Big history or little history?
A pantheistic creation story
“Big History” is a modern origins story that is being developed online for school students and is supported by Bill Gates, one of the world’s richest men. The objective is to develop a framework for learning about anything and everything that includes a deeper awareness of our past. It claims to tell a story that our children need to know. But what will they learn?
History of the universe
“Big History” is based on eight “threshold moments” when the universe increased in complexity:
- Origin of the universe billions of years ago as explained by the big bang theory.
- Stars light up from the remnants of the exploding gases.
- New chemical elements form when stars die and create new types of atoms.
- Rocky planets such as the earth and the solar system form around stars.
- Molecules combine to form single celled living organisms that evolve into multi-celled organisms.
- Human beings appear as a consequence of evolutionary processes.
- After the last ice age about 10,000 years ago, humans develop agriculture.
- The modern revolution, characterized by the use of fossil fuels and global communication.
Although “Big History” is based on humanity’s current scientific and historical understanding, the following questions come to mind.
Although Big History states these as facts, it assumes that:
- The origin and development of the universe can be explained by the laws of science.
- The early universe was simple.
- The universe has become more complex with time.
Once these are assumed, the rest follows as a consequence. So the course is teaching that these assumptions are facts. Instead they are scientifically unprovable.
As history trumps science when dealing with the past, the Bible surpasses science with regard to the origin of the universe and the nature of the early universe. In particular, the assumption of the uniformity of scientific laws isn’t valid past the creation of the universe about 6,000 years ago. So history shows the first two assumptions are false.
The assumption that “The universe has become more complex with time”, goes against common sense and the law of cause and effect. How can an inanimate object gain increasing complexity and increasing information by using the laws of science alone and not outside intelligence? How can an animal or plant gain increasing complexity and increasing information by using the laws of science alone and not outside intelligence?
This secular origins story is based on miracles than can’t be explained by science. Yet it claims to be scientific!
Before the beginning of time it assumes there was nothing – no time, mass, energy or space. After the beginning of time a tiny particle smaller than an atom appears that contains everything in today’s universe. This means that something appears from nothing, which is not allowed in the laws of physics! In a science where there is no place for miracles, this is certainly a miracle. How was all the mass and energy within the universe created out of absolutely nothing using only the physical forces within the universe? How could the universe create itself?
According to Big History, the universe can create complexity and information. This happens as a series of stages, each of which produces something utterly new. Each of these threshold moments is a miracle as the increase in complexity and information cannot be explained by the laws of science. How could the universe increase complexity and information by itself?
How does the universe create complexity despite the second law of thermodynamics, which says that “The general tendency of the universe is to move from order and structure to lack of order and lack of structure”? This is never explained. There is just a statement that it can create complexity, but with great difficulty! So the universe builds itself, which is pantheism. The universe is god. So intelligence and intent is attributed to inanimate objects or concepts, such as “Life interjects” and “DNA learns”.
It is interesting to note that the example of increasing complexity used in Big History was our modern society and not a biological example such as the DNA molecule or the human mind.
Big History is guilty of circular reasoning. It states assumptions and ideas as facts. Its key findings are based on its assumptions and presuppositions. For example, it reveals how complexity slowly evolved. But this is also an assumption.
Big history is speculative. It says, “We can imagine the early universe breaking up into billions of clouds”.
Big history is a product of the secular paradigm or worldview that has rejected the God of the Bible.
Big History is certainly ambitious. It has big assumptions, big miracles, big extrapolation and big imagination. Although it claims to be big on history, it actually includes little recorded history.
As “the story of how the universe creates complexity” and the “unifying story that gives a sense of the whole of history”, it is a pantheistic creation story that replaces the Bible.
Do our children need to know this? How much better if they knew the Bible and accepted its message as the unifying story that gives a sense of the whole of history?
Written, October 2013
Also see – Using history and science to investigate ancient times
– Big history
What is intelligent design?
Implications of the complexity of life
Western society is becoming increasingly godless and anti-Christian. In fact many see no need for a God because they think that modern science and knowledge has explained everything that used to be attributed to God. In particular, the theory of evolution has helped to displace God.
The Theory Of Biological Evolution
The word “evolution” is commonly used to describe “any process of formation or growth or development” and the theory of biological evolution is an explanation of how life began and changed over time to be what it is today. According to this theory a big bang or explosion took place in space that set into action the events of evolution. Then stars and planets were formed and life began on earth when non-living molecules changed into single-cell organisms. These simple creatures eventually turned into more complex creatures and finally into humans. It is assumed that all this happened over billions of years.
The central idea of biological evolution is that all life on earth shares a common ancestor, just as we share a common grandmother with our cousins. The causes of evolution are said to be variations in genetic makeup due to random mutations that are sorted by the environment in a process called natural selection whereby those with advantageous characteristics are more likely to pass them on to the next generation.
This is a dominant paradigm today, which is used to explain many aspects of life by attributing them to evolution. Evolutionists assume this theory is true. It is a materialist and naturalist viewpoint; as it only allows material and natural causes.
Interpreting The Evidence
When we look into what happened in the past, we are like a detective trying to solve the cause of a fire or of a death. They investigate, whether it was due to natural causes or due to human causes such as a criminal act. All that is observable is the current evidence. When detectives seek the cause of a crime, they use assumptions to interpret the evidence. Their findings are only as good as the accuracy of both their investigation of the evidence and the assumptions they make.
Intelligent causes are studied in forensic science, archaeology, and in extraterrestrial intelligence. Are such causes applicable to the origin of terrestrial life? How can we recognise an intelligent cause? Was a rock an Aboriginal tool or eroded by natural processes? Let’s look at two examples from extraterrestrial intelligence. Because of a belief in evolution, some people believe that life would have evolved elsewhere in the universe and we should be able to communicate with it. The Pioneer space probes in the 1970s had a message for any life forms that they might meet travelling across the galaxy. A plaque was bolted to the outside of the spacecrafts which depicted a man and woman, a map of our solar system, and other symbols that may help intelligent beings interpret the message and understand something about us. Someone who saw the plaque would recognise that it had an intelligent cause, because it couldn’t have been made by natural processes alone.
Then there is the SETI project. This Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence is looking for radio signals being transmitted by beings that are assumed to be located outside our solar system. The regular radio pulses emitted by pulsars were briefly thought to be potential intelligent signals; the first pulsar to be discovered was originally designated “LGM-1”, for “Little Green Men”. However, they were quickly determined to be of natural origin. Nevertheless, scientists are still analysing signals from space for signs of intelligence.
The Theory Of Intelligent Design
The view that nature shows signs of having been designed by a pre-existing intelligence has been around, since the time of ancient Greece. The most famous version of the design argument was William Paley’s “watchmaker” thesis that went like this:
“In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there; I might possibly answer, that, for anything I knew to the contrary, it had lain there for ever. … But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think the answer which I had before given would be sufficient. To the contrary, the fine coordination of all its parts would force us to conclude that … the watch must have had a maker … who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction, and designed its use.”
Paley argued that we can draw the same conclusion about many natural objects, such as the eye. Just as a watch’s parts are all perfectly adapted for the purpose of telling time, the parts of an eye are all perfectly adapted for the purpose of seeing and so was evidence of an intelligent designer, which he inferred was the God of the Bible.
Since the 1980s, advances in biology have convinced some scientists that the theory of biological evolution, which is based on natural random processes, was inadequate to account for the sheer complexity of living things, and these could not have been built up in a step-by-step process over time. Called intelligent design (ID), this new approach claims “that intelligent causes are necessary to explain the complex, information-rich structures of biology” and “some biological systems are so complex that they only function when all of their components are present, so that the system could not have evolved from a simpler assemblage that did not contain the full machinery”. ID argues that design rather than random mutations is the primary source of genetic variation. ID research studies whether the “apparent design” in nature is the product of an intelligent cause or is simply the product of an undirected process such as natural selection acting on random variations.
It is interested to note that biochemists use design terminology when they encounter the purpose, function and apparent meaning that pervades living systems. Intention and purpose, which can only be generated by intelligence, is implicitly recognized in this language: the genetic “code,” the “blue print” of life, “messenger” RNA etc.
Within a living cell there are thousands of biological molecular machines, which contain highly coordinated moving parts. Life is so complex that modern science is unable to create it from non-living matter. Furthermore, living organisms have the unique ability to continually repair and maintain themselves and to reproduce themselves; an ability that cannot be replicated by modern science and technology. Whenever we encounter complex systems – whether integrated circuits or internal combustion engines – and we know how they arose, invariably a designing intelligence played a role.
Of course, materialistic science rules out all evidence of design because it implies a supernatural cause and they only want to deal with naturalistic causes. So, when an evolutionist looks at life, they think it is the result of an evolutionary process, whereas those who follow ID think it is the result of intelligence. ID is often criticised as being a version of Biblical creationism: however, all they share is an intelligent cause.
DNA: The Genetic Code
DNA and proteins are the most important molecules of life. DNA carries the hereditary information in almost all living things (some viruses use RNA instead of DNA). Every cell in our body carries DNA; except for the red blood cells. DNA carries the genetic code which determines how cells make proteins and thereby how to make and maintain a person. The huge task of mapping the human genome was completed in 2003.
DNA functions like a language or software program that uses four symbols to carry messages (or instructions) in strands of DNA. These instructions for the protein structure, coded on the DNA molecule, are copied onto a messenger RNA molecule and taken from the nucleus of the cell to a ribosome where it is used to assemble amino acids into a protein molecule. Because they exhibit clear purpose, the code and messages in DNA necessary for life are powerful evidence for design and against materialism—the sequences of the symbols that make the messages are not dictated by physics, chemistry or any known material cause; and statistical analyses rule out chance, even with a universe trillions and trillions of years old. Genetic instructions don’t write themselves any more than a software program writes itself.
Just as intelligence is needed to explain a bird’s nest or a spider’s web or an orchard, which were designed and built by intelligent creatures, these scientists think intelligence is needed to explain the complicated messages found in DNA. They are skeptical of claims that undirected natural causes such as random mutation and natural selection can alone account for the complexity of life. Instead they think that intelligent causes are required.
Furthermore, the genetic information in the DNA cannot be transcribed without many molecular machines that are themselves encoded in the DNA. As the genetic code can only be transcribed if all the molecular machines were in place from the beginning, the origin of this central aspect of life cannot be explained by the evolutionary model of step-wise development from simple to complex. The proponents of ID refer to this as an example of the “irreducible complexity” of life on earth.
What Does The Bible Say?
Although the Bible is not a book of science, it often refers to the origin of life and the reason for life existing on the earth. Instead, the Bible is a book of history that uses poetic language on occasions.
God created out of nothing
The Bible begins with, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1TNIV). The Hebrew verb bara used in this verse means “to create out of nothing”. Its subject in the Bible is always God. According to the Bible, God created: the heavens, earth, the great creatures of the sea, every living and moving thing with which the water teems, every winged bird, the heavens, earth, mankind, and the world (Gen. 1:1, 21, 27; 5:1-2; 2:4; Deut. 4:32; Is. 42:5; 45:18; Mk. 13:19; Eph. 3:9). Creating something out of nothing is beyond the realm of materialistic science.
So God created everything (Is. 44:24; Ecc. 11:5; Jer. 10:16; Jn. 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2; Rev. 4:11). “For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything” (Heb. 3:4). “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they were created and have their being” (Rev. 4:11).
Three other Hebrew verbs are used in the Bible with bara: asah means “to do or make”; yasar is a technical potter’s word “to mould into shape”; and kun means “to set up, establish”. All these verbs are mentioned in Isaiah 45:18: “For this is what the LORD says—He who created the heavens, He is God; He who fashioned and made the earth, He founded it; He did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited”.
Creation: How and Why
Gen. 1:3 says “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light”. “God said” is mentioned 10 times in Genesis 1. “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of His mouth … For He spoke, and it came to be; He commanded, and it stood firm” (Ps. 33:6, 9). Also, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” (Heb. 11:3).
So something was created out of nothing at God’s command. These were miracles that can’t be explained by the laws of nature, which would have become operational when creation was completed (Gen. 2:2). As God created these laws, He is not subject to them. In fact, “God made the earth by His power; He founded the world by His wisdom and stretched out the heavens by His understanding” (Jer. 10:12).
One of the purposes of the creation is that it would bring praise to God, the Creator (Ps. 148).
Evidence of a Creator
A creation provides information about its creator. This has been expressed in poetic language: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Ps. 19:1-4). Because the universe was made by God; it is “the work of His hands”. As a creator is always greater than their creation and the universe is so vast and complex, it shows that God has greater power than we can imagine.
The Bible says that people can know about God from what they see: “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Rom 1:20).
As everyone can see or sense the creation and be aware of its laws and characteristics, we can all know that it was made by a Creator. Therefore, Paul claims that there is no excuse for not knowing that God created the world. This fact should be obvious (Rom. 1:19). It doesn’t need education or indoctrination, just common sense. Why don’t more people see more clearly? It’s because the truth of the divine Creator is suppressed, which is wicked and foolish (Rom. 1:18, 21-22). Such people are like the Sadducees who were told “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God’” (Mt. 22:29).
Strengths And Weaknesses Of ID
As Christians can use archaeological research to show the truthfulness of the Bible, they can also use ID to illustrate the biblical description of creation. Design and other arguments from science can be used for pre-evangelism by exposing the fallacy of the evolutionary assumptions that blind the eyes of people today to the truth of the Word of God. It shows that material causes alone cannot explain the complexity of life.
However, ID allows for evolution in the sense that living things are related by common ancestry. This is because it only challenges “chance” as the cause of evolution, not whether evolution has occurred at all. Also, as nature does not reveal the identity of the designer, the theory of ID allows for any “designer” including aliens from outer space and New Age gods. It is like an “unknown god” (Acts 17:23). By leaving out the Biblical Fall into sin, the designer must be cruel and wasteful. The Fall was a major event in history, which changed everything. The world we see today has been corrupted by sin, it is not the original world that God designed.
As for the theory of biological evolution, ID does not explain the origin of life, but only deals with the arrangements of pre-existing materials. Where did all the matter, energy and information come from? Of course, the Bible says God “created” and “made” everything.
Lessons For Us
Let’s realise the importance of our paradigm of the origin and diversity of life. We all make assumptions. Naturalistic assumptions lead to believing that the complexity of life is due to natural processes and explaining life by evolution, whereas, Biblical assumptions lead to believing that the complexity of life is due to the Creator and explaining life by creation by God. We should base our thinking on God’s word; that’s where the real Designer is revealed.
In the beginning God created everything. He is the source of all the matter, energy and information in the universe. Life had a common Designer and Creator, not a common ancestor.
ID can be a tool to help show some of the problems with the theory of evolution. The complexity and design of life points to an intelligent Designer. It can be used in evangelism when we point out that the God of the Bible was the Designer and Creator and we add the history of the fall into sin.
If God is the Creator and Sustainer of everything, this means He has a plan and is directing human history. As His creatures, we are accountable to Him. Paul mentioned two categories of people; those who are wise and those who are fools (Rom. 1:22). Fools do not recognise the Creator; while the wise realise that the Creator came to earth to reconcile them with God. Don’t be a fool; but be wise and trust God’s promises for our future and be included in His plan for the new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).
 “Natural Theology; or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity” 1809
Written, September 2007