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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Amazing Evidence of God in the Design of Our World

Yesterday, I began a discussion on how the universe is finely-tuned for human existence. We started with an analogy of being lost in a wood and stumbling onto a life-saving cabin. Then, I noted that just like our cabin, we see three key areas that are necessary for our shelter to sustain life. If you haven't read it yet, make sure you do.



Last time we looked at how the area is just right - that is  the laws of the universe allow life to exist. Today, I'd like to look more closely at the other two features that make life possible: our solar system is built for life and our planet itself is just right.

2.  Our planet and solar system are poised for life (the cabin is built right)

Going back to our cabin analogy, it's not merely that the area where the cabin is built is just right for you to survive—the cabin itself has to be made the right way with the right materials, otherwise it will do you no good at all. Imagine if the cabin had huge holes in the walls and ceiling. It would let the heat and the cold in and not sustain your life. Imagine also if the cabin was made out of paper or sand, which would quickly give way to the wild beasts outside or simple erosion. None of these situations would be of benefit to you when you needed it most.

Similar to the cabin, our little neighborhood in the universe, our solar system and the planet Earth, also show remarkable design for life. In their great book Rare Earth, scientists Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee note just how unlikely it is that another planet in the universe would have the perfect conditions for life that our planet Earth does. We live in a spiral galaxy, but not in a portion crowded with stars. Our sun sits far enough away from the center of the galaxy, yet in-between two of its more densely-packed arms, what Ward and Brownlee call the "Galactic Habitable Zone." They note that the distance of our Earth from the sun is also perfect , not letting the oceans boil away (possibly like Venus) or freeze over permanently (like all water on Mars). 5

Our sun is also the right kind of star. Did you know that 95% of stars in the universe are smaller than our sun?Planets need to be closer to smaller stars in order to get enough warmth for life, but when planets do get closer, the star's gravity keeps one side of the planet constantly facing toward it, freezing out the atmosphere. If our sun were much smaller, it wouldn't put out enough heat, and if it were larger, it would be so hot that it would sterilize the planet of all life.7 And because our sun is not too red (which would also make it too cold for life) or too blue (which would burn too quickly to sustain life), we are able to exist.8Everything seems to be not too hot nor too cold, but just right for life to exist on this particular planet.

Lastly, the fact that we have the gas giant planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) at the outside of our solar systems allows life on earth to continue. According to Ward and Brownlee, these gas giants not only carried elements such as carbon, nitrogen and water to earth in the early stages of its formation, but they continue to provide an invaluable service of catching large asteroid-type bodies that would otherwise smash into earth and extinguish all life on the planet. 9

There are many other examples of how our solar system is perfectly fit for life, but these will do well for a start. This is why Ward and Brownlee write, "With the best of intentions, but limited by natural laws and materials, it is unlikely that Earth could ever truly be replicated. Too many processes in its formation involved sheer luck." 10 You can see why Paul Davies calls the Anthropic Principle, "the Goldilocks Principle." Just as Goldilocks found to porridge and the bed that suited her, we've stumbled onto a cabin that suits us perfectly.

3.  The Earth is stocked for life (the cabin is properly equipped)

We've talked about the area being right for our cabin and the cabin being built properly to sustain us, but both those things wouldn't do us much good if we had to ride out several months of winter in a cabin not stocked with all the things that keep us alive. So it is with the Earth. It's not enough that it be in the right place with the right laws in the universe; it also has to protect and provide the ongoing sustenance for any life that may be found here. But yet again, we find that the Earth is just right to allow mankind to not only live, but to thrive. For example, the fact that our planet is 70% water has a major impact on supporting life. If there were too much water, then no dry land would appear to allow advanced life. Too little water and the temperatures on Earth would vary too drastically for advanced life to thrive.

Whereas most substances have very predictable behaviors based on their molecular construction, water seems to be unique in how it violates these expectations. For example, changing from a liquid to a solid means that as the molecules of most substances slow down, they get closer together, making the material heavier in its solid state. However, water does just the opposite: just before it freezes, it expands, allowing ice to float on liquid water. If this didn't happen, then all of the Earth's bodies of water would eventually freeze from the bottom up. But instead of freezing, the ice provides a cover over the liquid water, helping to retain the liquid water and therefore also adding to its stabilization of the surface temperature of the Earth.

Beyond water, other factors make Earth just right for life. The gases that make up our atmosphere help regulate the Earth's temperature, keeping it even too. Too many gases and we'd over heat, but too few and life would die from the radiation penetrating the atmosphere from space.11 Astronomer Hugh Ross gives us an impressive list of dozens of such conditions for life to thrive on earth: If the oxygen-to-nitrogen ratio in our atmosphere were larger, advanced life functions would proceed too quickly; if it were smaller, advanced life functions would proceed too slowly. If the Earth's crust were thicker, too much oxygen would be transferred from the atmosphere to the crust; but if thinner, volcanic and tectonic activity would be too great. Water vapor levels in the atmosphere are just right; if greater, a runaway greenhouse effect would develop; but if less, rainfall would be too meager for advanced life on the land. 12

The fact that our Earth has a single, sizable moon also becomes crucial to our existence on the planet. In their book The Privileged Planet, Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards write that the Moon serves to stabilize our planet's rotation, keeps the Earth's axis at the perfect tilt to allow consistent seasons, and — by raising the ocean's tides — it delivers nutrients stirred up from the ocean floor and delivers them on land while it simultaneously promotes ocean currents distributing heated water throughout the different oceans.13

Is it All Just a Coincidence?

Perhaps someone desperate might hope to find a cabin in the wood, but to find it filled with the presence of your favorite food, stocked with insulin in the medicine cabinet, and containing all the clothing in your size is far beyond a stroke of luck, especially since these things are not contingent on each other. In finding so many of these "coincidences," it would be irrational to draw a conclusion that this was all chance. You may not be able to explain why it all works out, but it's obvious that whoever built this cabin had you in mind and did it on purpose. And scientists are finding more and more that the sheer number of "coincidences" in the universe of physical laws being just right for life is simply too much to dismiss. Paul Davies goes on to say:
"Certainly the existence of life as we know it… would be threatened by just the tiniest change in the strengths of the fundamental forces, for example. The laws that characterize our actual universe, as opposed to an infinite number of alternative possible universes, seem almost contrived — fine-tuned some commentators have claimed — so that life and consciousness may emerge. To quote Dyson again: it is almost as if 'the universe knew we were coming'."14
Indeed, the mountain of such factors points to the fact that someone "rigged" the system. Perhaps some of these factors are found elsewhere in the universe — there are other spiral galaxies and yellow suns, though not plentiful, that do exist. However, I think that when taken together, this evidence implies much more than mere coincidences. Robin Collins quotes philosopher John Leslie correctly saying, "Clues heaped upon clues can constitute weighty evidence, despite doubts about each element in the pile."15 If the universe itself is put together correctly to support life, then we can't stop at the universe as an explanation for our existence. We have to go to something or Someone who existed before the universe, Who designed the universe with the purpose of creating it so humanity can live and thrive in it. The design of the universe argues for the existence of God.


References

4. Ward, Peter D. and Donald Brownlee. Rare Earth; Why Complex Life is So Uncommon in the Universe. (New York: Copernicus, 2000) p.28
5. Ward and Brownlee. pp.16-20
6. Ward and Brownlee. p.23
7. Barrow and Tipler. p.338
8. Smith, Quentin "The Anthropic Principle and Many-Worlds Cosmologies". Australasian Journal of Philosophy VoI. 63, No.3; (September 1985)
9. Ward and Brownlee. pp.50-51
10. Ward and Brownlee. p.37
11. Ward and Brownlee. pp.50-51
12. Adapted from Hugh Ross' table 4.5 in "Astronomical Evidences for a Personal, Transcendent God." Moreland, J.P. The Creation Hypothesis: Scientific Evidence for an Intelligent Designer. Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity Press, 1994. 165-169.
13. Gonzalez, Guillermo and Jay W. Richards. The Privledged Planet: How our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery. Washington D.C.: Regency Publishing, Inc., 2004. p.5-6
14. Davies. Templeton Adress.
15. Collins, Robin. "A Recent Fine-Tuning Argument." The Philosophy of Religion Reader. Ed. Meister Chad. New York: Routledge, 2008.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Three Ways Our Universe is Designed for Life

Just the fact the universe exists at all is pretty good evidence for God. It's an amazing thing that our universe exists and that we exist! But to stop there would be to do a disservice to what science continues to uncover about how our universe works. You see, it's not simply that the universe exists and we happen to live within it. Modern scientists have found that the universe could have existed just fine in many different configurations, but the laws that govern this universe are tuned very precisely. The way our planet is positioned within the universe is also very unique. What scientists continue to find is the universe is meticulously designed just so that it is capable of supporting life like our own. It's been rigged for life, if you will. The universe is finely-tuned for human existence.


Finding the perfect cabin in a dangerous wood

In order to understand how this works, I would like to offer an analogy. Imagine that you're lost in a dark, dangerous wood. The temperature fluctuates from extreme heat in the day to frigid cold at night. You have no food and no water. Aside from the other life-threatening conditions, there are dangerous animals that may attack you if you stay out in the open. You need to find shelter if you are ever going to survive. By chance, you stumble upon a cabin in a clearing of the forest. Crawling through an open window, you quickly hurry inside, thankful for your good luck. Luck is all you currently perceive finding the cabin to be. I mean it's quite possible that you could have taken any number of routes through the wood and ended up someplace else, but you just happened to end up here. However, as you start to explore the cabin, you attitude begins to change.

First, you notice that there's fresh food in the kitchen, and that the food just happens to be all your favorite kinds. Then, you see that there are some medical supplies in the bathroom that are exactly what you need: bandages for your cuts and scrapes, but also insulin for treating your diabetes. In the bedroom, there's a collection of CDs from all your favorite bands, three books are on the table that are your favorite books, and the reading glasses are your exact prescription! The mattress is the exact firmness you like and all the clothes in the closet fit you perfectly. Finally, you go to the front door, but it is locked. On a hunch, you pull out your house key from your pocket and try it in the door. The key unlocks the front door and you are able to enter and exit effortlessly. After these and many, many more discoveries, you finally come to the conclusion that this is not a random cabin at all, but one designed especially for you to help you survive within this dangerous forest.

Before you can create tuna, you must first tune the universe!

Now, you may be thinking that I'm stretching the facts a bit when I give the examples in my cabin analogy above. In fact, I'm actually downplaying the amazing precision of what science is finding out about the very delicate balance of features the universe must have in order to allow life to exist as it does on this planet. As we continue to learn more about how our universe works, we are finding two very interesting things:
  • It is not necessary that those laws should come together in the way they do now. There are many combinations of laws that still would allow the universe to exist but not support life, and
  • There are so incredibly many different types of laws that must be present all at the same time for life to exist, each so delicately balanced and perfectly set, that it seems hardly a coincidence. The universe is fine-tuned for life on earth.
Sometimes because of our familiarity with a situation, we neglect to think about how many elements must be just right for the desired goal to happen. Returning to our cabin illustration, we see a cabin in a clearing and run to it, perhaps wondering why it's there, but not really thinking about all the conditions it would take to make the cabin.

Really, for a shelter to be of any use in saving someone from dying in the woods, it is important that the area where that shelter sits be just right for the type of shelter it is and the materials used to construct the shelter be made out of the right stuff. The shelter also needs to have life-supporting elements inside. Otherwise you will simply be forced to abandon it or die. Let's take these one at a time and look at them more closely. We will examine the first one today and look at the other two in tomorrow's post.

1.  Laws of the universe make life possible (the area is right)

In order for a cabin to be built and help a desperate soul lost in the woods, it must be built in a location that has specific properties. For example, no one would want to climb into a cabin and find out it was built on quicksand. The ground must be firm and able to hold a strong foundation. The trees must be cleared away so that there is adequate room for the structure. A cabin built on a severe slope or on the other side of an impassible ravine would make it impossible to get to. Swampy areas would cause the wood that the cabin is built out of to rot.

Our universe has laws that govern how its build materials fit together and react to one another. Things like the strength of gravity or the force that allows protons and neutrons within an atom to stick together are delicately balanced. For example, gravity make a huge difference in whether we would have any stars that could support life like our sun does. According to scientists John Barrow and Frank Tipler, if the force of gravity had been slightly weaker, all stars would have formed into red dwarfs, not producing enough heat to sustain life on any planet. But if it had been slightly stronger, stars would all form to be blue giants, which burn too briefly for life to develop.The fine-tuning of this force must be set to a value so fine that a change of less than a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth would be catastrophic for stars like our sun. 2

There are many other laws that have a similar crucial impact on whether our universe is just right to even allow life to exist, such as the size of an electron relative to a proton, how fast the universe expands, the age of the universe, the speed of light, the amount and uniform level of radiation in the universe, and many, many more. See table 1 for just some of these balances.

Paul Davies, a widely respected physicist and cosmologist, noted that many of the laws of the universe we take for granted are not necessary at all, but function just like that clear, level area that allows us to construct the cabin. In fact, that the universe could have turned out much differently than it did. Davies said "You might be tempted to suppose that any old rag-bag of laws would produce a complex universe of some sort, with attendant inhabitants convinced of their own specialness. Not so. It turns out that randomly-selected laws lead almost inevitably either to unrelieved chaos or boring and uneventful simplicity. Our own universe is poised exquisitely between these unpalatable alternatives."3

References

1. Barrow, John D. and Frank J. Tipler. The Anthropic Cosmological Principle. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986).336
2. Davies, Paul. The Goldilocks Enigma: Why is the Universe Just Right for Life? (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006) 147
3.Davies, Paul M. "Templeton Prize Address." Arizona State University. 23 January 2010 http://cosmos.asu.edu/prize_address.htm.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Two Key Problems with Darwinism (video)

Modern Darwinism teaches that all life we see today is the result of lucky chemical accidents. There is no purpose or intelligence guiding the process. However, as we better understand the complexities of life and the amazing amount of information it takes to make even the simplest of cells, the Darwinian model just doesn't work.



In this video, Lenny teaches on two insurmountable problems for modern Darwinian theory and shows why life points to an intelligent designer.



Friday, September 19, 2014

Values so Shockingly Consistent They Make the News

In the ever-growing competition for our attention, news media outlets have sought to find stories that sit ever stranger to our sensibilities. The unusual is prized as the type of a story journalists seek to capture eyeballs and get people talking. It's just like that old saying that what's expected is not really news, like a dog biting a man. But if a man bites a dog, then that's news!



That's why I was very intrigued with the Associated Press story that ran just today about a homosexual couple who were denied Communion from the Roman Catholic in central Montana. The AP article reports:
A gay couple has been told they can no longer receive Communion or participate in church ministry after the new priest at a Roman Catholic church in central Montana learned they had been married in a civil ceremony more than a year ago.

The decision set off a split that has cut attendance at St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Lewistown, population 5,900. It has prompted an upcoming visit from the bishop of the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings.1
The article goes on to report that the men were involved in a relationship for some 30 years, but decided to get married "so they can make medical and financial decisions for each other."2

Most conservative Christians of any stripe would read the above and probably react with a collective "Yeah, so?" The Roman Catholic Church has been very clear in its condemnation of homosexual unions. The biblical teaching on homosexuality is very clear on recognizing practicing homosexual s as those who are not considered part of the faith. Paul explicitly states in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 "Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality… will inherit the kingdom of God."

The Shock Value of Consistent Values

So why is this so newsworthy? Why would the AP run a "dog bites man" story like this? There are only two reasons I can think of and probably both are true to some extent. The first would be that the AP assumes most people would feel that the men were somehow being discriminated against. It's a "how can the church discriminate against these two poor men who only want to look after one another financially and medically" kind of angle.  Of course, anyone with an inkling of understanding would know better than to buy that. For example, the men were joined in a civil union, not in the church. Why do you think this was? Because they knew the church would never allow it! So, how could they be "stunned by the priest's decision" to not allow them to partake in the church's other sacraments? The answer: they weren't. They just don't want to play by the rules.

Secondly, it is entirely possible that the secular AP and its readers cannot fathom an organization having a moral code that calls for certain people to be excluded by virtue of their actions, no matter how sincere, heartfelt, or popular in public opinion they are. This is another example of the faux-virtues I talked about a couple of days ago. It's believed that all decisions are OK, just as long as one doesn't hurt anyone else's feelings. Well, that simply isn't true. These men may sincerely love each other, but they are not taking the teachings of their church honestly. They seem to see the church teachings as something to be gamed. Communion is at it root an act of identifying with Christ and His actions on the cross. It entails a foregoing of self and a devotion to following Jesus as your Lord. That means following the rules He set down for His church. Jesus taught explicitly, "If you love me you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15). He didn't teach that Christians can pick and choose which they would like to keep and which they can ignore.

No matter what the actual motivation was for the AP to run this story, I see it as another clear sign of the shift that has occurred in culture over the last decade. When Christians display Christian values consistently, our society no longer looks upon such actions as normal or unordinary. While the plane that doesn't crash isn't news, now consistently living out one's Christian values is.

In some ways, I think this is as much of an indictment of the Christian church as it is the culture. The broader culture should have been able to recognize Christians by their moral character much more clearly before today. But we have now reached the point where the separation is strange enough it's considered newsworthy, so expect to see more stories on it. They'll be considered as foreign as the story of a man biting a dog, and naked when doing so.

References

1. Associated Press. "Montana Gay Couple Denied Communion After Marriage." ABC News. ABC News Network, 19 Sept. 2014. Web. 19 Sept. 2014. http://abcnews.go.com/Health/wireStory/montana-gay-couple-denied-communion-marriage-25626162.
2. Ibid.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Why the Darwinist Version of Life's Origin is Anti-Science

P.Z. Myers, the acerbic evolutionary biologist, atheist, and blogger is certainly no friend to those arguing for God's existence. However, he did side with at least one point that creationists argue for when debating the concept of life and its origin: Darwinists who claim that the theory of evolution has nothing to do with origin of life "is a cop-out."  An older post at his blog Pharyngula, he writes:
#15 is also a pet peeve: "Evolution is a theory about the origin of life" is presented as false. It is not. I know many people like to recite the mantra that "abiogenesis is not evolution," but it's a cop-out. Evolution is about a plurality of natural mechanisms that generate diversity. It includes molecular biases towards certain solutions and chance events that set up potential change as well as selection that refines existing variation. Abiogenesis research proposes similar principles that led to early chemical evolution. Tossing that work into a special-case ghetto that exempts you from explaining it is cheating, and ignores the fact that life is chemistry. That creationists don't understand that either is not a reason for us to avoid it.1
I completely agree with Myers in that anyone arguing for a non-Creator based model needs to account for both the origin as well as the development of the diversity of life as we see it today. I've previously written how evolutionary teaching texts and evolutionist both include the concept of abiogenesis—a 50 cent word meaning that life arose spontaneously from non-life—in their limiting the diversity of life we see today to only materialistic causes. For, if a creator is necessary to begin life, then the simplest explanation of life's diversity would be that such a creator created them with that diversity.


Passing on Pasteur

Of course, Myers, Dawkins, and company would never allow a creator to be considered in their model. 2 They hold that any such appeal is at its base unscientific. But there's a problem here. The view that life arose spontaneously from non-life has never once been observed in all of human history. If science is at its root a study of those things we can observe, then the theory that life can arise from non-life without any intelligent intervention seems to be non-science.  But abiogenesis is worse than that; it's anti science.

You see, the question has come up before. There was a time where people believed that life could arise spontaneously. People would notice their milk or bread gather mold and they thought that these life forms just popped into existence. However, the French scientist Louis Pasteur performed an extensive series of experiments to heat food products prior to packaging and he showed conclusively that new life doesn't simply pop into existence. He proved that biogenesis (from life comes life) is the scientifically viable theory rather than abiogenesis.

Pasteur's results have been confirmed millions of times over. In fact, our modern method of food distribution relies on the fact that new forms of life won't just appear. Think of a jar of natural peanut butter. The jar is an open system in which energy and sunlight may pass through. The starting material is organic; it has all the right proteins for life. Heck, peanuts are even the starting point for the plant. Yet, no one expects to find new life in their peanut butter!
Science is at its absolute best when one can verify a hypothesis through repeatable testing. The more times one achieves the same results, the stronger the hypothesis becomes. Pasteur's biogenesis is about as strong a finding as science can achieve, so why argue for abiogenesis when no one in the history of humanity has ever observed such and not even one theoretical model of how life could spontaneously arise exists? Simply, it's because the only other explanation of life is that it came from a creator. Therefore, those that trumpet science above all the loudest seem to be the most willing to dump Pasteur's science when it doesn't fit their model. Doesn't that make them anti-science?

References

1. Myers, PZ. "15 Misconceptions about Evolution." Pharyngula. ScienceBlogs LLC., 20 Feb. 2008. Web. 18 Sept. 2014. http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/02/20/15-misconceptions-about-evolut/.
2. In his book, The Blind Watchmaker, Dawkins writes, "The Darwinian theory is in principle capable of explaining life. No other theory that has ever been suggested is in principle capable of explaining life." Dawkins, Richard. The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design. New York, N.Y: W.W. Norton, 1987. Print. 288.
Image courtesy PiccoloNamek
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