An Imaginary God

While on-line the other day, I saw a meme that I thought was interesting, thought provoking, and worthy of comment.

The picture was of an old American flag, and written across it was part of an early version of the Pledge of Allegiance. Over the years the pledge, like our Constitution, has been revised to one degree or another.

The caption below the picture read: “I want to challenge everyone to repost (sic) our country’s flag. With the Pledge of Allegiance as it was written.”

Conspicuously absent from this version of the Pledge of Allegiance was any mention of God. (“God” was added during the Eisenhower administration)

Someone added a comment to the post: “The original pledge made no reference to any imaginary being.” (Emphasis mine)

It’s clear that the person positing this particular viewpoint was philosophically apposed to the idea of the existence of God.  Their quick dismissal of  the existence of God belayed their lack of understanding and instead yielded only a personal opinion, which according to William Bullard “is the lowest form of human knowledge; as it requires no accountability, no understanding.”(1)

Sadly we live in a time where opinions often remain unchallenged and are instead  “caught and brought” by the average person without a second thought. Social networks and our society would rather shout down others than discuss differing perspectives maturely and intelligently.

It would appear that those whose primary tools are shaming and shouting  are also wholly lacking in the requisite skills of critical thinking. We should not then be surprised to see that God has been reduced to an “imaginary” being without so much as one thought as to why this might be so.

Still it is disturbing, because an opinion left unchallenged soon becomes accepted as reality, and our beliefs about reality, however erroneous they might be, ultimately drive our behaviors. In this instance the consequences are huge and eternal in nature.

Perhaps we might take a step back and engage our brains and do some critical thinking on this matter of an imaginary God.

Let’s look at the view that God is “imaginary.” We might propose a hypothesis to test. Perhaps our simple hypothesis is the statement: “God does not exist.”

To test our hypothesis we should start by defining several key words for purposes of clarity.

1. Imaginary: “having no real existence but existing in imagination”(2)

2. God: “The Supreme Being; Jehovah; the eternal and infinite spirit, the creator, and the sovereign of the universe.” (3)

3. Natural Selection: That process initially described by Charles Darwin in his 1859 book “Origin of The Species” in which organisms evolve by passing on beneficial mutations to their off-spring.

There are many evidences and proofs that have been written over the years that demonstrate reasonably that God is very real and does exist. Whole volumes of philosophical and scientific writings are available that point to the existence of God. So numerous are these that I could not possibly hope to cover them in this space, nor do I desire too. Rather I want you to explore and settle that question for yourself.

The balance of this essay will only tackle a couple of examples in a very brief summary form. I hope that these two basic topics will at a minimum cause you to think and possibly explore this topic in depth on your own.

In the end, I fully recognize that it is not mine to change your mind, that I leave to God himself to do. Having said that, it is our responsibility to be certain of what it is we believe, as the stakes are high and the consequences for failing to do so are very serious.

Most of us have probably looked up into the night sky at one time or another and pondered the vastness and beauty of the heavens that surround us. The expanse before us is more than we are able to comprehend and goes on as far as we can see. It’s a humbling experience when one thinks about it.

Our universe has been around a long time, and its a dynamic place. It’s neither eternal nor existing in a static state.

It has a beginning.

This statement sounds like such a simple thought; but it’s a profound thought when one stops and seriously considers its implications.

Interestingly, the idea of a beginning of time for our universe was not always so. Until relatively recently, scientists believed our universe to be in a steady state and that it had always existed. Scientists surmised that it had no beginning or end, it just is. In recent years the steady state view was challenged by new scientific evidence that points us to a different model of the universe, an expanding universe that came in to existence suddenly, at a specific point in time.

Despite today’s evidence for a dynamic expanding universe, some scientists like Fred Hoyle, a well known English astronomer, steadfastly rejectes the notion that our universe came into existence suddenly and is expanding in all directions.

This sudden appearance of our universe has became known colloquially as the “Big Bang Theory.”  Hoyle worked diligently to support his “Steady State Theory to avoid the conclusion of a Creator.  Years later, Hoyle would ultimately conclude that given ‘the incredible complexity of even the simplest forms of life necessitate a Creator.’ Having calculated that the chances for first life emerging without intelligent intervention at 1 in 1,040,000, Hoyle acknowledges a Creator of life.”(4)

The Big Bang Theory, held by most scientists today, offers the best evidence for a universe that has a beginning point in time and is expanding outwards in all directions from a central source or origin.

To date, no viable scientific alternatives have been proffered  that offer a better explanatory statement about the start of our universe than the Big Bang Theory.

Even Robert Jastrow, both an agnostic and an astronomer,  concluded in his book “God and the Astronomers,” that “three lines of evidence—the motions of the galaxies, the laws of thermodynamics, and the life story of the stars—pointed to one conclusion: all indicated that the Universe had a beginning” (5)

But if the universe had a beginning, and the evidence is overwhelming in this regard, then one would have to explain the origin of matter itself. At some point, before the advent of our universe, there was no matter or energy. Just nothingness.

Physicists and astronomers alike have concluded that matter cannot simply come into existence from nothing. Yet for our universe to have a beginning necessitates exactly that event. Thus, the effect of matter being created must ultimately be rooted in a cause. Given no known scientific evidence to assert the creation of matter from nothing, via any known natural cause mechanism, one can reasonably conclude that the creation of matter from nothing likely falls into the purview of the supernatural.

British astronomer Stephen Hawking summed it up well: “So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator.”(6)  Jastrow said that “there are what I or anyone would call supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact”(6) The only known source of supernatural power that has the express ability to create matter from nothing is God.

The universe is a tough topic to wrap our minds around when evaluating evidence for the existence of a Creator. Alternatively, we could also look closer to home for additional evidences that God in not simply a product of an over active imagination. Examining biological life itself strongly suggests an intentional, powerful, and intelligent element in the origins of life.

Natural Selection, a theory popularized by Charles Darwin in his 1859 book “Origin of the Species,” suggested that life came about and exists today as a result of a series of gradual unguided processes that depend upon the transmission of advantageous random mutations from one generation to the next.

Darwinian Natural Selection Theory has failed to adequately explain the complexity of life as we know it today.  Understandably in 1859, Darwin had no idea about the inner workings of a cell, DNA, molecular biology etc.

There are many complexities about life that scientists are only just now starting to grapple with, particularly with respect to Natural Selection. In his book “Darwin’s Black Box,” Biochemist Michael Behe observed that certain cell structures have many interdependent components that are reliant upon one another such that a cell might function and survive. Should any one of these components fail to exist or operate properly, the entire organism would cease to function or would never have come into being in the first place.

He described this observation as “irreducibly complex” and defined this state as a “single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning.”(8)

He observed that such systems would have to have all their components produced simultaneously in order for the organism to survive and carry any beneficial trait into subsequent generations. His observation of the existence of such systems in life are in direct conflict with the well versed theory of Natural Selection, which  depends upon individual changes happening in a series of successive and gradual generation to generation modifications over time.

To illustrate irreducible complexity in a simple way; think of an old fashioned  mousetrap as a simple system that is irreducibly complex. A basic mousetrap has a spring, the metal mouse whacker that actually dispatches the mouse, a small bar to hold the metal whacker, a trigger, a staple to hold the metal bar in place, and of course a piece of square wood that would be sized to fit the above mentioned components.

In this example, if any one of the components did not exist or failed to function properly, the mousetrap could not “survive,” if we define survival as a functioning mousetrap.

Individually, these parts have no capacity to carry out the function of trapping mice. In fact there is no “advantage” of  survival to the mousetrap organism in having one or two of these individual parts. It’s only when they all come together simultaneously that the trap will function properly and survive.

Behe points to several specific biological examples of this type of irreducible complexity that defy a naturalistic explanation in living organisms. There are many, but a few he mentions include vision, the blood clotting cascade, antibodies, bacterial flagellum, cilium, and many other complex biochemical processes that are too numerous to elucidate here.

The massive advancement of science and knowledge since Darwin’s publication in 1859 have demonstrated many areas of biology that cannot be adequately explained by the simple model of  natural selection alone.

With all of this in mind, it’s perplexing to think that one could dismiss out of hand the idea of a Creator. From a cosmological view we are dealing with a power so fantastic that it could create matter from nothing, and in a moment in time our entire universe was brought into existence. The magnitude and enormity of  that moment cannot possibly be grasped. Not only did our universe come into existence, it did so in a way that defies all known laws of physics.

From a biological view, how can the simplicity of natural selection, a theory based upon the scientific knowledge of 1859, explain the design and complexity of biological life as we know it to be today? How do we explain design in living systems? After all, the only known  source for design is intelligence. Design does not originate from any other known cause. The complexity of life could not happen in an unguided, random chance process as proposed by those that believe in a naturalistic view of life.

There are of course many other evidences for the existence of God and I would encourage you to explore these in detail.

These include but are not limited to:

1. The Anthropic Principle
2. Information Theory and DNA
3. The Kalam Cosmological Argument
4. The Thomist Cosmological Argument
5. The Leibnizian Cosmological Argument
6. The Moral Argument

In the end, each of us must weigh the data and decide for ourselves. The stakes are high, in fact they are eternally high. This is not a simple philosophical and intellectual debate for which there are no consequences. Don’t allow peer pressure, social media, or political correctness to stand in the way of applying the raw intellect that each of you poses to resolve this for yourselves.

All roads lead to a choice, and each of  you will have to make a choice and live with the eternal consequences, either positive or negative. The fork in the road will be in the person of Jesus Christ. The choice is either to accept Him or to reject Him; its that simple.

For each of us our decision will be a willful and intentional one.  God will judge each of us solely on the question of his Son when we stand before him one day. Our ability to enter Heaven or to be condemned to eternal separation from God, will hinge on the entirety of God’s grace and your personal decision regarding Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

=================Notes===============================
1. https://themindsjournal.com/tag/bill-bullard/ , viewed Feb 22, 2017.

2. Inc Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Thesaurus (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1996).

3. American Dictionary of the English Language, Noel Webster, Foundation for American Christian Education; Facsimile of 1st edition (June 1, 1967)

4. Frederick Hoyle. The Intelligent Universe. London: Michael Joseph, 1983.

5. Jastrow, Robert. God and the Astronomers. 2nd ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 1992. p.111

6. S. Hawking. A Brief History of Time. New York: Bantam Books, 1988.

7. Jastrow, Robert. God and the Astronomers. 2nd ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 1992. p.15, 18

8. Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove, IL; Nottingham, England: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2011), 306.

 

 

 

Copyright FullLifeWord 2017

 

 

 

Four Reasons to Test This Assumption

Mythology:  The study of myths of a particular group or culture, ideas that are believed by many people but that are not true (Merriam-Webster)

Recently my son, a freshman in a public high school, shared that they were studying Greek mythology in his English class. The teacher was already aware of my son’s faith in Jesus Christ from prior conversations, a fact that he does not hide, nor does he push upon others, he simply lives out his faith by his actions and words.

He related that in due course, a student raised his hand during a discussion time, and asked the teacher about the origins of life. She responded by first looking to my son for a second, then addressing the class, that “according to Christian ‘mythology’ that everything was created by a Christian God.” And then she went on to talk about the views of the Greek gods.

It was interesting that her first go-to response was not “I don’t know” or “Here is how the Greeks perceived the origin of life, “given they were on the topic of Greek mythology, or “Here is what Buddha says” or how Islam views this topic, rather her comment was immediately and specifically directed towards reducing the Christian scriptural account of creation to the level of a myth with no further explanation.

Given that myths, by definition are not true, the message was clear, for those in the English class that believe in the Christian scriptures, it’s all a myth. My son immediately detected the inference that the intelligence of those that believe such things might also be in question.

But is it? Is such a simplistic view really reality? Or is the instructor really doing nothing more than introducing her personal views as fact to her class? Her statements to a class of high school freshman will not likely be challenged by any student, therefore, when left unchallenged from a critical thinking perspective; many students will leave the class thinking that what they heard must be fact.

Sadly, it seems to me, that Americans in general, and many young people in particular, seem to have lost the skills of critical thinking. Instead, we seem to be more likely to accept sound bites and internet posts as “facts,” without really slowing down to think about whether or not the statement we just heard or read is really supportable.

For years, science has used a technique that involves something known as hypothesis testing to validate tentative concepts or ideas.

A hypothesis is a proposal that is intended to explain a given observation or statement.  Because it is tentative in nature, and until it can be fully vetted, such an idea will remain a hypothesis. A more fully vetted idea, for which there are no clear observable objections, will often be moved to a new level, that of a theory.

If contrary data can be presented in the face of such a hypothesis or a theory, then the researcher must go back and revisit their hypothesis or theory, to modify it to reflect the new data. Otherwise they would need to retract their theory or idea altogether and go back to the drawing board.

Such testing requires that we take a moment and write up our hypothesis in a formal manner.

A hypothesis test takes the following form:

Null Hypothesis: (HO) What I am trying to disprove, there is no difference, status quo.

Alternative Hypothesis: (HA) What I am trying to prove, there is a difference.

Together, HA and HO cover all the possibilities.

Logically, it is easier to disprove something than it is to prove it.  Therefore, the claim to be tested appears as HO.  We can reject HO or fail to reject it.   We can never accept it.

One of these hypotheses represents reality, with respect to the validity of creation as described by Christian scriptures, and the other does not.

In our specific example, we might write up our hypothesis test as follows:

Null Hypothesis (HO): The Scriptural Account of Creation is a myth, it’s not true.

Or

Alternative Hypothesis (HA):  We have failed to prove that the Scriptural account of creation is not true, therefore there is a possibility that the account of creation is true, and must be considered in our reality.

After creating our hypothesis statements, we need to see if we can find objective evidence that would either reject or fail to reject the Null Hypothesis.

We’ll look at several scientific facts and then compare our facts to what the scriptures share about the origins of life.

Are science and the scriptures consistent in anyway, or are they completely disconnected?

Four points we know about the origin of life through modern science:

  1. We know that the universe is not ageless. Both Dr. Edwin Hubble and Dr. Albert Einstein, using independent means, demonstrated that the universe came into existence at some point in time.
  2. We know from our laws of Physics that it is impossible for matter and energy to be created from nothing, using only a naturalistic process. Yet the universe was not always in existence, therefore there had to be a time in which there was no matter or energy, and somehow it came into being from nothing to something.
  3. We know that the fossil record only shows life in their final forms: We do not have a single case of a complete transitional form in the fossil record.  Dr. Stephen Jay Gould , an ardent Neo-Darwinist, shared that “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 the fossils.”  -Stephen Jay Gould Davis, Percival, and Kenyon, Dean H. Of Pandas and People. Dallas: Haughton, 1993, p. 106-107.
  4. The DNA Enigma: Dr. Stephen Meyers leads us back to one of the most profound questions yet. If we see design in living organisms, which we clearly do, we must ask ourselves where the information came from for the design. DNA is not information, DNA simply stores the information needed to build a complete organism. What was the source for the original information? Think of DNA as a hard drive on a computer, and the information as the instructions stored on the hard drive. For example, I might store the information on how to bake a cake so that someone could read the information and bake a cake. But the information itself came from someone’s mind.  Someone thought intelligently about how to make a cake, they didn’t just randomly list the ingredients with the expectation that a cake would materialize. (Meyer, Stephen C. 2009. Signature in the Cell. New York, NY: Harper One.)

This is but a small list of what we understand about the origin of life from a scientific perspective. The question that still remains to be addressed: Are these scientific facts consistent with the account of creation as depicted by Christian scriptures?

What the Christian Scriptures share about the origin of life:

  1. The universe had a beginning, it is not ageless. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)
  2. Matter and energy were “created.” God created the universe and all that is in it. Energy and matter had to be brought into existence via a supernatural process, meaning beyond the naturalistic laws that we know are in place today.
  3. Living organisms were initially created in their final form:  Repeatedly throughout the creation account, the scriptures use the phrase “according to their various kinds.”  There is no concept that suggests that organisms were created in a lower state, and then somehow developed into modern organisms that we see today.
  4. What we see in creation was created with intelligence and is not a product of unguided chance events. “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made…” (Romans 1:20)  As the Apostle Paul states, evidence for intelligence in the design of organisms in our world is totally self-evident, and is clearly seen through the lens of common sense. Virtually every person can detect the difference between something that is random vs something that is designed.

We conclude then, even from this cursory review of the scientific data and the Christian scriptures, that the scientific facts are consistent with statements from the scriptures about the origin of life. Therefore, we must reject the Null Hypothesis (HO) that the accounts of creation in the scriptures are not true, and allow for the possibility that the scriptures offer a valid metaphysical explanation for the origin of life.

The teacher’s simplistic and absolute statement, that the Christian scriptures are a myth, thereby removing even the possibility that they may be true, should never have been shared in class to the students as a fact. This was clearly a statement of her personal opinion and is unsupported by the data.

In this case, she used assumptive language, which is one of the most dangerous forms of knowledge in our world today. Why? Because assumptions are often just “caught and brought” without an open, conscience dialog to talk about the evidence and the facts.

 

 

Simplified Cosmological View: Does God Exist?

This is a profound question.

In fact, it’s a very foundational question.

If one truly does not believe that there is a God, then the Christian worldview is a wholly inadequate explanation for our reality. What one believes in this regard will have lasting and eternal consequences in their lives.

The scriptures tell us that God is the source for the cosmos we see all around us. (Genesis 1) That it was God who created everything in the cosmos. Can we rule God out as the origin of this creative power?

How do we reasonably determine if it is possible that God exists?

One view is what I would describe as a “simplified cosmological view.”

In the end, what is the best explanation that describes the existence of the cosmos that surrounds us?

There are only two logical possibilities to this question:

1.The cosmos had a specific beginning point in time. A time when at one moment there existed nothing, and in the next moment there existed something.

OR

2.The cosmos has always existed, having been around for eternity.

In investigative science, one must draw conclusions about reality and truth based upon both the measurable and circumstantial evidence. If the preponderance of evidence suggests a reality, then that becomes the reality we must hold to until sufficient contradictory evidence is presented to the contrary.

From a purely naturalistic perspective, meaning a view without any consideration for a supernatural being such as God, neither of the above explanations seems to offer us a reasonable conclusion about our cosmos.

Nonetheless, these are the only two options that exist; therefore we will have to work with them.

To aid us in our evaluation, we’ll use a tool from science. Scientists often formulate their questions in the structure of a hypothesis.  A hypothesis is a statement that takes the form:

  1. Null Hypothesis: (H0) What I am trying to disprove, there is no difference, status quo.
  1. Alternative Hypothesis: (HA) What I am trying to prove, there is a difference.

Together, HA and H0 cover all the possibilities.

Logically, it is easier to disprove something than it is to prove it.  Therefore, the claim to be tested appears as H0.  We can reject H0 or fail to reject it.   We can never accept it.

One of these hypotheses represents reality with respect to God:

  1. Null Hypothesis (H0): God does not exist

Or

  1. Alternative Hypothesis (HA): We have failed to prove that God does not exist, therefore there is a possibility that He exists and must be considered in our reality.

There are many points upon which we might apply this test, but for the sake of brevity, we will only consider the existence of our cosmos to make our case of whether or not God might exist.

Going back to our two logical possibilities for the existence of the cosmos,

1. The cosmos had a specific beginning point in time. A time when at one moment there existed nothing, and in the next moment there existed something.

OR

2. The cosmos has always existed, having been around for eternity.

Let’s take a look at item 2 first.

Basic physics tells us that due to the first and second laws of thermodynamics our cosmos, had it been in existence forever, would be a cold dead place at this very moment. Given the infinite size of the cosmos, it is not possible for us to be here now if the cosmos never had a beginning that it has always existed.

The first law, in laymen’s terms, says that all the energy we have is all we get. Energy may transfer, or change form, but “new” energy cannot be created from nothing.

The second law, also in very simplistic terms, states that every time energy gets transferred or transformed, some of it becomes less useful. In time, all of it becomes useless. In time, all of this less useful energy gets radiated out into the cosmos and dissipated over an infinite degree of space.

Another way to wrap your mind around the second law of thermodynamics is to consider the following.

Suppose we walked into a sealed gymnasium in the depth of a winter snow storm in the middle of the night with no lights turned on. The gym would be super cold; in fact it would be freezing, and very dark.

In the middle of this cavernous gym there was a table and a single white candle. You extract a small flashlight and a lighter and approach the table. You light the wick and turn off your light.

The wax of the candle is a form of stored energy, and it can be released by lighting the wick which transforms the stored energy into light and heat energy. The flame on the candle is hot enough to burn your finger if you were close enough to it. You might even feel some of the heat energy even as much as a few inches from the flame. But if you walk across the entire gym, it’s not likely you will feel any heat energy from the candle.

If you had a super sensitive thermometer however, the device would in fact pick up a slight increase of temperature of the air in the gym. Other than looking like a distant star on a dark night, the energy from this candle is pretty useless energy as far as you’re concerned; it doesn’t do anything to actually keep you warm.

Eventually the candle converts all of the wax to heat energy, and runs out of fuel. The flame flickers and then goes out. You’re immediately plunged into total darkness. In time, the heat energy released from the candle will equally distribute itself in the room. But a lot of good that will do you!  If you stayed in the gym, eventually you would freeze to death!

Imagine that the candle represents all the energy of all the stars in our cosmos, and the gym represents our cosmos. Given enough time, our stars, like the candle, would convert all of their energy into a less useful form, which would distribute itself across the cosmos. Given our cosmos is infinitely large, and the known amount of matter is fixed,  and can never increase (Law 1) then if our cosmos had been in existence forever, you would not be reading this now, and it would be really cold and dark.

So option 2, our Universe has been in existence forever is not an option.

Logically then, that leaves us with option 1, that our Universe had a beginning. But what about the first law? The first law pretty much seals up option 1, because if the Universe had a beginning, then that would imply that matter and energy had to be created from nothing to make the beginning possible, something physicists know cannot happen. Is that the end of the story? Neither option working?

Nope.

Fortunately there were a couple of really smart scientists that have proved with science that the Universe had to have a beginning.

Dr. Albert Einstein created a mathematical model that demonstrated an expanding Universe. Not liking that idea, he put in a “cosmological constant” to fix that problem. (He later regretted ever having done that.)

One of Einstein’s contemporaries, Dr. Edwin Hubble, (Namesake of the Hubble Space Telescope) also made some astounding astronomical observations that showed an expanding Universe. Scientists since, have universally acknowledged that our Universe is in fact expanding and emanating from a particular point. Most of us know this commonly as the “Big Bang Theory.”

Why is it significant to our story that the universe is expanding from a central point?

Think of it this way. Suppose you traveled to a lake that was absolutely smooth, there were no ripples on the surface of the water anywhere.

Now suppose that you were hovering in a helicopter with a video camera pointed down to the lake, and dropped a big rock in the middle of it. You begin to film the concentric rings of ripples expanding outwards from the point of impact in the middle of the lake.

Once you got home and watched the video, you could see the expanding ripples of water  moving out in all directions from the point of impact. At some point, you realized that you could watch the video in reverse, and in so doing you observed that the rings gradually moved towards the point of impact, until you saw the moment the rock hit the lake.

The expanding rings had a beginning, the beginning was when the rock hit the lake surface.

Likewise, the cosmos also has a beginning. If we could track all the galaxies, stars, and planets on video from the beginning of time, and then play it backwards, we would see the single point where everything emanated from.

Scientists have since named this point, calling it a singularity.

Metaphysically, all of the above create a very interesting dilemma for naturalists. The only way that our cosmos could have come into being, without any supernatural events, would be to violate the natural laws of physics.

We have then, just from the cosmological aspect of our universe, a solid source of data that points us to a supernatural start of our cosmos.

Most commonly, we have ascribed such supernatural powers to only one being, God.