Why Only One?

The Olympians by Nicolas-André Monsiau
The Olympians by Nicolas-André Monsiau

After presenting in Honduras on the evidence for intelligent design in the genetic code, and thus the necessity of a Designer of DNA (God), one observant lady asked a good question that evening. How do we know there’s only one designer? In other words, while the argument from design can bring us from atheism to theism, what’s to say polytheism isn’t really the best explanation? She’s right – the teleological argument from design that I was presenting can’t tell us if there were multiple designers, only that the design we observe required some designer. But it is quite common for any man-made project to be divided up among a design team. In fact, on almost every project I’ve worked on in my career as an engineer, I’ve simply been one member of a design team, dealing with my area of knowledge. So does the idea of a “divine design team” of gods bear up to scrutiny? I don’t think so, and here’s why.

Part of the strength of the case for the God of the Bible is the interlocking nature of the evidence. While the evidence from design doesn’t address this particular question, other line of reasoning do. First we have to look at the law of causality: everything that begins to exist has a cause. Anything that fits in this category is considered contingent because its existence depends on something prior – its cause. A design team of angels or “lesser gods” responsible for the design we see in different natural objects would simply be an intermediate link in the chain of causation. They might be immediately responsible for the objects we investigate, but if we go back far enough, we must eventually arrive at something that does not need a prior cause because it has always existed. They would ultimately need to trace back to a non-contingent source, which we would then call God.  Even if God delegated the design of nature to a “design team” and did no specific design Himself, He would still be causally responsible for whatever was designed by them.

But one might ask if there could be multiple non-contingent beings. Let’s follow that line of reasoning. To be non-contingent (or metaphysically necessary) requires eternal existence in order to not have a prior cause.  A necessary being cannot  not exist, hence the title “necessary”. So this being can never cease to exist without all of reality that is contingent on him ceasing to exist at the same time. Therefore, no other being or group of beings could be more powerful than the one in question. For if any other being(s) could control or change the subject being, then its actions would be contingent on their actions, and he would turn out to not be a necessary being after all. For these reasons, you can’t have more than one non-contingent being in any possible reality. It’s also worth noting that the axiological argument shows that God exists due to the existence of objective moral values, which have to come from a source beyond humanity to truly be objective. But if multiple non-contingent beings existed, there would not be a single source for the objective moral values we observe. This is not to say that those values couldn’t have been established by consensus of a group of deities, but that does seem to multiply assumptions needlessly. I don’t know that we could say the axiological argument alone is sufficient proof of God’s uniqueness, but I would count it as contributing evidence.

But could we have necessary beings in different “dimensions”, “parallel universes”, or some other concept of separate but coexisting realities? This is basically just an updated idea of henotheism, the idea of locally supreme deities, applied to more abstract regions than the original geographical ones. If a god were all-powerful in his dimension, but limited to that dimension, then he wouldn’t really be necessary, even in that dimension. He would be, in effect, a caged deity contingent on that dimension’s existence and the higher deity who established that dimension. A truly necessary being must transcend all possible worlds/dimensions/realities to not be contingent.

In the end, we come to the conclusion that if God exists, He must be a non-contingent necessary being in any possible reality. We can look at the teleological argument (from design) and the various cosmological arguments (from causality) to see that God exists. Then we can look at the axiological argument (from morality) and ontological argument (from being) to see that polytheism is false and the Bible is correct when it says that “there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.“[1]


[1] 1 Corinthians 8:4-6, NASB.

Of Video Games and Miracles

Super MarioI suppose I grew up in the “Nintendo generation”, having graduated from Pac-Man and Donkey Kong  to spending hours squashing “goombas” to save the princess in Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. Then there was Link, always working to save Princess Zelda. But regardless of which game I was playing or even which genre of game I played, each video game had its own consistent laws of what was possible. Mario and Luigi may be able to jump several times their own height, which is impossible in our world, but that was perfectly normal in the Mushroom Kingdom of Super Mario Brothers. And those laws had to apply equally to each player for the game to be fair. But… as any gamer knows, there are “cheat codes” – those little hidden combinations of movements, game actions, sequences of pushed buttons on the controllers, and so on, that allow a user to sidestep the rules of that game’s reality. A cheat code may let the player get more lives, become invincible, get abilities beyond what’s normal in that game’s world, access new weapons or levels, or bypass difficult levels or enemies to finish the game faster.

But what does all this have to do with miracles? Well, consider where cheat codes came from, and why they’re called cheat codes. These have historically been programming “back doors” for the game developer to test different parts of the game without having to play through the entire game at the intended rate.[1] If I’m developing the game, and I need to test game play in level 37, I don’t want to have to play through the first 36 levels that I know work well just to repeatedly test out small changes in level 37. An easy way to handle this is for me to write in a hidden jump to the higher levels, or a code for superpowers that would let me go through the tedious parts quickly. As the creator of the game, I’m outside the game, while the players are immersed in the game. I’m not limited by the rules of that game world (unless I choose to be), while the players are limited by the rules in a fair contest. With that in mind, it’s not cheating for the game creator to bypass levels or grant himself superpowers to accomplish his work. However, if a player learns of the programmer’s secret, and uses it unfairly, then it is cheating.

Now, this leads me to a few observations.
1) We are open to the possibility of miracles (i.e. bypassing or circumventing a world’s observed physical laws) in a game world.
2) We recognize that the game’s programmer isn’t violating any actual real-world constraints when he alters physics inside his game – the code he’s writing in his dimension is functioning perfectly in accordance with whatever programming language he used whether he writes a “normal” game scenario, or one with a secret invincibility switch in the game’s dimension.
3) We recognize that these “miracles” (from an in-game perspective) tend to be the work of the game’s developer as a means of accomplishing his work outside of normal game play.
4) We have an expectation that these events are not the norm, and are supposed to be used judiciously by the right person (i.e. the developer) to make the game better.
5) We recognize the right of the game developer to exercise privileges beyond our own as players.

With that in mind, I have to ask why we turn around and deny even the possibility of miracles in our physical world. Why think that it is impossible that our world had a developer – a Creator – who is not bound by our reality’s constraints? Why think that such interactions between our Creator and His creation – ones that appear miraculous from our “inside-the-game” perspective – are impossible if He’s simply not limited like we are? Why think that our Creator doesn’t have a right to alter our world’s “game” as He sees fit to make it better? When we look at the miracle of God entering the game He created at a specific point in this game’s time and space, and becoming a player like one of us, but still retaining His title of Sovereign Programmer, using His power to beat what we never could, we see a move of unfathomable love and mercy that made the game immeasurably better. Imagine playing an unwinnable level, with the deck stacked against you, and suddenly, the game creator appears in the game next to you and says, “You can’t beat this on your own, but I’ve got this – just follow me.” That’s what Jesus did when He physically appeared almost 2,000 years ago and conquered death. Will you turn away and keep playing on your own? Please don’t. There’s a better way.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheating_in_video_games#Cheat_codes, accessed 9/7/2015.

Digging up Fairy Tales

Ruins in Ephesus, by Valeria RestucciaI’ve heard the Bible referred to as a collection of fairy tales, superstitions, myths, legends – fiction by whatever name you want to call it. But this got me thinking. Nobody goes looking for the ruins of Prince Charming’s castle or Captain Hook’s pirate ship. Nobody does this because they’re fairy tales. But, if someone did find the ruins of the lost city of Atlantis, or some other fairy tale/myth/legend, what would we decide? That it wasn’t just a story. Physical remains of the events of a story point to the story being actual history rather than make-believe. How then does the Bible compare? Is there actual evidence for the events recorded in it? Actually, there’s quite a bit, and the list is growing all the time. Let’s look at just a few examples.

At one time, people didn’t believe that Pontius Pilate really existed as the Bible was the earliest and most descriptive  source telling of him.[1] That was before archaeologists found the “Pilate Stone” in Caesarea Maritima in 1961. This stone’s inscription tells that “Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea”, had dedicated a stadium to the Emperor. This is actual physical evidence from his lifetime corroborating the Bible narrative.[2]

Skeptics since the 1800’s have doubted the authenticity of Luke’s writings in the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts in the Bible. For example, skeptics doubted Luke’s use of different official titles when describing the different encounters with tetrarchs[3], politarchs[4], asiarchs[5], proconsuls[6], and other positions in different cities. In the case of the politarchs of Thessalonica, Luke’s was the only account to use that term, and so it was seen as a historical discrepancy. Now, we have found over 32 inscriptions bearing the name “politarch”, 19 from Thessalonica, and 3 of those 19 from the first century. This has led John McRay to say that it is now “incontrovertible” that politarchs existed before and during the time of Luke’s writing.[7] In fact, 84 different historical facts in the last 16 chapters of the book of Acts have been confirmed through various archaeological finds or historical literature corroborations.[8] For the skeptic who honestly investigates the subject, it is difficult to not arrive at the same conclusion that Sir William Ramsay, the British archaeologist of the 1800’s did: “I began with a mind unfavorable to it [Acts]…. It did not lie then in my line of life to investigate the subject minutely; but more recently I found myself often brought into contact with the book of Acts as an authority for the topography, antiquities, and society of Asia Minor. It was gradually borne in upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth.”[9] His research led him from skepticism to placing Luke “among the historians of the first rank.”[10]

Looking further back, King David of Israel was believed to be a myth until the Tel Dan inscription was uncovered in 1993 that told of another king’s victory over a “son of Jehoram king of the House of David”. This was the first archaeological evidence found for King David.[11]

Christianity has always been unique in its appeal to evidence, both by Jesus and his first followers.[12] But that support has increased dramatically over the last century, and shows no signs of changing. Not only that, but the evidence that has been found consistently affirms the Biblical account. We aren’t being asked to believe in fairy tales, but rather in a reasonable account of God’s interaction with humanity as recorded through eyewitness testimony of actual historical events.


[1] John 18-19, among other references.
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilate_Stone, accessed 8/30/2015.
[3] Luke 3:1, NASB.
[4] Acts 17:6, Greek-English Interlinear translation (πολιτάρχας = politarchus). Sometimes translated as “leaders of the city” in English.
[5] Acts 19:31, Greek-English Interlinear translation (Ἀσιαρχῶν = Asiarchon). Sometimes translated as “officials of the province in English.
[6] Acts 18:12, NASB.
[7] John McRay, Paul:His Life & Teaching, 2007, p. 152.
[8] Colin Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, 1990, as quoted in chapter 10 of Geisler and Turek’s I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, 2004, p. 256-9. The list is also reproduced online at  http://truthbomb.blogspot.com/2012/01/84-confirmed-facts-in-last-16-chapters.html, accessed 8/29/2015.
[9] Sir William Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen, 1896, Kindle Edition, Location 309.
[10] ibid, Location 254.
[11] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tel_Dan_Stele, accessed 9/1/2015.
[12] Luke 7:18-23 (Jesus), 2 Peter 1:16-18 (Peter), 1 John 1:1-3 (John), NASB.

Deconstructing Dawkins, Part 2

Jesus and Samaritan Woman at the Well-Guercino 1641Today’s look at Richard Dawkin’s book, “The God Delusion”, looks at a statement not by Dawkins himself, but one by Gore Vidal that he chose as an introduction to  Chapter 2’s section on monotheism. Dawkins certainly appears to agree with this statement, so let’s tear into it and see whether it has any merit.

“The great unmentionable evil at the center of our culture is monotheism. From a barbaric Bronze Age text known as the Old Testament, three anti-human religions have evolved – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. These are sky-god religions. They are, literally, patriarchal – God is the Omnipotent Father – hence the loathing of women for 2,000 years in those countries afflicted by the sky-god and his earthly male delegates.” — Gore Vidal [1]

This is so contrary to history as to be laughable. But when bestseller books say things like this, we have to take the time to set the record straight. I can’t speak for Islam, but the Bible clearly is not “anti-human”. On the contrary, the very first chapter of the first book of the Bible tells us that “God made man in His own image”, “in His likeness”, that He “made them male and female”, and “blessed them”. [2] Later in Genesis, God explains how seriously He takes the killing of humans and why: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.”[3] Capital punishment is grounded in the idea that the killing of a fellow human is the destruction of a fellow image-bearer of God. In both of these chapters, we also see God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply.” Rather than being “anti-human”, God tells the human race to flourish and grow, and that He will require the life of those who are truly “anti-human” (i.e. those who murder their fellow humans).

As for the “sky-god” comment, it’s amusing that Vidal charges monotheistic religions with worshiping “sky-gods”, but doesn’t say anything about the polytheistic religions that really did worship gods of the sky, like Uranus, Zeus, Jupiter, and others in the Greek and Roman pantheons. He specifically targets the 3 religions that all claim that there is not a “god of the sky”, but rather one, and only one, Creator of everything.

Now we come to the claim that Christianity is misogynistic, or hateful of women (“loathing” in Vidal’s words). First, Genesis records that it was “not good for man to be alone”, and so God made woman to be a complementary companion and helper.[4]  This establishes from the beginning that women are valued, not loathed, both by God and Christians. Many women were lauded in the Old Testament (Deborah, the judge, particularly comes to mind) . The first witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection were women. Jesus broke with tradition of the time and talked to women one-on-one on multiple occasions, and even discussed theological questions with them, also a radical departure from cultural norms. Some of the early Christian converts commended by Paul were women (Lydia of Thyatira; the “leading women of Thessalonica”; the “prominent Greek women” of Berea; Priscilla, who was specifically included with her husband Aquila as a “coworker in the ministry”; Euodia and Syntyche, “fellow workers” who “shared my {Paul’s} struggle in the cause of the gospel”; Phoebe, a respected member and possible deaconess in the church at Cenchrea whom Paul commended at length;  Tryphena, Tryphosa, and his “dear friend”Persis, 4 women who “worked very hard in the Lord”; Mary, who “worked very hard for you {the Roman Christians}; and Timothy’s grandmother Lois and mother Eunice, apparently responsible for his coming to faith in Christ).[5] Women made up many of the early Christian church, and some of their earliest martyrs (i.e. Blandina in 177 and Perpetua in 203 AD)[6], and it appears that some churches were known as meeting in the houses of certain women, as Paul sent greetings to “Nympha and the church that meets in her house”.[7] One has to wonder why women would be drawn to Christianity if it were such a “woman-loathing”system. And why would Paul feel the need to thank and commend so many women in his letters to the churches if he “loathed” women?

But we don’t have to stop there. Most of the women’s rights in the world have come about specifically from countries with Christian backgrounds. Odd coincidence…. Paul taught from the beginning that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”[8] With that one statement, he eliminated any basis for Christians to ever support racism, slavery, or sexism. Moreover, he told the Ephesians that “husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies”. In fact, Christian husbands are directly commanded to “love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her”.[9] That is an unconditional, self-sacrificial love that stands in sharp contrast with Greek and Roman cultures of the time where the wife was little more than a slave with little to no rights. It also exhibits the value accorded to wives in Christianity. In fact, although Vidal (and Dawkins) disdain Christianity as a patriarchal system, it was the influence of Christianity in the Roman empire that gained women much of their rights there.[10]

A Christian “loathing” women is acting contrary to what the Bible teaches. In fact, we’re supposed to love even our enemies, so how on earth could a Christian ever justify “loathing women”? He couldn’t. Do we acknowledge that men and women are different and complementary? Absolutely. However, it’s not hateful to recognize differences. We are different biologically, physically, and emotionally. But in God’s amazing plan, we are designed to complement each other, to work together like 2 gears meshing, to do more together than either could accomplish alone. And in recognizing God’s design for us, and the intrinsic value of each other, men and women can both have reason to celebrate.


[1] quoted by Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, 2008, p58.
[2] Genesis 1:26-30, NASB.
[3] Genesis 9:6, NASB.
[4] Genesis 2:18-24, NASB.
[5] Lydia – Acts 16:113-15,40; Thessalonian women – Acts 17:4; Berean women – Acts 17:12; Priscilla – Acts 18:26, 1 Corinthians 16:19, Romans 16:3, 2 Timothy 4:19; Euodia & Syntyche – Phillipians 4:2; Phoebe, Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis – Romans 16:1,6,12; Lois & Eunice – 2 Timothy 1:5.
[6] Blandina – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blandina, accessed 2015/08/22. Perpetua –  http://www.britannica.com/biography/Perpetua-Christian-martyr, accessed 2015/08/22.
[7] Colossians 4:15, NASB.
[8] Galatians 3:28, NASB.
[9] Ephesians 5:25-28, NASB.
[10]  Alvin J. Schmidt, Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization, 2001, Chapter 4.

Deconstructing Dawkins, Part 1

Richard DawkinsToday, I wanted to look at an argument from Richard Dawkins’ book “The God Delusion” where he says “[A]ny creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution. Creative intelligences, being evolved, necessarily arrive late in the universe, and therefore cannot be responsible for designing it.”[1] Or to put it in the classic form of a syllogism:

Premise 1:  Creative intelligences are highly evolved.
Premise 2: Highly evolved components appear late in time.
Conclusion: Therefore, creative intelligences can’t be responsible for any design activity occurring early in time.

This might sound reasonable until we look closer at the original question and recognize Richard’s bait-and-switch. The question at hand is whether unguided processes like physical laws, random interactions, and natural selection are responsible for the current state of the observable universe, or if a creative intelligence (God) is instead responsible. So we are baited with a choice between the natural and the supernatural, but then Richard pulls a switch and says that creative intelligences also are the results of naturalistic processes only. We find the coin toss is rigged, for the coin he’s using is really naturalism on both sides. He does this by assuming naturalism is true in the premise in order to conclude that it’s true. Now let’s flesh out some terms in his argument to show precisely how it supports the premises with the conclusion.

Premise 1:  Creative intelligences are highly evolved the result of unguided, naturalistic processes (because naturalism is true).
Premise 2: Highly evolved components The results of unguided, naturalistic processes appear late in time.
Conclusion: Therefore, creative intelligences the products of unguided, naturalistic processes can’t be responsible for any design activity occurring early in time, so they must somehow still be responsible for originating everything that exists, but in a non-designed way. Therefore, intelligent design is false, leaving naturalism as the true alternative.

We would certainly agree that unguided, naturalistic processes aren’t responsible for any design (ever), as design is an inherently intelligent process relying on choice and purpose in the mind of a designer. But to redefine “creative intelligence” as a naturalistic product is to try to rig the game so as to ignore the original choice between mind and matter as the ultimate causative agent. But aside from that tactic, and his assuming that naturalism is true in Premise 1 to determine that naturalism is true in the conclusion, can his first statement about sufficiently complex creative intelligences evolving be true? Actually, no. Dr. Stephen Meyer has highlighted the extremely low amount of functionally specific information that can possibly be formed by unguided processes like this:

“In a nonbiological context and absent intelligent input, the amount of specified information of a final system, Sf, will not exceed the specified information content of the initial system, Si, by more than the number of bits of information the system’s probabilistic resources can generate, with 500 bits representing an upper bound for the entire observable universe.”[2]

Meyer limits his statement of a theory of conservation of information to nonbiological cases, but that is precisely what we are talking about here when Dawkins speaks of a creative intelligence not being available to design the universe. Evolution would only be available (in theory) once a self-replicating organism had formed.  So even if Dawkins were correct that creative intelligences were evolved, he is left with no reasonable explanation for how that first life originated, or how the universe originated tuned so precisely for life to even be possible. This fine-tuning of the universe represents far more than 500 bits of specified information, yet more information than that exceeds the probabilistic resources of the entire universe. Once we are confronted with biological entities, the problem is only magnified. By Dawkins’ own admission, an amoeba has more information in it than 1,000 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica.[3] And we still have a long way to go before we get to the complex intelligence found in a human. Yet it’s highly unlikely that a human would be able to fine-tune the universe to the degree we observe. It truly is a fine-tuned system of interdependent fine-tuned systems. For the designer of the universe, we are talking about many orders of magnitude beyond that 500 bit limit. We simply have to have a Designer of incomprehensible abilities available, from the beginning (technically, from before the beginning of space-time), to account for the amount of information we find in the universe. This is none other than God, and it turns out to be Dawkins who is deluded in denying Him.


[1] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, 2008, p. 52.
[2] Stephen Meyer, Signature in the Cell, 2009, p293-4. See here for a previous post looking at the Universal Probability Bound from which the 500 bit information limit is derived.
[3] Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, 1996, p.116.

Miracles

Christ healing the blind manOne objection that came up last week during my trip to Honduras was that miracles are impossible, so I’d like to look at that further here. This is a common objection by atheists because they believe nature – the physical universe – is all there is. A miracle is, by definition, supernatural, or “beyond nature”. So with this presupposition in place, any alleged miracle would have to have been an observational error (i.e. what appeared to happen didn’t really happen) or a causal assignment error (it happened, but we’ve assigned the wrong cause to it). But notice the possibility that’s ignored if we leave this bias in place: the straightforward explanation that what was reported really happened. If we are both honest and serious about science, we have to follow the evidence wherever it leads, and recognize when our personal biases are causing us to ignore evidence. With that in mind, I want to address the logical possibility of miracles.

Miracles could be defined as the interaction of God with our physical universe. Parting the Red Sea, turning water into wine, raising Lazurus from the dead, healing the blind and crippled – these are all events that exhibited very real physical results, yet defy naturalistic explanation. The atheistic answer that the miraculous event has either been misreported or has a natural cause we haven’t discovered yet ignores the role the limits of our senses play. Science is based on being able to observe, in some way, the world around us. We typically do this directly through our senses (like sight), or indirectly through instruments that amplify these senses (like microscopes). We also observe events using instruments that can register phenomena that we can’t detect at all, amplified or not. For example, I used to use a scanning electron microscope that could provide images magnified far more than my eyes (or any other microscope in our lab) could provide. But it could also tell me what the composition of an unknown sample was because it could detect how electrons scattered off the sample in the vacuum chamber. Humans cannot sense electrons (except when getting shocked…), so this is a phenomenon we are completely oblivious to until we use an instrument that is capable of detecting it. Likewise, we have limits on the senses we do have. We can see visible light, but not infra-red or ultraviolet. Bees, however, can see in ultraviolet. We can hear a pretty wide range of sound waves, but we can’t hear the ultrasonic portion of the spectrum like dogs can. It then seems very rash to say that miracles are impossible simply because we can only sense the end effect of a miracle, but not the causal portion.

Does it matter that I can’t explain how God causes the miraculous physical effect? Not really. We take advantage of light and gravity everyday without question, even using the effects of these two phenomena to get electricity from solar panels and hydroelectric dams, despite the fact that we don’t understand the wave-particle duality of light or whether gravity is a wave or an as-yet undiscovered particle. Would we like to understand those and other natural objects and events fully? Of course! But our lack of full understanding doesn’t keep us from accepting the reality of what people have observed and reported throughout history.

Some will say that miracles are different because we can’t personally verify them experimentally like natural events. But by that logic, I shouldn’t believe what most scientists report because I don’t happen to have multimillion dollar lab equipment that I can use to confirm what some scientist said.

Others may say that we don’t have to personally verify everything, but it needs to be independently repeatable to be acceptable. But the greatest miracle, the creation of all nature (which would necessarily be outside of nature by the principle of causality), has only happened once and could never be duplicated without destroying all existing nature first. As a more modest example, we are all physically born only once, never to be repeated. Unique historical events don’t have to be repeatable to be acceptable. Also, it’s important to remember that what we have collected in the single volume of the Bible are  multiple, independent reports of people observing Jesus alive after being most definitely dead.

When we look at the possibility of miracles, or the supernatural in general, we have to remember our own limitations. A man born blind can’t say that colors don’t exist simply because he’s never experienced sight. This is especially so if he has friends telling him they’ve experienced sight and the amazing kaleidoscope of colors it brings. In the same way, we can’t say the supernatural is impossible  just because we haven’t experienced it, and especially if otherwise reliable witnesses report miraculous occurrences. We have to be willing to follow the evidence. And when we are, we find it leads us to God.

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.

At the intersection of faith and design