President, Darrel Falk, and he invited me to attend the 2013 meeting, and present a 15-minute talk about my unusual path to faith from militant atheism through science.

As the time approached for me to get up and give my talk, I was overcome with nervousness. The room was full of people I had known of and admired for several years. Besides Tom Wright and Francis Collins (who was also my boss at the NIH at that time), there was Dennis Alexander from the Faraday Institute; Jennifer Wiseman, past President of ASA and Director of the Hubble Space Telescope; Ted Davis and Jeff Schloss, two Biologos scholars and writers; Emily Ruppel, editor of God and Nature; Deb Haarsma, the new Biologos President, and many others. You get the picture.

Now, I had already had over 30 years of experience in public speaking as a scientist, including in front of Nobel laureates and formidable colleagues. I had become confident, and assured, and was rarely nervous. But this was different. I had done nothing of much value in this new field of science and faith, except one post and some comments in the Biologos forum, and a couple of articles in God and Nature. As I sat in the audience, visibly shaking, I thought to myself “I am nobody… I cannot do this.”

Providing worship at this meeting was a famous Christian musical group called Gungor. The leader (also called Gungor) had to leave early, but his wife, Lisa Gungor, and another musician were set to play in the interlude between one speaker and me. Lisa announced that they had decided to perform Amazing Grace. I could hardly breathe when I heard that. Amazing Grace was the first hymn I ever learned, and it never fails to bring tears to my eyes. At that moment, I knew I was the wretch who could only be saved by Grace. As they sang, I could feel myself calming down, and could feel the Spirit soothing my fevered soul. I let the tears flow, and when I was called to the podium, I was able to stand and walk. I began speaking about my upbringing as a communist atheist, and about how the study of science led me away from that folly. When I scanned the audience, I saw right in front of me, near the back, the smiling face of Tom Wright, and I thought – well if he is smiling, perhaps it isn’t going too badly.

I survived through the talk, and later got to meet all of the people I mentioned above, including Tom Wright, who was extremely kind. I did get a chance to run into Lisa Gungor, just before the conference ended, and I thanked her for choosing that hymn to sing at that time. She told me that they were originally planning to sing something else, but she changed her mind at the last minute. I said a prayer of thanksgiving to the Holy Spirit who has blessed me far beyond anything I have ever deserved. Amen.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments