The Cellular Lottery

DiceI’m in Honduras this week, where I gave a presentation on evidence for intelligent design in the genetic code. Some of my presentation was based on past blogs on design (here) and DNA (here). But now I’d like to show you a different part of the presentation dealing with the nature of “chance” as this seems to come up a lot in discussions of the origin of life. Enjoy!

First off, what is chance? It has been defined as “the absence of any cause of events that can be predicted, understood, or controlled”.[1] Chance can’t actually cause anything. It’s simply the explanation left after physical-chemical laws and design have been ruled out; it is the so-called “null” hypothesis that there were no discernible patterns pointing to necessity or design. So let’s look at this way of describing the tendencies of events we don’t understand, can’t control, or can’t predict with certainty.

Chance events will have certain odds associated with them. For instance, in a lottery, the odds of winning might be 1 in 100 million. So what are the odds of DNA developing by chance? better or worse than a lottery? How do we determine what the worst case odds possibly are? Let’s start with a basic example. Supposing you rolled 2 dice once every second for a minute, hoping to get a pair of sixes. You have a 1 in 36 chance of getting that pair of sixes on each roll, and 60 chances to get that particular result each minute. Your odds of winning are still only 1 in 36 each roll, but you’ve made a win relatively likely by increasing what’s called your probabilistic resources, the number of rolls of the dice.  So with the resources of 60 rolls, you will generally see 1 pair of sixes result. If you were able to roll 100 pairs of dice at the same time, you would have 6,000 chances each minute of play. Thus you would have sufficient resources to witness something more unusual, like 2 pairs of sixes (1 in 1,296 odds), but probably not something like 10 pairs (1 in 60 million odds). To assign some event to chance rather than design, we need to compare the odds of it happening to the resources available.

One way we can eliminate chance is by looking at the Universal Probability Bound. That is a way to determine statistically whether something is possible through random processes by conservatively estimating the maximum probabilistic resources of the entire universe as an upper limit. For instance, this has been used by security analysts to determine whether computer codes can be broken by brute force attacks. The universal probability bound does this by looking at the fastest possible “dice roll” with the most possible “dice” for the longest possible time.

  • The shortest possible time for any change in physical state is called the Planck time, which is roughly 10^-45 seconds. This means we’re rolling the dice 10^45 times per second instead of once per second like the first example.
  • Scientists estimate the total number of elementary particles in the universe to be 10^80 particles. In this scenario, we’ve made every particle in the universe a dice so that you can’t physically have more chances to win in play at one time.
  • There are various estimates of the age of the universe, but if we take the oldest estimate of 14 billion years we get 4.4×10^17 seconds. If we conservatively round up (a lot!), we can use 10^25 seconds to make the numbers even. This actually works out to 316 quadrillion years, so I think we’ve safely covered the idea of having all the time in the universe to roll the dice.

Multiplying these 3 together gives us a very conservative estimate of the maximum resources of the entire universe for causing a random event. Therefore, if the odds of any event are less than 1:10^150, it’s just not reasonable to say it happened by random chance.
What do these extraordinary odds look like? This: 1 chance in … ž1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000!
This is our standard for saying that we have eliminated chance as a possible cause. When we find that many biological and cosmological systems in our universe didn’t have to be the way they are, but have odds of occurring by random process less than that, we have to assume intervention of some kind. But just how bad are the odds for random formation of the first reproducing cell?
First, 20 protein-forming amino acids must form (1) peptide bonds (2) using only L-isomers in (3) stable, functional, 3D folded structures to form proteins. Many proteins are then required to form one cell. That cell must be complex enough to be able to reproduce before evolution could even begin. This happening by random hookups in a “prebiotic soup” is an uphill battle to say the least.
The odds of the chance formation of a single minimally functional protein composed of only 150 amino acids is roughly 1 in 10^164. This is 100 trillion less likely than that outrageously long number above. And that’s only for a short 150-acid protein. They’re typically composed of several hundred to several thousand amino acids. The odds of chance formation of 1 minimally complex cell of only 250 proteins is roughly 1 in 10^41,000. Again, this would be far less than what we typically see. The smallest self-replicating cell in the wild is 482 proteins, and scientists were able to knock out 100 of its proteins to arrive at a 382 protein cell that could still replicate (although with much other normal functionality removed). This is still 132 proteins more than the generously low number of 250 we’re assuming for a threshold.[2]
The Bible tells us that “His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”[3]  Similarly, David wrote in the Psalms that “the heavens declare the glory of God.”[4] It seems that, as our ability to observe nature has increased, so too has its declaration of God’s glory. Now we find that it’s not just the starry night sky that speaks to us of God’s creative power. Every one of the roughly 50 trillion cells in our bodies screams at us that they are not the result of chance, but of incredible design beyond human abilities. Will we listen, or will we continue buying atheistic lottery tickets?


[1] “Chance“, Dictionary.com, definition #1.
[2] Much more detailed explanation of these numbers, how they were calculated, and the theory behind them can be found in Stephen Myer’s book, Signature in the Cell, 2009, particularly chapters 8-10.
[3] Romans 1:20, ESV.
[4] Psalm 19:1, ESV.

TDY

soldier-and-childIf you’ve ever been in the Army (or have been around those who have been), you probably know what “TDY” (Temporary Duty) is. It’s when you’re assigned somewhere for duty other than your permanent duty station – you guessed it – temporarily. This might be a few days or a few months; it might be relatively easy or an extreme hardship; maybe  for training or simply filling in wherever the army says the need is. Any which way, it’s part of military life that you’re in your country’s service, and while you can put in requests for certain assignments, you ultimately go where your orders take you, like it or not.

There are parallels to our lives as Christians in this. First, in the bigger view,this world is not our “permanent station”.  The apostle Paul tells us that “our citizenship is in heaven.”[1] The author of Hebrews tells us of heroes of the faith like Abraham, who was looking forward to “that city whose architect and builder is God”, and many others who “confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”[2] Those of us who are Christians are in the service of the King in enemy-controlled territory. We can go AWOL (absent without leave) like the prophet Jonah did, but we can read in the Bible how that turned out for him.[3] Or, like Paul, we can be “ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us”.[4]

Second, on the more immediate view, wherever you find yourself in this world is a temporary duty station where you represent the King. Not that you can represent, or that you should represent. If you call yourself a Christian, then you do represent Christ everywhere you are. The only question is how you represent Him. So what would happen if we accurately represented Him more often? Would there be less cheating and fewer cliques and bullies at our schools if our students acted justly, opposed the proud, and defended the weak? Would there be less “office politics” at our jobs if we lived with integrity beyond reproach? Would there be fewer broken homes if we husbands loved our wives “as Christ loved the church” and saw our children as a “blessing from the Lord” entrusted to our care for a brief time? Would there be more sportsmanship at sporting events (on and off the field) if we saw our opponents as fellow humans created in God’s image and inherently worthy of respect? Is this the easy way? No, but the right way usually isn’t the easy way. Perhaps that’s why the apostle Paul told Timothy to “endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” In the next verse he tells him that no soldier gets involved in civilian affairs, for he wants to please his commander.[5] Indeed, we are on our Commander’s business at all times, and it likely will be hard at times, but also worth it.

I remember leaving Basic Training in my Class A’s (army dress uniform) that I was supposed to wear for the flight home. I was instructed to not do anything “stupid” that might disgrace the uniform. As Christians, we are always “in uniform”.  That’s why Paul told the Corinthians “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”[6] So how do you view your current “assignment”? Do you think of it as a little taste of hell to suffer through, or as an opportunity to be a light in a dark place? Are your coworkers/classmates/teammates just people to put up with, or are they quite possibly the reason for your being stationed where you are in the first place? Don’t miss the opportunities God grants you because you thought you were “off duty”.


[1] Philippians 3:20, NASB.
[2] Hebrews 11:10, 13, NASB.
[3] Jonah 1, NASB (The whole book’s only 4 short chapters – just read the whole thing).
[4] 2 Corinthians 5:20, NASB.
[5] 2 Timothy 2:3-4, NASB.
[6] 1 Corinthians 10:31, NASB.

The Truth that Won’t Budge

the truth shall make you freeI heard some sobering statistics in church this past Sunday: 78% of Americans overall, 64% of American Christians, 94% of teenage Americans overall, and 91% of teenage American Christians don’t believe that objective truth exists.[1] This represents a staggering disconnect with reality. You might question why I would say the majority of the US population is disconnected from reality, but I would ask in return, “What is truth?” Truth is correspondence with reality, and reality is painfully objective. If you don’t believe that, go find a big rock and kick it barefoot, and see which gives way: your subjective idea that it won’t hurt, or the objective solidity of that rock. No matter how much you might want to believe something is true, it either is or it isn’t; and no amount of belief, desire, “positive mental attitude”, or temper tantrums on the part of you (the subject) can change that truth about the object (unless you go and change the object). That’s because truth is rooted not in the subject but the object. That’s what it means for truth to be objective.

We actually can’t live like there is no objective truth. It simply conflicts with reality too much for anyone to live like that consistently for any length of time.  In fact, this idea that something “is what it is”, is the Law of Identity, one of the fundamental laws of logic considered to be self-evident . The Law of Non-contradiction then builds on this to say that “it is impossible for something to both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect.” For instance, I cannot be both sitting at my desk and not sitting at my desk at the same time. The Law of Excluded Middle then says that there is no middle state between existence and nonexistence. These logical truths build on ontological  truth, or existence. An object is ontologically true if it exists, and statements about it are logically true if they are not self-contradictory and accurately correspond to that existence – that is, to reality. But in all of this, the subjective interpretations of the person observing an object never come into play. These fundamental laws of logic in effect anchor us to an objective understanding of reality – even when reality interferes with our desires.

However, maybe the disconnect isn’t with physical reality. Perhaps the majority of Americans in this generation haven’t forsaken all objective truth, just the objective truth that they can’t see, touch, hear, and smell. Are moral truth claims simply subjective then? Saint Augustine once said, “All truth is God’s truth.”[2] If God exists and is the Creator of all, doesn’t it make sense that whatever corresponds to the reality He made would be consistent? He is, after all, “the same yesterday, today, and forever.”[3] That’s why I’m not surprised when scientists find that the universe couldn’t have existed eternally, but had to have a beginning. God, the One who began it, told us it had a beginning in the very first 3 words of the Bible, His direct revelation to us.[4] I’m just glad scientists are finally starting to catch up to what Christians (and Jews before) have known for thousands of years! Moral truths are no different. All commands, such as laws prescribing behavior, are grounded in the authority of the one issuing the command. As much as I might like to at some places, I can’t just put a traffic light where I want. I can’t reroute traffic at the intersections on my commute that always back up. I can’t because I don’t have the authority, but the city does. Likewise, there are laws the city can’t change, but the state can. There are laws that apply to all states in our union, and help define what it means to be an American versus a citizen of another nation. Yet there are also laws that apply to every nation. Lying, stealing, murder – these are things that are wrong regardless of nation, culture, or time. But is that really surprising if these moral laws are grounded in the unchanging nature of God?

I have to wonder what Christians mean when they are telling people  that Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life”[5], and “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free”[6] if there is no objective truth. Does Jesus change to match each person’s interpretation of Him? What exactly is setting us free if truth is different for each of us?

The church in the book of Acts was accused of “turning the world upside down”.[7] Is it any wonder that the American church isn’t doing that today when there’s such a minimal difference between us and the rest of the world’s culture? With statistics like those above, we’d turn ourselves upside down right along with the world if we actually started living the faith we claim. Then again, with statistics like those, maybe we need to be turned upside down.


[1] Bill Parkinson, sermon titled “Believe because it’s true”, preached at Fellowship Bible Church, Little Rock, AR, July 12, 2015. See the video or download the mp3 here.
[2] The original quote from Augustine’s work “On Christian Doctrine” is “…but let every good and true Christian understand that wherever truth may be found, it belongs to his Master…”, although it is commonly condensed to the phrase I used above.
[3] “Hebrews 13:8, NASB.
[4] “In the beginning…” – Genesis 1:1, NASB.
[5] John 14:6, NASB.
[6] John 8:32, NASB.
[7] Acts 17:6, ESV.

Good Investments

Apostle Paul - Rembrandt 1635We all like to make good investments. We like to “buy low, sell high” in the stock market, have a solid retirement plan, remodel and “flip” houses for profit, and maybe even sell those childhood baseball cards for a small fortune. We like to see a good return on our investment.

In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul tells Timothy about a different, and arguably, far more important kind of investment: “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”[1] I see 5 lessons to take away from this verse.

  1. Entrusting to faithful men what we have heard means first of all listening with intentionality so that we can rightly pass on what we have heard. After all, you can’t pass on what you don’t have yourself.
  2. This is no secret society or club of Illuminati. On the contrary, Christianity is the model of transparency. The things Paul wanted Timothy to pass on were not “secret knowledge” like the Gnostics professed to have, but rather teaching shared in the open with many witnesses.
  3. Discipleship is no light task. The Greek word used for “entrust” here, παράθου (parathou), means to set something close beside or before someone, or to deposit it with them for safekeeping. In fact, in some of Jesus’ last words on the cross, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit”[2], the word translated there as “commit”is the same root word. This is not a passive endeavor for either the teacher or the student. It’s an active handing over of a serious trust to the future guardians of it.
  4. Real discipleship  builds the deep roots necessary for multiple generations to follow. Notice the 4 generations of Christians mentioned in this one short verse: Paul (1) has faithfully taught Timothy (2), who is to teach faithful men (3), who will also be able (or competent) to teach others (4). Notice also that this is not describing Sunday morning with several hundred people listening to Pastor Timothy’s teachings directly, and maybe inviting others to come listen as well; this is intensive training such that those learning can then teach also. As Colonel Moore explained to his recruits in the movie We Were Soldiers after tagging their squad leader as “dead” in that training scenario, “You learn the job of the man above you, and you teach your job to the man below you in rank.” If your church’s pastor were suddenly thrown in jail, or martyred, would there be a line of mature believers ready to step up and face the same consequences? If not, think about what you can do to remedy that problem.
  5. Like money deposits, this investment should earn interest and bear fruit. Like the parable of the talents[3], God wants multiplication, but should at least to get interest on the deposit He has made in our lives. We have more ability to study God’s Word in our phones today than most pastors have in many countries, or had through most of church history. We have been given such a huge deposit of resources, will we just bury it and show God at the end of our days only what He gave us to begin with? How much judgement will we be under that we have more resources at our disposal than any other generation in history, and most of us do nothing with them? I say this not to guilt people into anything (for that motivation won’t last anyway), but rather to wake people to the opportunities at hand. Don’t let them slip by!

What are you investing in? Money that may not be worth the paper it’s printed on someday? Stocks that may crash? Houses that will deteriorate and fall (or get bulldozed for a new parking lot…)? God has a very different “portfolio” – one Paul invested in 2 millennia ago, and that initial investment is still paying dividends in the form of an unbroken line of believers, saved from their sin and granted life, thanks to those who were faithful and “able to teach others also”. Will you be one?


[1] 2 Timothy 2:2, NASB.
[2] Luke 23:46, NASB.
[3] Matthew 25:14-29, NASB.

“For Such a Time as This….”

Claude_Vignon_1593-1670_E_before_A_1624
Esther before King Ahasuerus

The word “apologetics” refers to presenting evidence and making a reasoned defense of the Christian faith and comes from one of the Apostle Peter’s letters where he tells his readers to “…sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence….”[1] The word “defense” there is ἀπολογίαν (apologian), and refers to a verbal legal defense offered in court. Emotional pleas will not suffice in court. Rather, compelling evidence is required. J. Warner Wallace has pointed out the contrast between Paul’s statements that “some were called as evangelists, and some as teachers”, and so forth[2], and Peter’s statement here that we are all obligated to know not only what we believe, but also why we believe it, and be able to explain the truth to those who ask.

But today, I want to show the connection between this verse and a different one. The book of Esther tells of a young Jewish girl named Esther, who is picked by King Ahasuerus of the Medo-Persian empire to be queen. A decree is issued by one of the king’s advisers to have all of the Jews throughout the empire massacred, although it’s not known at that point that the queen is Jewish. Now, it was a death sentence for anyone, even the queen, to approach the king unsummoned unless he granted clemency. And so we come to this somber warning from her uncle Mordecai: “Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” Esther replied “thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.”[3] I think we can take away 3 lessons from Mordecai ‘s warning, and a fourth from Esther’s response.

  1. There are many that will not listen to any preacher, but they they will listen to you. As Queen Esther had the ear of the king, you have the ear of people that might never step foot in a church, might scoff at any TV or radio sermon, and might be highly suspicious of those they consider “professional Christians” (i.e. preachers, missionaries). You as their friend/colleague/teammate have a bigger impact than you might imagine. You put a face to Christ that may be the only counter to the Christian stereotype they may have created in their mind.
  2. Preachers can’t go where you can go. For better or worse, we spend a lot of our time at our jobs. Even if a workplace isn’t hostile to Christianity, there’s still a job to do, and chatty visitors interfere with that. But you’re already at the right place when the right time hits to make the case for Christ. For me, it’s sometimes been talking to a colleague in the parking lot after we closed up for the day. Other times, it’s just been a simple question regarding a sarcastic remark of theirs, and it was enough to give them pause, and see a different perspective briefly. Preachers can’t be the needed light in every dark corner, but we can.
  3. If you don’t make the case, God will still accomplish His will, but there are consequences in our lives. Just as God didn’t need Esther, He can bring other people into someone’s life to deliver the message you could have, but that may mean years of unnecessary hardship in that person’s life. It also  won’t be the blessing in your life that it would’ve been, or contribute to your spiritual growth. On the contrary, repeatedly turning away from opportunity hardens our hearts against future occasions to serve God.
  4. Finally, know the cost on the front end, and be prepared to pay it. For Esther, it was possible death. For you, it may be ridicule or job loss. For Christians in other countries, it’s still sometimes  imprisonment, beatings, and even death.  But Jesus never told us it’d be an easy life; a rewarding life, a life of joy in spite of trials, a life of peace through storms, but not an “easy” life. But remember, even a long life on earth is vanishingly insignificant compared to eternity. Can we be so selfish as to rest in our assurance of an eternal home with Jesus while other people’s eternal lives are at stake?

We Christians have had an easy time of it in America for several generations. Most of us (myself included) have never had to sacrifice much to be a Christ-follower. I can’t say I look forward to persecution, but I also have to acknowledge that almost every book in the New Testament tells me to expect it… if I’m fully living out what I say I believe. But in trials God reveals incredible opportunities. And so I’m yet hopeful for those of us who live in such times such as these.


[1] 1 Peter 3:15, NASB
[2] Ephesians 4:11, NASB
[3] Esther 4:14-16, NASB

A Moment with Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard KiplingWe sometimes find gems in the most unusual places. I’ve always enjoyed Rudyard Kipling’s writings, but never expected to find a theodicy (a defense of God against the “problem of evil”) in his treasured works until a friend shared this. And so, this week, I pass this gem from 1919 on to you. May it give you something to think on this week.

“Natural Theology”

Primitive

I ate my fill of a whale that died
And stranded after a month at sea. . . .
There is a pain in my inside.
Why have the Gods afflicted me?
Ow! I am purged till I am a wraith!
Wow! I am sick till I cannot see!
What is the sense of Religion and Faith:
Look how the Gods have afflicted me!

Pagan

How can the skin of rat or mouse hold
Anything more than a harmless flea?. . .
The burning plague has taken my household.
Why have my Gods afflicted me?
All my kith and kin are deceased,
Though they were as good as good could be,
I will out and batter the family priest,
Because my Gods have afflicted me!

Medieval

My privy and well drain into each other
After the custom of Christendie. . . .
Fevers and fluxes are wasting my mother.
Why has the Lord afflicted me?
The Saints are helpless for all I offer–
So are the clergy I used to fee.
Henceforward I keep my cash in my coffer,
Because the Lord has afflicted me.

Material

I run eight hundred hens to the acre
They die by dozens mysteriously. . . .
I am more than doubtful concerning my Maker,
Why has the Lord afflicted me?
What a return for all my endeavour–
Not to mention the L. S. D![1]
I am an atheist now and for ever,
Because this God has afflicted me!

Progressive

Money spent on an Army or Fleet
Is homicidal lunacy. . . .
My son has been killed in the Mons retreat,
Why is the Lord afflicting me?
Why are murder, pillage and arson
And rape allowed by the Deity?
I will write to the Times, deriding our parson
Because my God has afflicted me.

Chorus

We had a kettle: we let it leak:
Our not repairing it made it worse.
We haven’t had any tea for a week. . .
The bottom is out of the Universe!

Conclusion

This was none of the good Lord’s pleasure,
For the Spirit He breathed in Man is free;
But what comes after is measure for measure,
And not a God that afflicteth thee.
As was the sowing so the reaping
Is now and evermore shall be.
Thou art delivered to thine own keeping.
Only Thyself hath afflicted thee!

– Rudyard Kipling


Notes.
[1] L. S. D. the abbreviation for the Latin Libræ solidi denarii ‘Pounds, shillings and pence’ (not the drug).

Inconvenient Verses

Scripture Reading in Park_smallThis week, I want to address a potential temptation for Christians: using God’s Word simply as an emotional crutch, as a kind of spiritual “motivational poster”. Friends, don’t relegate the Bible to such a low position! The Bible is one consistent story, from beginning to end, of God’s restorative grace. What it is not is a vault of feel-good pick-me-ups to pull out whenever you’re feeling down. Certainly,there is a lot of encouragement in there, but more importantly, there is truth. And sometimes the truth is harsh and doesn’t fit very well in a picture frame with inspirational pictures of eagles and waterfalls and sunsets and such. So what do you do with those uncomfortable, challenging verses? If your Bible is an emotional crutch, you ignore them. You skip over to the passages you like. But be warned, you do so at your own risk. So what should you do?

Continue reading Inconvenient Verses

Chasing the Fountain of Youth

Surgeon Close-up SmallMy wife and I were talking about celebrities that have more or less ruined their appearance through plastic surgery. It seems crazy for people generally acknowledged as exceptionally beautiful to feel the need to undergo these cosmetic procedures that, honestly, can make them look a little freakish. You’ve seen the results: the “perpetually surprised” look, the “always squinting” look, the “I can’t stop smiling” look, and the “my face is a plastic shell incapable of emotion now” look. Granted, those are the cases we would say went badly, but why this obsession with erasing any signs of aging, real or imagined?

Maybe this surgical insanity has a spiritual root cause – a rejection of God. I say this a lot, but it bears repeating: ideas have consequences. When we reject God, there are very real consequences in our lives. One is a prioritization of holding on to this life for as long as possible. In particular, we want to stay in the “sweet spot” of the prime of life forever. After all, if this is all we have, then we better enjoy it to the fullest while we can. Those signs of aging are all reminders of the unstoppable march of time. Wrinkles and gray hair are seen not as a sign of experience and wisdom, but rather as the growing undeniability of our own approaching death. Each wrinkle is an insult to the one without God, each gray hair a reminder that in a short time, they will be no more; they will cease to exist but as a memory, soon to be forgotten. I have to wonder if this isn’t the root cause of a lot of the sometimes disturbing obsession with vainly trying to hold on to our youth forever. But many of these attempts to retain youthful beauty seem to backfire and steal what these celebrities already had. In recent years, this has taken a more radical turn as people seek to change ever more fundamental aspects of themselves, and remake themselves as they feel they should’ve been made.

Does the Bible offer any perspective on any of this? Actually, quite a bit, but here’s a sampling:

  • “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.”[1]
  • A gray head is a crown of glory“[2]
  • “The glory of young men is their strength, and the honor of old men is their gray hair.”[3]
  • “Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.”[4]
  • “I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well.”[5]
  • “Now the word of the LORD came to me {Jeremiah} saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.'”[6]
  • “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…’ God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”[7]

We humans have intrinsic worth because we are created in the image of God. This doesn’t mean that we look like God, but rather that we are similar to Him and represent Him. We have intellect, creative free will, and moral capacity. We have an immaterial (spiritual) component of our being that is also immortal.[8] This reflection of God’s nature establishes a foundation for us and gives our lives perspective in 4 ways.

  1. It means that changes in our appearance, or social status, or skills, or anything else, don’t change our value. This allows for enormous emotional security and self-confidence as our worth as humans isn’t grounded in the ever-changing opinions of others.
  2. We can take comfort in the knowledge that we are not an accident. The God who sees the end from the beginning and knows each of us before we were even born, was not surprised by things like our race, our gender, our imperfections, or the time and place and culture we’re born into. They are all ways for us to live out His purpose for us if we only acknowledge Him.
  3. Understanding the inherent value of each person leads us to love every person, whether they are our family, friends, strangers, or even our enemies. This is a selfless love that seeks the good of others more than ourselves. When we take the focus off of ourselves, wrinkles and age spots don’t bother us anymore.
  4. Finally, we can face death with dignity, knowing that “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”[9] Or as Shakespeare wrote, “Of all the wonders that I yet have heard, it seems to me most strange that men should fear, seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.”[10] Death comes to us all, but it is only a doorway to eternity.

For the Christian, we can delight in the security of God’s perfect plan. The passing years are only the passing mile markers in our travels in the service of the King, and thoughts of approaching death are not fearsome, but rather a homecoming after a short (but seemingly long) journey. With our self-worth grounded in God, we need not chase after the fountain of youth.


[1] Proverbs 31:30 (NIV)
[2] Proverbs 16:31a (NASB)
[3] Proverbs 20:29 (NASB)
[4] 1 Peter 3:3-4 (NASB)
[5] Psalm 139:14 (NASB)
[6] Jeremiah 1:4-5 (NASB)
[7] Genesis 1:26-27 (NASB), see also James 3:9.
[8] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1994), pp 442-4. Grudem makes an interesting comparison between Gen 1:26 and Gen 5:3.
[9] Hebrews 9:27 (ESV)
[10] Julius Caesar, Act 2, Scene 2.

Get the Ump! (The Axiological Argument)

AP Photo by Butch Dill
AP Photo by Butch Dill

We’ve looked at several lines of reasoning justifying a warranted belief in God this last month. Today, we turn to what can be called the Moral Argument, or the Axiological Argument (axia = “value” in Greek).

Here is a common formulation of the argument[1]:
Premise 1: If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
Premise 2: Objective moral values and duties do exist.
Conclusion: Therefore, God exists.

That first premise may seem like a big jump, so let’s dig into that  deeper by first defining our terms clearly.

  • “Values” are the moral worth of something; its goodness or badness. For example, helping the sick or the poor is generally recognized as “good”, while murdering them is generally recognized as “bad”.[2]
  • “Duties” are moral obligations or prohibitions; the rightness or wrongness of something. Something may be morally good without being an obligation. Moving to India to care for lepers may be a morally good action, but it’s not an obligation anyone has to do.
  • “Objective” means independent of opinion or perception of the subject, and is intrinsic to the object discussed. It’s the same for all subjects observing that object. Contrast this with subjective, which is based on a subject’s opinion or perception of an object and can vary between different subjects.
  • “Moral” refers to standards of right conduct.[3]

And therein lies the rub; standards are enforceable, while opinions aren’t. Morality is defined as a standard, but standards come from independent authorities. When two teams think the other one cheated, what do they do? They call for a decision from the umpire, the referee, the judge – whatever that sport calls their independent rule-enforcer. But the umpire has to be independent of either team, and he can’t make up the rules as he goes. He applies a defined standard impartially (we hope). What if each of the 2 teams comprised half the world? Who would be left to be an independent judge? The Axiological Argument highlights this need for a “third party”to define the standards we as humans abide by. Now, to clarify, this premise does not say that those who don’t believe in God can’t live ethical lives, understanding moral duties and making morally good decisions each day. Premise 1 is an ontological statement – a statement of existence; namely, that if God doesn’t exist, there would be no objective moral standards for us (atheist or theist) to recognize and live by. They would not exist without God, because He is the only one in the position to be truly independent and objective. Anything we come up with is just one person’s idea versus another’s.

Are there any reasons to accept premise 2’s claim that objective values and duties really do exist? J. Budziszewski has noted that “There is no land where murder is virtue and gratitude vice.”[4] Even in Nazi Germany, the Nazis dehumanized their victims (so it wasn’t murder) in an attempt to justify what they did. While extenuating circumstances can seem to relativize morality, the “fun test” confirms morality’s objectivity. “What’s that?”, you say? It’s a simple way to eliminate the effect of extenuating circumstances in justifying decisions. To see if circumstances would change the moral value of something, add “for fun” to the end of it. Lying to protect Jews from Nazis may be morally better than being an accomplice to their murder, but lying “for fun” is never considered morally good. Murdering Hitler to save millions may be justified, but murdering even Hitler “for fun” is not. Justifiable circumstances can be found for other deeds like stealing, arson, lying, etc, where the bad deed is the lesser of two evils. In dilemmas where the only options are all bad, a person may be justified in choosing the “least worst” choice. But murdering for fun, stealing for fun, etc, are never condoned or viewed as “good”. In an extreme example, the unacceptability of torturing innocent babies “for fun” would reveal that we really do consider there to be objective standards that shouldn’t be violated in any situation.

Therefore, God exists. Too simple? True premises and valid logic leave no other alternative but a true conclusion. We have defined our terms to avoid ambiguity and have provided support for the premises, and the syllogism that makes up this argument is logically valid (i.e. no logical fallacies present).  What characteristics about God can be inferred from this? First, His nature is intrinsic perfect goodness that is the standard for moral values. Second, His will establishes the standard for moral duties. What are some consequences of this conclusion? Simply this: we are accountable for our actions, but thankfully, it is a level playing field and we can know the game rules if we choose to learn them. We have an infallible Umpire who, unlike humans, will never make a bad call.


[1] See William Lane Craig, On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision, (Colorado Springs, David C Cook, 2010), Ch. 6 for a much more detailed study of this argument.
[2] Evolutionary bioethicists like Peter Singer would disagree as this disrupts “survival of the fittest” by not killing off weak members of society. It’s more than a little disturbing that the New Yorker called Singer the planet’s “most influential living philosopher”. See why here.
[2] “Morality”, American Heritage Dictionary, 5th Ed., 2014.
[4]J. Budziszewski, Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law (Downers Grove, 111.: InterVarsity Press, 1997), p. 208-20, as quoted in I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, by Frank Turek, p. 171.

Divine Design (The Teleological Argument)

London Museum Roof SmallWe’ve been looking at different explanations for the existence of God, and this week we have one that resonates with me as an engineer: the teleological argument, or argument from design comes from the Greek word “telos” meaning end purpose or goal. The argument is as follows:
Premise 1: Every design has a designer.
Premise 2: The universe was designed.
Conclusion: Therefore, the universe had a Designer.

Now let’s unpack those tidy little premises. Does every design have to have a designer? Design can be defined as: “a specification of an object (or process), manifested by an agent, intended to accomplish goals, in a particular environment, using a set of primitive components, satisfying a set of requirements, subject to constraints.” Though a bit dry, this actually describes my daily tasks as an engineer pretty well. But notice that design is defined as being “manifested by an agent”. It appears that designs have designers by definition. But even without the word “agent” in there, we can see that design requires intent – an end purpose, a goal. But goals require consciousness to make choices between alternatives. Processes like natural selection, unguided by conscious agents, can only “choose” alternatives that confer immediate advantage. For example, chess moves that sacrifice an immediate advantage for a long-term gain are not possible without the foresight of design. Chance and physical necessity also can’t explain evidence of design such as intent. Therefore, the indication of long-range intent is confirmation of a designer.

The second premise is perhaps more controversial. But let’s follow the evidence along 3 lines: terrestrial, cosmic, and biological design. First, many parameters on earth appear to be fine-tuned for life to exist, and not just any life, but large, complex life. Things like atmospheric transparency, oxygen content, the polarity of the water molecule, and the temperature of max density of water, among a variety of other dispersed parameters, appear to all be set to values in very narrow ranges that allow for our level of life to exist (and flourish). Second, although these values all fall in narrow ranges, we find in the universe parameters that are even more precisely balanced in favor of life. But these parameters are fine-tuned not just for life anywhere in the universe, but specifically for life on earth. Properties such as the speed of light, the ratio of proton to electron mass, the mass density, expansion rate, homogeneity, and entropy level of the universe, the  uniformity of radiation, the values of the four fundamental forces (gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces), and the location of earth both in our galaxy and the Milky Way’s location in the universe, are some of the roughly 100 interdependent parameters that have to be what they are for us to exist.[1] Interestingly, we also happen to be in a unique position in the universe to even be able to see the evidence of this design.

Third, the structure and information content of DNA points to extremely information-centric design. Four DNA bases are the optimum number for speed of replication.[2] From a data storage standpoint, the 4 letter “alphabet” and 3 letter “words” used by DNA for synthesizing proteins are the most efficient system possible in terms of minimizing space requirements in the cell, simplifying encoding/decoding of the data, and maximizing redundancy for error checking.[3] DNA exhibits nested encoding where the same stored data is used to convey meaningful information when read one way, and different meaningful information when read a different way.[4] To understand the significance of this coding accomplishment, try writing a book that tells one story when read in order, and a different, but still intelligible, story when reading only every third word. This increases the storage capacity of DNA immensely. Even so, DNA does not have all of the information needed to assemble an organism in it.[5] Some of the information is stored outside the DNA, which leads to a chicken-and-egg problem of how the cell is built by plans stored in the DNA, but with instructions stored in the cell that’s being built using the DNA plans. Our planet, our universe, and even our own bodies appear to all show signs of design, making the second premise true.

If these 2 premises are true, then the conclusion is true that the universe had to have a designer. What characteristics could we infer about this designer from the conclusion?

  • Intelligence – far beyond that of any human designer to understand complex and interdependent “systems of systems” comprising the universe.
  • Foreknowledge – far beyond any human ability to anticipate highly complex interactions and plan for those contingencies.
  • Power – far beyond any human capacity to alter our surroundings (we celebrate when we figure out how to copy something in nature successfully; making all of nature from scratch is in a whole other league of accomplishment).
  • Intemporality and immateriality – no design precedes it’s designer. If the universe (and therefore all of space and time) had a designer, then that designer had to precede the universe. Therefore the designer would have to exist outside of space and time.
  • Benevolence – It’s relatively easy to imagine many ways our universe could be organized that would result in life being a much harder, more miserable, existence for us. Also, the fact of our unique position in the universe to be able to see so much of it could be an example of a deliberately placed trail leading us back to this designer.

These correspond well with the omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, eternal, loving God of the Christian Bible. So then, how do we respond to this? We could a) accept the evidence left for us by this God, and seek after Him, b) deny the evidence having honest doubts, but attempt to offer an alternative that explains the evidence as well, or c) simply refuse to consider the evidence. Please, don’t be content with this last option.


[1] Hugh Ross, “Fine Tuning for Life in the Universe”, http://www.reasons.org/articles/fine-tuning-for-life-in-the-universe, accessed 2014/08/03.
[2] “Why is the Number of DNA Bases 4?”, by Bo Deng, Dept. of Mathematics, University of Nebraska – Lincoln. Published in the 2006 Bulletin of Mathematical Biology.
[3] Werner Gitt, Without Excuse (Atlanta: Creation Book Publishers, 2011), p. 162-166.
[4] Stephen Meyer, Signature in the Cell (New York: Harper Collins, 2009), p. 466.
[5]  ibid., p. 473-474.

At the intersection of faith and design