Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Posts tagged “universe

Evidence for God’s Existence

I have been asked to provide evidence of the existence of God. While researching this topic, I discovered the following article by Dr Gregory E. Ganssle of the Department of Philosophy at Yale University.

Does God exist 400pxYou Cannot Prove God’s Existence

Ever since Immanuel Kant wrote his Critique of Pure Reason, it has been common for thinking people to insist that it is impossible to prove the existence of God. In fact this claim has been elevated to the level of dogma in American intellectual culture. The reason I know this is considered unquestionable dogma is the reaction I get when I call it into question. When someone says “You cannot prove the existence of God”. I want to ask “How do you know? You just met me! How do you know what I can do?”

What do most people mean when they recite this claim? Most people mean that I cannot provide a philosophical argument for the existence of God which will convince all thinking people. It is impossible, so the story goes, to provide an argument which will compel assent. If my argument will not convince the most ardent atheist, I have not proven God’s existence. Since I cannot convince such an atheist to believe, my arguments do not count as proof. If they do not count as proof, what good are they?

I agree that I cannot provide an argument that will convince all thinking people. But what does this tell me? Does this tell me anything about God? No. This tells me more about the nature of proof than it does about whether God exists. I cannot provide an argument which will convince everyone, without a possibility of doubt, that God exists. That is no problem. You see, I cannot provide an argument for any interesting philosophical conclusion which will be accepted by everyone without possibility of doubt.

I cannot prove beyond the possibility of doubt — in a way that will convince all philosophers that the Rocky Mountains are really here as a mind-independent object. I cannot prove that the entire universe did not pop into existence five minutes ago and that all of our apparent memories are not illusions. I cannot prove that the other people you see on campus have minds. Perhaps they are very clever robots.

There is no interesting philosophical conclusion that can be proven beyond the possibility of doubt. So the fact that arguments for the existence of God do not produce mathematical certainty does not by itself weaken the case for God’s existence. It simply places the question of God’s existence in the same category as other questions such as that of the existence of the external, mind-independent world and the question of how we know other people have minds.

Does this mean that arguments for the existence of God are useless? Not at all. Sure, I cannot provide an argument which will convince all thinking people but this does not mean I don’t have good reason to believe in God. In fact some of my reasons for believing in God may be persuasive to you. Even if you aren’t persuaded to believe that God exists, my arguments may not be useless. It is reasonable to believe that the mountains are real and our memories are generally reliable and that other minds exist. It is reasonable to believe these things even though they cannot be proven. Maybe some argument for God’s existence will persuade you that belief in God is reasonable.

So how can we know that God exists? Instead of looking for undoubtable conclusions, we weigh evidence and consider alternatives. Which alternative best fits the evidence? We will choose one alternative or another. There is no neutral ground.

Where Can we Find Information about God?

When you get to thinking about it, it seems that there are only two basic sources of information about God, if such a being exists. They are the following:

We can infer what might be true about God from what we observe in the universe. We look at the physical universe, human nature and culture and we observe things which may be clues to the existence or nature of the supernatural. God may have entered the Universe and told us true things about himself, morality, meaning and how to have a relationship with him. This is called Revelation.

Let me explain each of these. One year my wife and I drove from Los Angeles to Rhode Island. It took a long time. The country is pretty big. From this observation it makes sense to think that if there is some person or being who is responsible for making the physical universe, this being has a lot more power than we do. Now this is a rather simplistic example. Another observation we can make is that every culture we know anything about has a deep sense that certain things are morally permissible and certain things are morally prohibited. This leads us to infer that if there is some supernatural being responsible for human nature, that being is personal. He has a moral aspect to his nature.

The second source of information is that God may have taken the initiative and stepped into the universe to reveal himself. He may tell us true things about his nature and purposes and about human meaning and morality.

Christianity holds that both of these are good sources of information. We have clues to God’s existence which can be observed and God has entered the physical universe through the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth in History and told us about himself.

Now in this article I am concentrating on the first source. Can we know anything about God from what we observe? Are there good reasons to believe in God based on these observations? I think there are.

Reasons to Believe in God

I want to pick up two observations which I think give us good reason to think there is a God. First, the existence of the universe is better explained by the existence of God. Second, the existence of objective moral values is better explained by the existence of God.

The Existence of the Universe is Better Explained by The Existence of God.
I will begin by laying out the argument:

1. There are things which come into existence.
Everything which comes into existence is caused to exist by something else. There cannot be an infinite series of past causes. Therefore, there exists a first cause which did not come into existence. In other words, the first cause always existed. Let us look at each of the steps in the argument:

Premise 1. “There are things which come into existence.”
Many things have come into existence. This article is coming into existence as I write it. You came into existence and so did I. This premise is not uncontroversial.

Premise 2. “Everything which comes into existence is caused to exist by something else.”
It is obvious that Nothing can cause itself to come into existence. Anything that causes itself to come into existence has to exist before it exists. This is impossible. Perhaps something can come into existence from Nothing without any cause whatsoever. Can a thing just pop into existence with absolutely no cause? This also does not seem reasonable.
I have three children. If I walk into the dining room and see a picture of Pinky and the Brain which is drawn on the wall in Permanent Magic Marker I will ask “Where did this picture come from?” My daughter Elizabeth (who is almost five) might say “It came from nothing, Dad. Nothing caused it. It just popped there. I think it is quite strange — don’t you?” Will I accept this? No! Things do not come into existence from Nothing without cause. So, we have good reason to think that premise two is true. Everything which comes into existence is caused to exist by something else.

Premise 3. “There cannot be an infinite series of past causes.”
Is the series of past causes infinite? Can the universe have an infinite past? The answer is that it cannot. First, there are philosophical reasons to think the past cannot be infinite. Second, there are scientific reasons which support this view.

Philosophical Reasons

Why can’t the past be infinite? The answer is that it is impossible to complete an infinite series by addition. The series of past events is complete. Think of this mathematical fact. Why is it impossible to count to infinity? It is impossible because, no matter how long you count, you will always be at a finite number. It is impossible to complete an actual infinite by successive addition.

The past is complete. This claim means that the entire series of past events ends now. It ends today. Tomorrow is not part of the series of past events. The series of past events does not extend into the future. It is complete at the present. If it is impossible to complete an infinite series by successive addition (as it is impossible to count to infinity) the past cannot be infinite. If the past is finite, that is, if it had a beginning, then the universe had a beginning. We have strong philosophical reason to reject the claim that the universe has always existed.

Scientific Reasons
I will not develop these. Rather, I will simply point them out.

Big Bang theory does not prove that the universe had a beginning, but it supports this claim.
The second law of thermodynamics does not prove that the universe had a beginning but it also supports this claim.
We can see that we have good philosophical and Scientific reasons to reject the idea that the Universe has always existed.

About the Universe, there are only three alternatives:
1. The universe has always existed. It has an infinite past.
2. The universe was popped into existence from nothing with absolutely no cause.
3. The universe was caused to exist by something outside it.

We have strong reason to reject the first two alternatives.

Alternative Three is the most reasonable. There was a first cause. This cause existed eternally. It initiated the big bang and created the universe. Now what can we know about this cause? Why think the cause is God? I will briefly sketch a few implications.

First, the first cause is not a part of the space-time physical universe because it caused the space time universe to begin. Therefore it is outside of space and time. It is not physical. Second, it has a great deal of power. Third, it is a personal agent. This means it is not an inert force but it must have aspects of person hood; namely, that it wills. How do we know this? This is because it is the best answer to the question of why the Big Bang happened when it did. Why not sooner? Why not later? All of the conditions for producing the Big Bang existed from eternity. The only kind of cause we know of that can initiate an effect when all of the conditions are already present is the will of a personal agent.

I have not argued that it is logically impossible that the universe popped into existence from nothing without cause. I have argued that it is more reasonable to hold that it has a cause and that this cause is a non-physical personal agent — God.

So it seems that the first argument is fairly strong. The existence of the universe is better explained by the existence of God.

The Existence of Objective Moral Values is Better Explained by the Existence of God.
People experience a sense of morality that leads them to hold strongly that certain things are right or wrong for all people in all cultures. For example, it is wrong to torture another person just for fun. It is wrong for me today. It is wrong for a citizen of the Philippines and it was wrong for someone living in 500 BC. Our moral sense provides strong reason to believe in a personal God.

It will help clarify what I am saying if we put it into the form of an argument.

If there is no God, there are no objective moral values.
There are moral values which are objective.
Therefore, God exists.

Before I discuss this argument, I must make it clear that I am not claiming that one must believe in God in order to be moral. I am not claiming that statistically those who believe in God are more moral than those who do not. I am also not claiming that our knowledge of morality depends upon God. This argument is to the effect that objective moral values themselves are foreign to a universe without God. They do not fit.

Defending Premise 1. “If there is no God, there are no objective moral values.”
I have to admit that this claim is quite controversial and many philosophers disagree with me. I think, however, that objective moral values are not sufficiently explained in a universe without God. Many have agreed with this claim. For example, Dostoevski had Ivan Karamazov claim, “If there is no God, everything is permitted.” Sartre wrote of Dostoevski’s statement, “That is the very starting point of existentialism. Indeed, everything is permissible if God does not exist, and as a result man is forlorn, because neither within him nor without does he find anything to cling to” [see his essay Existentialism]. John Mackie — probably the best philosophical atheist of the twentieth century recognizes this: “[Objective moral values] constitute so odd a cluster of qualities and relations that they are most unlikely to have arisen in the ordinary course of events, without an all-powerful god to create them. If, then, there are such intrinsically prescriptive objective values, they make the existence of a god more probable than it would have been without them [The Miracle of Theism, pp 115-116].

Mackie recognizes that these objective values do not fit in the universe if there is no God. His answer, since he rejects God, is to claim that there are no objective moral values. His book on ethics is appropriately titled Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong. I agree with Dostoevski, Sartre and Mackie. If there is no God, there are no objective moral values.

Defending Premise 2. “There are objective moral values.”
We know there are objective moral values. By this I mean that the content of morality is not determined by the individual, or by culture. Rather some things are objectively wrong. Other things are objectively obligatory. Actions such as rape, racist discrimination and torturing an innocent baby to death for no reason are really wrong. Furthermore, It is wrong for me to do these no matter when I live and no matter from what culture I come.

Now many people believe that morality is not objective. This view comes in three basic varieties.

1. The individual determines morality.
If the individual determines morality, then if I believe it is morally permissible to steal your stereo and beat up your girlfriend, it is permissible for me to do it. But it is not permissible for me to beat up your girlfriend. Therefore, the individual does not determine morality.

2. Society determines morality.
If I lived in a completely racist society, would racism be right for me? Not at all. When an American university student protests against South Africa’s policy of apartheid, he is assuming that morality is not determined by society. It is transcendent of cultures. All of our greatest heroes have been men and women who have stood up to society’s wrongs and appealed to a morality that is transcendent to society in order to demand change. If society determines morality, it is always morally wrong to criticize society. There is no morality outside of society which can form the basis of a moral critique.

3. Morality has survival value.
Some people claim that the reason we have this moral sense is that it helped the human race survive. Those individuals with moral sense grouped together for mutual protection and these did better than those without the moral sense. This is a kind of prehistoric social contract theory of morality. The problem with this is that we do not need morality to survive today. In fact, if you and I know that morality has no objective validity and the rest of our culture still thinks it is valid, we can take advantage of this to get the most we can. There is no moral reason to refrain from rape, robbery and murder.

These inadequate objections show that our sense is that there is a morality that is trans-personal, trans-cultural and trans-temporal The existence of a personal God is the best explanation for this. It is not up to the individual or the culture whether it is permissible to rape simply for fun. Any individual who believes it is morally permissible to rape for fun has a false belief. Any culture whose moral guidelines include the claim that it is permissible to rape for fun has simply got it wrong.

If it is true that Hitler was morally wrong, it is true that there are objective moral truths which are trans-cultural. If it is true that it was wrong for Romans to leave baby girls to die on the trash heaps — simply because they were girls, then morality is not determined by culture. If it is true that Martin Luther King was a moral hero because he criticized his own culture by appealing to objective morality, then it is true that morality is not determined by culture.

Now, It is true that Hitler was wrong. It is true that the Romans were wrong. It is true that Martin Luther King was right — heroically right. So, we know there are objective moral truths. But objective morality makes no sense in the Universe if there is no God. Objective moral values point to the existence of a moral being who created the universe. His moral character is the standard for objective right and wrong.

Summary

I have briefly presented two arguments for the existence of God. These show that it is more reasonable to believe that God exists than that He does not exist.

A. The Existence of the Universe is Better Explained by The Existence of God.
B. The Existence of Objective Moral Values is Better Explained by the Existence of God.

So we see that some of the things we observe about the natural world ground a strong inference to the claim that God does exist. This gives us reason to consider with renewed openness the possibility that God has entered the space-time universe and revealed Himself through the person and life and death of Jesus of Nazareth.

I have not claimed to prove with mathematical certainty that God exists. I have, however, provided good reasons to think that He does. If someone wishes to argue successfully that God does not exist. He must first, provide an answer for each of my arguments and second, he must offer arguments that God does not exist. Until He does this, we can conclude that we have good reason to claim that God does exist.

This article was written by Dr Gregory E. Ganssle of the Department of Philosophy at Yale University.

Posted, November 2017

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Huge and tiny

Trees 2 400pxA tiny seed can grow into a huge tree. Tree seeds fall to the ground from their parents with a full set of instructions on how to grow. Once the coat around the seed is moistened, the embryo cells expand and burst out in a process called germination. The embryo uses food stored in the seed to power its initial growth until the leaves can start producing food. Once the roots are in the soil and the first leaves are in the sun, the plant is ready to really start growing. Trees keep getting taller and thicker while they are alive. The tallest tree is over 110 metres (360 feet) tall, and scientists think some trees may have been as much as 150 metres (490 feet) tall.

Jesus compared something that is large with something that is small when He said, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Mt. 19:24NIV). The camel was the largest animal in Israel and the eye of a needle was the smallest opening. Camels are about 2m high and the eye of a needle was about 1mm. The difference was a factor of about 2,000, which is over 3 orders of magnitude (103).

What is the size range that we can detect without technical aids? The most distant individual star visible to the unaided eye is about 4,000 light years (3.6×1019m) away. Did you know that 99% of the stars we can see are in our galaxy? Galaxies can be seen up to 2.5million light years (2.3×1022m) away (Andromeda). On the other hand, the smallest object we can see is the thickness of spider silk which is about 2×10-6m (2 microns). The range between these two extremes of what we can detect with the unaided eye is 28 orders of magnitude (1028). That’s a factor of 1 with 29 zeros after it!

What is the range that we can detect with technical aids? Telescopes can detect light from 13 billion light years (1.17×1026m) away. As it is too far away to measure directly, this distance is estimated from assumptions about the universe. At the other extreme:
– Atoms are about 10-10 m (one angstrom) in size.
– The nucleus of an atom is about 10-14 m in size.
– Protons, neutrons and electrons are about 10-15 m in size.
– Other subatomic particles have been detected, such as neutrinos, which are usually treated as points in space and time.
The range between these two extremes of what we can detect with technical aids is 42 orders of magnitude (1042). That’s a factor of 1 with 43 zeros after it! It ranges from protons, to atoms, to ants, to people, to planets, to galaxies to the whole universe.

Psalm 8

In Psalm 8 (a song of praise) David makes a comparison between the universe and humanity. “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens … When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (Ps. 8:1-4).

The Message says, “I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous, your handmade sky-jewelry, moon and stars mounted in their settings. Then I look at my micro-self and wonder, why do you bother with us? Why take a second look our way?” (Ps. 8:3-4)

It’s all about God’s greatness. It begins with a name and a title. “Lord” (“Yahweh” in Hebrew) is God’s name. And David says He is “our Lord”, which means that God is Israel’s master. But then He extends God’s rule to all humanity by saying that God’s name (or reputation) is majestic “in all the earth”. Majestic (or magnificent or awesome) means superior in power. Then he extends God’s rule even further by saying God has set His glory (or shows His majesty) “in the heavens”. He then explains that in this context the heavens include the moon and stars. So, he’s referring to the universe of stars and galaxies, which God has made. In a figure of speech he says that they are “the work of your fingers”, “which you have set in place”. And we have seen that the universe is huge.

Then David contrasts humanity with the universe by saying “what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them”? The size difference between us and the universe is 22 orders of magnitude for what we can see unaided and 26 orders of magnitude for what we can see with technical aids. He is amazed that God remembers us and cares for us when we are so tiny compared with the vast universe. He remembers and cares for each one of us.

God made us to be in the middle of a range of sizes from the atoms to galaxies. We seem to be insignificant and tiny compared to the universe, but huge compared to atoms. But David said that God crowned us with glory and honor because we were made to rule over the rest of God’s creation (Ps. 8:5-8). He gave us a job to do.

Context

The context of Psalm 8 is as follows:
– In Psalm 6 David prays for God’s help and deliverance from prolonged illness and his enemies.
– In Psalm 7 David prays for God’s help and deliverance from his enemies.
– In Psalm 8 David praises God.
– In Psalm 9 David thanks God for punishing his enemies.
– Psalm 10 is a prayer for God’s help and deliverance from the wicked.

So Psalm 8 is in the middle of psalms dealing with the struggles and troubles of life. At these times let’s remember that God is great because He made the universe and because He cares for us (humanity).

Music

The musical style of this psalm is “according to gittith”. We don’t know exactly what this is, but the same style is mentioned in Psalms 81 and 84, which are for celebrating a Jewish festival and for expressing a longing to serve God in the temple. So the musical style for Psalm 8 may be joyful.

Lessons for us

Because the book of Psalms is only half way through the Bible, we know more than David did! We know there are more galaxies and stars in the universe than he saw. And Paul wrote, “For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see His invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God” (Rom. 1:20NLT).

So let’s realize that there is an awesome God behind His magnificent creation. And let’s recognize that God made our creation and reject the idea of evolution that it made itself. And let’s value all of His creation by caring for it, in particular human life that is created in God’s image.

And there is about 1,000 years of history in the Bible after the days of David. God also remembered and cared for us by sending Jesus to die for our sins. He calls those who have accepted His forgiveness His children. And these children will rule with Jesus in His coming kingdom. That’s when we will be crowned with glory and honor!

Written, September 2017


Complex creation

William Shakespeare is the best-selling fiction author of all time. But his plays and poetry were written over 400 years ago. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has decided that Shakespeare’s language is too difficult for today’s audiences to understand. So it has commissioned 36 playwrights in a 3-year project to translate all of Shakespeare’s plays into modern English.

CERN 1 400pxIs the universe more complex than we realize? Many people think that scientists understand how it was formed and how it works. But even the most brilliant scholars don’t understand this. For example, here’s summary of what they know (and don’t know) about the forces and particles that make up the universe. This shows that the intelligence behind the universe is greater than the intelligence of the human mind.

Fundamental forces

The four fundamental forces of nature are gravity (which holds planets, stars and galaxies together), electromagnetism (which holds atoms together so that electrons are attracted to the nucleus), the strong nuclear force (which holds the atomic nucleus together) and the weak nuclear force (which is involved in radioactive decay). These forces hold together atoms, molecules, planets and galaxies. Gravity is described by Einstein’s general theory of relativity, while the other three forces are part of the Standard Model of particle physics.

How well do we understand these forces? Let’s look at the force of gravity.

Gravity

In the late 16th century Isaac Newton developed three laws of motion, which included a description of gravity. Newton’s laws of motion described the movement of objects. In 1915 Einstein’s theory of general relativity replaced Newtonian mechanics. This theory describes the force of gravity and describes the motions of bodies in our solar system. The general theory of relativity describes an expanding universe, which has been detected by scientists (although some dispute whether the universe is expanding). But observations of distant spiral galaxies defy the predictions of general relativity. To explain this behavior, scientists postulate the existence of dark matter and dark energy. They are named “dark” because they can’t be detected. So they are “fudge factors” to make the mathematical model work. Dark matter and dark energy are theoretical inventions that explain observations we cannot otherwise understand.

On the scale of galaxies, gravity appears to be stronger than can be accounted for using only particles that are able to emit light. So scientists added dark matter as 27% of the mass-energy of the universe. But these particles have never been directly detected! The Hubble Space Telescope found that the expansion of the universe is increasing with time, instead of decreasing as was expected from the force of gravity due to the matter in the universe (whether ordinary or dark matter). So scientists added “dark energy” (a weak anti-gravity force that acts independently of matter) as 68% of the mass-energy of the Universe. Dark matter is an invisible substance that can only be seen through the effects of its gravity, while dark energy is pushing our universe apart. The nature of both remains mysterious.

However, the amount of dark matter and dark energy postulated in the universe is huge. The mass-energy of the universe is assumed to be 68% dark energy, 27% dark matter and 5% observable matter! This means that without the fudge factor, the general theory of relativity only explains 5% of what is observed to exist! So, the universe is so complex that the best mathematical description of gravity needs to be adjusted by a factor of 95%! General relativity is also part of the framework of the standard Big Bang model of cosmology.

So the universe is too complicated for our most brilliant scholars to understand all aspects of the forces that control it. For example, we don’t really know:
– if dark matter exists
– if dark energy exists
– if the universe is really expanding (because it can’t be explained by general relativity without using these fudge factors)
–  if Einstein’s theory of gravity is correct (because it can’t explain the universe without using these fudge factors).

This situation is influenced by the fact that astronomy uses remote sensing (measurements made from a distance) to gather its data. Many assumptions are made when interpreting these data and the assumptions have a large influence on the findings. If any of the assumptions are wrong, then the findings are probably also wrong.

These fundamental forces act on atoms, molecules, planets and galaxies. How well do we understand the matter that makes up atoms, molecules, planets and galaxies? Let’s look at the particles that combine to form atoms.

Fundamental particles

CERN 5 400pxIn late 1800s scientists thought that the atom was the smallest building block of nature. But then the electron was discovered in 1897, the proton in 1919 and the neutron in 1932. By the mid-1960’s, it was realized that the understanding that atoms were composed of protons, neutrons, and electrons, was insufficient to explain the many subatomic particles being discovered. Via quantum theory, protons and neutrons were found to contain quarks—now considered elementary particles. Then the Standard Model of particle physics (of fundamental particles and their interactions) was developed to explain the behavior of these subatomic particles. The Standard Model is a mathematical equation that describes the particles and forces that govern quantum physics.

In the Standard Model there are 61 elementary particles (18 quarks, 18 antiquarks, 6 leptons, 6 antileptons, 8 gluons, 4 electroweak bosons, and one higgs boson). This number varies according to what is assumed to be an elementary particle. So in a century the number of fundamental particles has risen from one to 61! That’s a huge increase! The particulate structure of creation was more complex that was imagined. I wonder how many more fundamental particles will be discovered in the next 100 years?

But the Standard Model that describes these particles can’t explain gravity, dark matter or dark energy! The quantum theory used to describe the micro world, and the general theory of relativity used to describe the macro world, are difficult to fit into a single framework. No one has managed to make the two mathematically compatible in the context of the Standard Model.

So the universe is too complicated for our most brilliant scholars to understand all aspects of the fundamental particles that are the building-blocks of the atoms and molecules of matter.

The implications of this complexity

Clearly the forces and particles of the universe are complex. The pattern (design) of the universe is too complex for the human mind to understand. This shows that the intelligence behind the universe is greater than the intelligence of the human mind. Is this evidence of design by a being that is more intelligent than humanity? This is consistent with what the Bible says.

What the Bible says

According to the Bible, Jesus Christ created and sustains the universe.

“Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through Him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through Him and for Him. He existed before anything else, and He holds all creation together” (Col. 1:15-17NLT).

Jesus “existed before anything was created”, including time. As He existed before time was created, Jesus is eternal. In this way, He is different to His creation (the universe). He is “supreme over all creation” because He “created everything”. He created the stars and galaxies (“the heavenly realms”). He not only made the “things we can see” (the visible universe), but He also made “the things we can’t see” (so there is a spiritual unseen dimension to God’s creation which is inhabited by angels). And Jesus “holds all creation together”. This means He controls all the forces of nature including gravity, electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force and the weak nuclear force. Hebrews also says that Jesus “sustains everything by the mighty power of His command” (Heb. 1:3).

Solomon said, “people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end” (Eccl. 3:11). God works in nature, in the spiritual world, in society and in our own lives. This means that no-one can discover the full extent of what God does. Our understanding is limited. Our knowledge is finite, and thus infinitely less than God’s. Some of the wisdom, power, and goodness of God is evident in His creation. But it is so vast and our capacity is so limited and our life is so short that we only understand a miniscule part of what God does. Consequently, there are many mysteries that we don’t understand. For example, when science answers one question usually several replace it. There’s always more to discover.

If complexity requires a creator, who created God?

A common objection to the idea of an intelligent creator is “if all complex things require an intelligent creator, then why is that creator himself not bound to the same rule? Would that complex deity not require an even more complex creator, and so on, for infinity?”.

What this fails to acknowledge is that there are two categories of complex things – those that have a beginning (and so were created) and those that don’t have a beginning (and so were not created). Those that have a beginning (such as the universe and people) do require an even more complex creator. The reason for this is that everything which has a beginning has a cause. This is the law of cause and effect. But as mentioned above God is in a different category. He has no beginning; He is eternal. God, as creator of time, is outside of time. This means He has no beginning in time. As He has always existed, He doesn’t need a cause. So the seemingly endless sequence proposed by the questioner stops at God – He doesn’t have a more complex creator.

Summary

We have seen that the universe is too complicated for our most brilliant scientists to understand all aspects of the forces that control it and all aspects of the fundamental particles that are the building-blocks of the atoms and molecules of matter. This complexity should cause us to be humble before our God who created and sustains the universe. And to praise Him as Paul did when he wrote:
“Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand His decisions and His ways! For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give Him advice? And who has given Him so much that He needs to pay it back? For everything comes from Him and exists by His power and is intended for His glory. All glory to Him forever! Amen” (Rom. 11:33-36).

Written, August 2017

Also see: How the universe is held together


Big history or little history?

Big History projectA 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:

  1. Origin of the universe billions of years ago as explained by the big bang theory.
  2. Stars light up from the remnants of the exploding gases.
  3. New chemical elements form when stars die and create new types of atoms.
  4. Rocky planets such as the earth and the solar system form around stars.
  5. Molecules combine to form single celled living organisms that evolve into multi-celled organisms.
  6. Human beings appear as a consequence of evolutionary processes.
  7. After the last ice age about 10,000 years ago, humans develop agriculture.
  8. 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.

Big assumptions

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?

Big miracles

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.

Circular reasoning

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.

Conclusion

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


Two messages

No excuse

Recently the world received messages from the planet Mars that came in the form of photographs taken by Curiosity, the NASA Mars Rover. Psalm 19 contains two messages from God, about His power and His love.

God’s power

In the first, the songwriter, David, personifies (gives human attributes to) the universe: “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 reveal 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. 19:1-4aNIV). When David was a shepherd, he lived outdoors and would have seen God’s creation power in the sun, moon and stars (Ps. 8:3; 19:4b-6).

What message does the universe “declare”, “proclaim”, “reveal” and “voice” to us? That all of it is “the work of His hands” alone. God created the universe. Great knowledge and power would be required to provide the countless stars, the immense distances and the warmth of the sun. By looking at the universe, we see abundant evidence that God is a very powerful Creator.

God’s love

When the songwriter David turns to describe Scripture (which at that time comprised portions of the Old Testament written before 1000BC), he changes the title of God from “El”, which means the powerful One behind creation (Strong’s #410), to “Yahweh”, which means the personal loving One who cares for His chosen people (#3068). Scripture is a written message from God to us: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that all God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

David’s Scripture message largely contained God’s dealings with the Jews and their ancestors. He said that His words were “refreshing” and “wise”, “giving joy” and “light” and “great reward” (Ps. 19: 7-11). In particular, God made covenants with the children of Israel in the days of Abraham, Moses and David (Gen. 12:2-3; Ex. 19-24; Lev.; 2 Sam. 7:5-16). In these He showed His love for them. Although they would reject Him, He would not reject them (Lev. 26:43-44). When we read the Old Testament, it becomes evident that God lovingly cares for His people, the descendants of Abraham. When we read the New Testament we discover this same care is ours as Christians.

Lessons for us

Today we still have the visible message of the created universe and the written message of the Bible. We have no excuse for not knowing what God has done for us: “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).

In the New Testament Paul quoted Psalm 19:4 when he wrote that people had heard the message of God’s power and love as shown by Jesus: “Did they not hear? Of course they did: ‘Their voice [of the heavens, declaring the glory of God] has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Rom. 10:18; Ps. 19:4).

Seeing God’s power and love in Psalm 19 should bring us to say with the psalmist, “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; for He is our God and we are the people of His pasture, the flock under His care” (Ps. 95:6-7)?

Written, August 2012


How the universe is held together

Recently the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva in Switzerland has been used to discover a new sub-atomic particle. The collider directs streams of protons around a 27 km circular tunnel so they collide head-on and records the sub-atomic debris that results.

A researcher reported, “Our new measurements are a great way to test theoretical calculations of the forces that act on fundamental particles, and will move us a step closer to understanding how the universe is held together”. So scientists are seeking to understand how the universe is held together. According to the Bible, what they discover will be secondary causes and not primary ones.

Primary and secondary causes

The Bible says that everything in the universe is held together by the powerful word of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is “sustaining all things by His powerful word” (Heb. 1:3) and “in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1 :17). God’s divine power sustains the mass, energy, space and time of our universe. It the primary reason the universe is held together.

The Bible also teaches that God spoke the universe into existence.

  • “the universe was formed at God’s command” (Heb. 11:3).
  •  “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of His mouth … Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the people of the world revere Him. For He spoke, and it came to be; He commanded, and it stood firm” (Ps. 33:6-9).
  • With regard to the whole universe (visible and invisible, living and inanimate); “at His command they were created” (Ps. 148:5)
  • “God said” is mentioned ten times in the description of the creation of the universe (Gen 1:1-31).

The orderly mechanisms and models of science reflect God’s nature. These mechanisms and models are secondary causes which describe how the universe operates. They are part of the creation over which God has dominion (Job 25:2; 38:33). The eternal omnipotent God who has massive intelligence is the original and ultimate cause because He determined how the universe operates.

Summary

God not only designed and created the universe, He continues to sustain it by His divine powerful word. He is both a Creator and a Sustainer.

Written, December 2011

Also see: Complex creation


In the Beginning. Part 1: The first week

What happened at the beginning of time?

The best place to begin reading a book is at the beginning. It’s important to read the beginning in order to understand what happens later. This article begins a series that looks at the beginning of the bible. This helps us understand later events in the Bible, like when Jesus Christ came to earth.

Interpreting the Bible

As “all Scripture is God-breathed”, the original text contained no errors or mistakes (Prov. 30:5-6; 2 Tim. 3:15-17). The words in the original language were inspired by God as the human writers of the Bible were given the words by the Holy Spirit (2 Pt. 1:20-21). That is why it is often referred to as the Word of God. In fact Scripture is the only source of revelation that is not affected by sin (Gen. 3:17-19; Rom. 8:20-22). The Bible is our only reliable authority on the creation of the world—we have no other eye-witness account.

While Scripture is accurate, it is not exhaustive. However, it is sufficient to make us “wise for salvation” and “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:15-17NIV). It is a concise book with no unnecessary detail. God gives us the important things that we need to know and we need to use our intellect to apply these to our situations in life.

God intended that ordinary people would be able to understand the Bible. For example, fathers were to teach the Scriptures to their children at home (Deut. 6:4-9; Eph. 6:4). Also, the Bereans “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). They only need the help of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14).

The meaning of scripture is the meaning the inspired authors intended to convey to their generation. The only exception to this rule is prophecies which also have another meaning when they are fulfilled at a future time. So, it is important to find out how the original readers would have understood the words. After all, it was their language being used in their circumstances.

The Bible is a theological book. It contains the message of salvation from the penalty of our sin. But this theology is set in a world of history and science. It uses the physical world to illustrate and reveal spiritual truths. Although it is not a history book, the history in the bible is accurate. Although it is not a science book, the science in the bible is also accurate. What it says is exactly true. Because it is the inspired word of God, its language communicated accurately to its original readers and a good translation communicates accurately to us today.

The interpretation of scripture requires consideration of the text and the context in which it was written. This includes knowledge of the language, culture and history of that time. For example, is the text a literal narrative or is it poetic? It should be taken literally unless there is ample reason to believe the text was meant to be taken figuratively, such as metaphors, symbolism and parables. Also, other passages of scripture may help to confirm the meaning of a difficult passage.

The Context of Genesis

The book of Genesis was complied and written by Moses in the 14th century BC from oral history and revelation from God (Acts 7:22; 15:1; Genesis 17; 2 Peter 1:21). Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. Until he was weaned, his mother would have taught him the history of the Hebrew people. When he was older, Moses was “educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in words and action” (Acts 7:22).

Moses wrote the first five books of the bible while travelling between Egypt and Canaan. The people in both of these lands worshipped idols. The forces of nature were personified as pagan gods. These mythical beings included the sun god, the river Nile, and the golden calf in Egypt and sun, moon and stars, Baal – the god of the rain and storm, Asherah – the goddess of the sea and fertility in Canaan. The ten plagues were directed against the gods of Egypt. On the way to Canaan they moved through lands where people tried to seduce them into idolatry and immorality. Middle Eastern creation myths usually involve how one of the gods triumphs in a mighty battle against the forces of chaos and then reigns over the other gods and creates order out of chaos.

Genesis was written to these Israelites to educate them about the true God and protect them from idolatry. Moses is declaring that God has revealed Himself in creation and in history; Baal is not the true god. The New Testament affirms this as real history. Jesus quotes v.27 in Mt 19:4 and Mk. 10:6 and Adam and Eve are mentioned several times (Lk.3:38; Rom. 5:14; 1 Cor. 15:22, 45; 1 Tim. 2:13-14; Jude 14).

Genesis is the foundation of the Bible. It is a book of beginnings; containing a selective history according to God’s purposes. The word “Genesis” comes from the Greek word meaning “origin” or “beginning”. The Hebrew name for this book was “in the beginning”. So Genesis describes the beginning of the universe, the earth and all its inhabitants of human beings, marriage, family, society, civilization, sin and redemption and how God relates to His creation. It contains the original and true account of creation and shows who God is, who we are, what our basic problem is and God’s solution to that problem. In this article we look at Genesis 1:1-2:3.

God is the Creator

The bible begins by saying, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). So the answer to the question of the origin of the universe and of life is given in the first verse of the bible. The fact that God refers to Himself as “us” seems to be a reference to the trinity (Gen. 1:26; 3:22). This is confirmed in the New Testament, which says that Jesus created everything (Jn. 1:3; Col. 1:16).

How did God Create?

God created the universe in a series of creative acts over six days (Gen. 1:1-31). “God said” is mentioned nine times in this passage. For example, “God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light” (v.3). He spoke and light shone in a world that was previously dark. So the pattern is that God spoke and it happened (Psalm 33:6, 9; Hebrews 11:3). His creative acts are also described as “God created” (v.1,21,27), and “God made” (v.7,16,25). The outcome is stated, but few details are given of the process. After all, this was written in the 14th century BC to be understood by ordinary people. This helps understanding by readers with a wide range of linguistic skills and intellect. So, according to the Bible, God created everything out of nothing, whereas according to evolution, nothing organised itself into everything.

I believe that over this period God created a mature world that was fully functioning. For example, Adam and Eve were adults, not babies or children; they were called man and wife right after Eve was created (Gen. 2:25). Also, they and the animals needed food to eat from the very beginning of their creation. Of course, this was a miracle and Moses was familiar with miracles (Ex. 10:1).

God also created the laws of science which have operated since the creation. These laws do not include the act of creation itself. For example, the first law of thermodynamics states that energy and matter (remember e=mc2) is always conserved; it cannot be created or destroyed. We cannot apply these laws to the week of creation when energy and matter were made. This means that today’s operational science does not apply to origins like creation. It cannot explain miracles. We should be careful not to extrapolate to areas outside the area of our observations. Like Job, we need to be reminded by God that no-one was there in the beginning, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” (Job 38:4).

When did God Create?

It happened “In the beginning” (v.1). This was the beginning of time because God created time. God was all that existed before this occasion, because He is timeless (Psalm 90:2). Jesus said, “at the beginning of creation God made them male and female” (Mk. 10:6). So this first week when Adam and Eve were made was the “beginning of creation”. The Israelites knew it was only a few thousand years before their times. They had the genealogies from Adam to Noah; Shem to Abraham; Isaac, Jacob, Levi; Levi to Moses and then down to their generation (Gen. 5:1-32; 11:10-26; Ex.6:16-20,26-27). Luke supplies similar information in the genealogy of Jesus (Lk. 3:23-38).

Why did God Create?

Creation shows God’s power and divine character (Rom. 1:20). Like the universe, God exists, and is orderly and reasonable and good. God is also personal, like mankind. He greater than all other gods. As He has chosen to show His love through human begins such as us, God created the earth to be inhabited (Is. 45:18). Adam and Eve are described as being the last of God’s creative work (v.27).

Why did God take so long?

After each creative act, the bible says “And there was evening, and there was morning—the X day”, where “X” ranges from “first”to “sixth” (v.5,8,13,19,23,31). Then it says that God rested on the seventh day (Gen. 2:2-3).  The instances in this chapter of the Hebrew word for day, “yom”, used in conjunction with “night”, obviously refer to daylight hours (v.5,14,16,18). What about the six times that “yom” is qualified by “evening and morning” and a number? What did this mean to the Israelites in Moses’ time? Is it daylight, 24 hours, some other period of time, a moment, or a theological category? A period of 24 hours is the only meaning that makes sense in this context. This is consistent with the fact that a Jewish day begins and ends at sunset, rather than at midnight. This means that a day is comprised of an evening (night) followed by a morning (daylight). Genesis 1 is also a sequence of events in time like the lifetimes in the genealogy of Genesis 5.

The sun, moon and stars are to “serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years” (v.14). Obviously this instance of the word “days” means periods of 24 hours. This phrase also shows the Hebrews had words for longer periods than day which could be used by the author if required. But the language used for the six days in Genesis 1 makes no suggestion of a longer period of time.

Why did God take six days? After all, He could have made everything in six seconds! God’s six days of work and one day for rest were an example for His people. According to the fourth commandment, they were to work for six days, but not do any work on the seventh day because God made the universe in six days and then rested on the seventh day (Ex. 20:8-11). This only makes sense if the days of the creation week were the same as those of the working week. God set the example of six days work and one day rest. The working week is based on the creation week. That’s why there is seven days in a week. The seven-day week has no basis outside Scripture[1].

Creation of the Universe

The clear intention of Genesis 1 is to give the Israelites an account of the origin of the universe.  It shows God as the creator of time, matter and energy and everything within the universe. They needed to know why their God was greater than the gods and idols of the Egypt and Canaan. Many pagan creation myths were probably corruptions of the original account of creation recorded in Genesis.

Moses summarized God’s creative work as follows:
Day 1: Space, matter and energy, and light created (v.1-5).
Day 2: Matter and energy distributed across the cosmos (v.6-8).
Day 3: Dry land and vegetation were created on earth (v.9-13).
Day 4: The sun, moon, stars and planets provided light and their cycles provided measurements of times and seasons (v.14-19).
Day 5: Aquatic creatures and birds were created (v.20-23).
Day 6: Animals and the first people, Adam and Eve, were created (v.24-31).
On Day 7 God rested (Gen. 2:2-3). He had finished His work of creation. Now he would sustain His creation and after man’s sin He would change the universe and then reconcile and redeem (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3).

The fact that God created different kinds of organisms which reproduced “according to their kinds” is mentioned ten times in v.11,12,21,24,25. This implies that each “kind” of creature is distinctive, which is consistent with the statement that “All flesh is not the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another” (1 Cor. 15:39). Their descendants never change from one “kind” of life to another.

What is Moses saying to the Israelites? Our God supersedes all the others. He is a powerful Creator who made everything. He even made what other nations considered to be gods. The true God is separate from creation. This is the same message that Paul told in Romans 1.

People: In the image of God

The fact that mankind was made in the image of God is stated three times (v.26-27). It shows that people were in the image of God from the beginning. What did this mean to the Israelites in Moses’ day? They used the term to describe a likeness between parents and children—Seth was described as being in Adam’s likeness (Gen. 5:3). Also pagan idols were represented as images (Lev. 26:1).

To answer this question we will see what Adam and Eve do that is unique to humanity. First, the statement that is made twice with respect to humanity but to no other creature is that they will “rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (v.26, 28). For example, Adam was to tend and care for the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15). So mankind was to rule over the rest of creation: we are the link between God and creation. (Ps. 8:5-8). But due to sin “at present we do not see everything subject to them” (Heb. 2:8). We have great power and responsibility. Second, Adam was prohibited from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:16). People are conscious of moral values: we call some things good and others bad. This moral nature of mankind is different to the instincts of the animal world. Third, Adam named the animals (Gen. 2:19-20). Mankind is creative and inventive: this involves imagination, the ability to think in conceptual terms (abstract thinking), and the ability to see a thing with the eye of the mind and then create it physically. Fourth, Adam and Eve talked with God (Gen. 3:8-13). People can communicate and use language to convey ideas and discuss issues. In particular we can communicate with God.

Elsewhere the Bible says that people are comprised of spirit, soul and body (1 Th. 5:23). No other creature on earth is a spirit. Our spirits live forever, but there is no mention of life after death for animals. Maybe it is the spirit that is made in the image of God.

Creation was very good

“God saw that it was good” is mentioned 7 times in Genesis 1 (v.4,10,12,18,21,25).  This means that it is in line with His divine purposes and in accordance with His divine character. Also, “good” is the opposite of “evil” and fruit is “good” food (Gen. 2:9). It finishes by saying, “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good” (v.31).  This is a strong indicator that the world originally had no death or disease.

It was an excellent creation that had not yet been spoilt by sin.  Sin is never described in the Bible as being “good” and death is called the “enemy” (1 Cor. 15:26).  This original creation is very similar to last two chapters of Revelation, where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” because “no longer will there be any curse” (Rev. 21:4; 22:3).  Peter said that after Christ returns God will restore everything (Acts 3:21).

Because there was no sin, there was no death of animals or humans.  In fact the animals and people were vegetarian at the beginning (v.29-30) and in the restored state (Isa. 11:6-9: 65:25).  As people and animals faced no predators, they were in harmony and there was no fear. There was peace on earth.

Lessons for us

The Bible shows that the universe was created by an intelligent and powerful God. He did it in six days with one days rest to give us the pattern for a seven day week. There was no sin in the original creation and we can look forward to the restoration to this in the new heavens and new earth described at the end of the bible (2 Pt. 3:13).  In the meantime we can praise God: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they were created and have their being” (Rev. 4:11).

Adam and Eve were the climax of creation. They were made in the image of God to rule the rest of creation. They were also creative, with a moral nature and the ability to communicate with God. Even though our world has been spoilt by sin, people still bear the image of God. This gives them great significance.

Becoming a Christian is like being recreated in the likeness of God (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10). We become a child of God. Do we think and act like an image of God? Like an image of Christ? Are we using our personality and spirituality like God? Are we behaving in His likeness? Through Christ in our lives, believers are becoming more Godlike (2 Cor. 3:18).


[1] A day is the time for one rotation of the earth about its own axis. A month is approximately the time for one orbit of the moon around the earth. A year is the time for one orbit of the earth around the sun. There is no such physical relationship for the week.

Written, July 2004

See the next article in this series:
In the beginning. Part 2: The first marriage