RESPONDblogs: Scientists and their Shades

 

scientists_and_shadesI recently heard Alastair McGrath describe his journey to faith in Jesus Christ. In his teens, he knew that he wanted to become a scientist. He was heading towards the start of his career in a prestigious British University…he was all set. But before his studies began, he spent some time reading about the Scientists who have gone before…the brilliant thinkers of the past few hundred years. And it was here that Alastair made an interesting discovery that started him on a journey that eventually led him onto his brilliant scientific career…and to also become a Christian.

 

He noticed that as many of his predecessors studied nature, they did so in an interesting way. The scientific disciples dissect our incredibly complex Universe in many varied and fascinating ways. And scientists look at the discoveries that we make in various different ways. Alastair talked about it like viewing the Universe with different glasses on.

 

Now when you hear many scientists talk, they look at the Universe with the glasses of Atheism. The glasses…or their worldview…presupposes Atheism. To them, they start from the place of saying – there is no God. Now – let’s do some Science! And fascinating and insightful their scientific discoveries turn out to be.

 

On the other hand, the glasses worn by the fathers of science were very different. Their worldview presupposed God’s existence. They started from the place of saying – we know there’s a God. Now – let’s do some Science! And they changed the world in inspiring ways by starting the scientific disciplines that have touched each one of our lives.

 

The scientific data remain constant. But the glasses we wear as we study it – make a big difference to us.

 

I quickly learned this principle when I worked as a Software Engineer. While investigating a bug in our code, it mattered where my head was at when I started. If I was too convinced of the source of the problem when I started the investigations, I could find myself going in circles for days! (I spent a lot of time as a software guy feeling dizzy) Yet if I was open to probing the problem from many different viewpoints during the course of the debug campaign…I was much more likely to come to a coherent conclusion…identify the root cause…and fix the bug.

 

The scientific data remain constant. But the glasses we wear as we study the data – make a big difference to us. How so? Well our worldview determines how we assemble the big picture…how we interpret the scientific data. And Alastair McGrath discovered that the glasses of a Theist made much more sense of the big picture of our Universe. Each little piece slotting into place…building the evidence for the existence of a Creator, a Designer of our Universe.

 

This is sometimes called – INDUCTIVE REASONING, or inference to the best explanation. As William Lane Craig describes it, “we are confronted with certain data to be explained. We then assemble a pool of live options consisting of various explanations for the data in question. From the pool of live options we then select that explanation which, if true, best explains the data…The best explanation is taken to be the true explanation of the data.”[1]

 

What data are we talking about here? Well…here’s a brief sample:

  • The fact of the Universe’s existence. In our experience, everything that began to exist has a first cause. The Universe began to exist…we can see the evidence using Science…therefore it is reasonable to assume the Universe had a first cause who is bigger than the Universe itself…is outside of this Universe…and is a free agent.
  • The appearance of design throughout our Universe, for example in Biology.
  • The fine tuning of our Universe for the existence of biological life that has led atheist scientists to speculate that, “the universe knew we were coming.”
  • The existence of objective moral values and duties which exist and impinge themselves specifically on human beings.
  • The mystery of human consciousness.
  • The historical evidence of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ which stands head and shoulders above other classical literature in terms of its objective literary credibility.

 

 

Sure – we can put on whatever glasses we want when we study these and many more empirical lines of scientific and historical study. We can carve out one line of evidence all by itself…and make up any reason and story that we want to.

 

But when we take all of these and many more lines of data and evidence together as a whole…the only glasses that made sense to Alastair, to me, and to many people down through the years…is that our Universe was built by the God who wants to know us…and is doing everything necessary for us to personally engage with him.

[1] William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, Third Edition, Crossway Books, p. 54

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God, Martian Rivers and ET

martian

I believe that a good and reasonable case can be made that our Universe and everything in it is the result of God’s creative activity; the God who we learn about in the pages of the Bible. This particular blog post does not lay out that case (If you are interested, check my archives…generally RESPONDblog seeks to do just that). This blog post seeks to reasonably apply this conclusion to a discovery that made the news recently.

 

God and Reason

That’s an important word to a Christian – ”REASON”.

Reason is part of mankind’s toolbox. It’s what we have been given to engage with the events, the people, and the experiences we encounter in our lives. Reason is about level headedness. Reason is used when we are proposing a case for understanding something, making discoveries, constructing theories about what happened in the past and what might happen in the future.

 

Contrary to what many people might believe, reason is at the very heart of everything that Christians are called to do and say.

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect 1 Peter 3:15, NIV

I always aim to be reasonable when I communicate.

 

Reason tells me that a good Inductive Case can be made that our Universe comes from God’s creative activities. An Inductive Case is basically an inference to the best explanation. What does that mean? It means:

  • we can see evidence all around us in our Universe…
  • there are lots of theories about where this evidence comes from, what caused us to be here.
  • the theory that best fits the evidence and holds the evidence all together – is the inference to the best explanation.

I believe that a good and reasonable case can be made that our Universe and everything in it is the result of God’s creative activity

And this doesn’t stop science. Rather – it fuels science. Why? Because it observes that our Universe is itself rational, it is understandable, it has laws that we can explore and understand (actually this is precisely one of the evidences that the inductive case for God seeks to explain). It begs to be explored. And we are passionate about exploring it. God created man to do science. We’re built for it. That’s why the science-y ones among us love it so much.

 

Martian Water and ET

NASA announced recently that they have gathered the evidence and built a good and solid case proposing that water exists on Mars. This is a triumph of reason! Actually…getting the space craft and the rovers onto the surface of the planet itself in the first place…is a wonderful result of human reason too. It’s inspiring.

 

NASA has only observed evidence of salty water on Mars. Nothing more. Yet human imagination and creativity has burst into overdrive. This discovery has fuelled speculation in two different directions.

 

FIRST – that there might be life on Mars right now. There’s life on Earth…why not on Mars?

SECOND – that in the future, mankind might be able to build a sustainable habitat on Mars for people to live and work and play there.

 

The Second speculation is exciting…and Ridley Scott’s new movie “The Martian” explores how dangerous yet exhilarating such an enterprise might turn out to be! I hope I’m still alive to see such an achievement come about.

 

Turning to the First speculation…this one has proved contentious for some people in the Christian community. There are those Christians who don’t have a problem with life existing on other planets. Christian Philosopher William Lane Craig has responded,

“I’m puzzled by folks who seem to think, that if life, intelligent life, were discovered somewhere else or that if it were to come here that somehow this would be a disproof of Christianity… that seems to me to be a complete non-sequitur. It doesn’t follow, because Christianity simply doesn’t speak to the question of whether or not God has created life elsewhere in the universe….the scripture is addressed just to life on earth and so it wouldn’t speak of whether or not there’s extra-terrestrial life at all. So I would say that theologically it’s just an open question.”[1]

 

Craig makes an interesting observation there! Yet what is fascinating about the Bible is that, even though it is focussed on the life on Planet Earth, it has a much wider perspective when it comes to discussing the Universe that God created. Look at Hebrews chapter 1, for example, which talks about the other-ness of God in comparison to the Universe he has made.

“In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundation of the earth and made the heavens with your hands. They will perish, but you remain forever. They will wear out like old clothing. You will fold them up like a cloak and discard them like old clothing. But you are always the same; you will life forever.” Hebrews 1:10-12, NLT

 

The Bible is unique in that it contains truth that will bring hope into our lives that will resonate in our lives forever. It connects us to the God who loves us. Only the Bible does that. But the Bible does not contain all the truth that is to be known in the Universe. What do I mean? Reason tells me that there are some important things that the Bible lets us in on…but there are many things it does not talk about. For example, as John Lennox is fond of saying with a twinkle in his eye, “I do not teach algebra from Leviticus.”[2] The Bible is not a textbook on Mathematics. To learn these principles we must look elsewhere. The Bible is also not a textbook on life beyond the confines of this Planet. But notice this. Everything that it teaches…it does so with an eye to the majesty and the splendour of our wider Universe and the God who created it.

 

By the way – if you know me, you’ll know I love space stories best of all. If there are spaceships – I’m there. You’ve got me. But coming down to earth, the head of SETI (the Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence) Paul Davies is brutally frank when he talks about alien life. John Lennox sums up his position, “As a human being I like to feel we’re not alone, but as a scientist I have to be honest and I think the science goes to show that we are essentially alone.”[3]

 

So where does this bring me? Well – this is just my opinion – I am open to having the discussion. But it seems reasonable to me to choose not to get stressed out and emotional about the ET issue! Why don’t we just leave the question of “life on other planets” in God’s capable hands, while focussing on our task at hand whether it’s doing science on this planet or exploring another one? Our Universe is a staggeringly complex place. We can see that in the quantum realm, in the study of biology and human consciousness. We sense it in the speculations around dark matter and the discovery of Exoplanets. YET – given all of that – God wants to engage with us in our lives as we do the exploration of our Universe. And surely this is the more amazing thing?

 

You sometimes hear people claim that meeting ET really would transform everything. Well – I’m not so sure. Who knows how disappointing, or threatening ET might turn out to be if we ever came face to face? (I still cry when I watch the movie tho) Surely the bigger issue is this:

That the God who created this whole glorious complex and beautiful show…our Universe…and who will one day bring the show to a close…wants to know little old us as we live our lives today?

[1] William Lane Craig on Romans 8, Ezekiel 1, extra-terrestrial intelligence, and UFO, https://kitesintheempyrean.wordpress.com/2012/06/13/william-lane-craig-on-romans-8-and-ezekiel-1/

[2] John Lennox: the Discovery of Water on Mars, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IloVR-zgDNk&list=TLR2X-u73_mtIxMjEwMjAxNQ

[3] Ibid.

RESPONDblogs: God and Space

atlantis

I had the amazing privilege recently of visiting Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. It wasn’t my first visit – I’ve been there a few times before. What I discover each time – is how much there is to learn. So much to discover about what the United States of America has accomplished in space exploration (which is just awe inspiring). How mind boggling our Universe is. It is staggering, breath taking. And frankly – I drive my wife nuts talking about it after we have been there!

 

When you visit Kennedy today, you have the opportunity to visit the centrepiece of American…and frankly human…genius. The Space Shuttle. There’s a visitor complex housing this beautiful machine. And I defy anyone not to walk thru the whole experience…and not have to blink back a few tears in the process. (ok – maybe not my wife).

The Space Shuttle Atlantis is beautiful. Why do I say that? Well – it’s not just how it looks…which is kind of functional and quite familiar to those of us who have grown up in the late 20th century. She is beautiful because…when you stand beside her and gaze at her…you are looking at a machine that has survived the incredible rigors of leaving the surface of this planet…and roaring round it in orbit at thousands of miles an hour. Many many times. And if that feat was not enough – she has safely carried scientists and engineers who have taken the opportunity she has given them to do incredible work. Conducting scientific experiments that help us understand the nature of the universe, building the International Space Station in orbit at hundreds of miles an hour…the list goes on. And after each trip…she returns…is retooled…and off she goes again.

When you stand and look at Atlantis, you are looking at a vehicle that has enabled human beings to achieve wonderful things. And – personally – I found the experience profoundly moving. Also – the tour guide (who is a retired scientist who used to work at Kennedy on the Shuttle program) couldn’t get rid of me. I stood talking to him for AGES.

 

One of the founding fathers of science – Francis Bacon – said this three hundred years ago.

“God has, in fact, written two books, not just one. Of course, we are all familiar with the first book he wrote, namely Scripture. But he has written a second book called creation.” – Francis Bacon

 

It is a tragedy that so many people today have given up on the Scripture that Bacon’s generation knew so well…and instead focus solely on the book of creation. As we have done so…we have lost balance. We have gotten it into our heads that creation is all that there is. There is no creator. There is no purpose. What we see in our Universe just is. Well – I’m not surprised that our culture has ended up in that odd unbalanced place…because we’ve rejected one of God’s books in favour of the other.

 

The tragedy of giving up on Scripture…God’s words to mankind…is immense. I can only touch the tip of the problem here. Studying creation using the tools of Science gives us an understanding of function and construction in nature. Scripture on the other hand reveals to us purpose and destiny and hope. It is a grim task indeed to resort only to function and to lose the perspective that Scripture brings. Yet that is where Western culture sits to a large degree today. And we are poorer for it.

 

Space exploration is such an exciting aspect of human discovery and investigation. And I think God probably gives us a mandate in Scripture to do it. At the risk of sounding bonkers…of course it doesn’t mention the Space Shuttle or the new American Orion program directly in the Bible (!). The Chinese, the Russians…even India is exploring space today. I’m not crazily claiming that the Bible predicts this in some strange way. So what am I saying?

The Bible is a book of its time, written millennia ago. Yet it is not JUST a product of its time. It contains timeless truths from the heart of God himself. It talks in wondrous terms about the Universe that human beings occupy. Here’s a taste…hinting at gravity and the orbits of planets and stars.

“Can you direct the movement of the stars— binding the cluster of the Pleiades or loosening the cords of Orion?” Job 38:31, NLT

 

But it goes further. I think it reveals evidence that God has designed people with an ability and a passion to study, to explore…and to do science in our Universe. How so? Well, look a bit deeper. In Genesis chapter 2, we read this:

“So the Lord God formed from the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the sky. He brought them to the man[c] to see what he would call them, and the man chose a name for each one.” Genesis 2:19, NLT

 

Having created the Universe and the life forms living in it…God brings them to the man “to see what he could call them”. Why would God do that? Why would he do this at such an early and formative stage of mankind’s history? Perhaps because God wants us to know how fun and exciting it is to discover new things and give them names?

Sometimes we need to physically go and explore…and sometimes this involves leaving the confines of the planet. I think we have some evidence that God wants people to study His creation, it delights him when we do it! It is an act of worship to do so…even though many people would scoff at this notion. When we study creation, whether its animals in the rainforests, or mathematical formulae speculating about the earliest moments of the Big Bang, or looking at distant galaxies thru the Hubble Space Telescope placed in orbit by the Shuttle…surely we are doing what God loves for us to do? To investigate and to study our Universe.

 

You know what? There are many scientists, explorers and adventurers today who have not abandoned the book of scripture that Francis Bacon talked about. They hold scripture and creation together. They know it pleases the heart of God when we learn more about what He’s made.

Rick Husband was one of them. He worked for NASA as the Commander of Mission STS-107. His space ship? The Space Shuttle Columbia that tragically broke up during the rigors of re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere in 2003. Rick’s family have kindly donated some of his most precious possessions to the Kennedy Space Centre. And they are displayed close to Atlantis in a memorial exhibit which remembers both the crews who were lost. Challenger and Columbia. Among Rick’s possessions…his cowboy boots and his Bible…opened to an important page. A page that talks about the benefits of wisdom. Showing the verse he had carefully underlined before his death.

husband

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart. And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

 

Surely Rick’s is the heart of the true explorer. Who longs to learn and discover just how wonderful our Universe is. Who does so holding the hand of the God who is leading him safely to his destination.