Books, Covers, and Genesis

On the back of The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth, one the latest books coming out of Kregel publications about the age of the earth, boasts a Paul Copan quote recommendation on that back that goes like this: “Irenic in spirit, scientifically informed, and biblically sound.” Dr. Copan is one of my favorite apologists out there at present, and a genuinely nice guy. So when he states that a book is aimed at peace and the reconciliation of denominational differences, I do not hesitate to pick it up.9780825444210

On the surface, The Grand Canyon looks like a work of great care and consideration. As scientific textbooks go, it is by far the most readable I have encountered in some years, interspersing the scientific lingo with beautiful pictures and engaging diagrams. The eleven authors mentioned on the first page demonstrate a breadth of knowledge that is impressive. They present the case that the Grand Canyon serves as irrefutable proof that the Earth cannot be young, and that Noah’s Flood cannot possibly have created something like the gorge surrounding the Colorado River. The book showcases remarkable lucidity with a topic that is often tedious or difficult to understand. Having read several books on the topic, including Alvin Plantinga’s Where the Conflict Really Lies and Francis Collins’s The Language of God (to name a couple), and find there is a fine line between scientific tedium and understandable theorizing. But the authors work hard to make the subject even enjoyable.

All of that being said, I think to call this book irenic is a bit misleading. While there are authors out there genuinely working to bridge the gap between Christians who disagree (like Kenneth Wheately and Alvin Plantinga), the bulk of this book is dedicated to converting Young Earth Creationists to a different view. Now, I understand that books are frequently written to make an argument. This can be done in a tasteful way, however, and much of the shots taken at YEC proponents through the book detract from what would otherwise be an insightful contribution to the larger discussion. Such a dismissive attitude limits the book’s potential.

While the book is one I recommend, I do so with caution. Coming to this book for a genteel and fair-minded discussion will not go far. But if you are already in, or leaning towards, an Old Earth view which congeals with Christianity, then this book is definitely for you.

Questions Regarding Creation

429415_1_ftcI have read a number of book about science, faith, and the beginning of all things. I’ve read everything from Stephen Hawking’s A Briefer History of Time to Alvin Plantinga’s Where The Conflict Really Lies: Science, Faith, and Naturalism. One of the things I have to recognize is that every one of these books hinges upon a position of faith held by the author, whether they acknowledge it or not. Of course, when an author does recognize their faith position, and works out of it, the books tend to be more engaging (and convincing in my mind).

When it comes to Christians and science, this is a tough position to be in. For many Christians, the theory of where “it all began” is essential to the faith, with Theistic Evolutionists feeling slighted by Young Earth Creationists and those in the YEC camp feeling abandoned by the TE scientists. But every once in a while, a book comes along that speaks kindly of everyone involved and wrestles with the questions that such a subject touches upon. 40 Questions About Creation and Evolution is just such a work.

The book lays out the standard questions that a Christian (or skeptic) will have to wrestle with when it comes to the topic of Creation. Although there are divisions in the book, it is hard to say what can be found where. The authors do a great job of dealing with different theories in context, so OEC, YEC and TE all find treatment in each portion of the book. This necessitates that writers provide lots of secondary sources, which they do (including a great index of Ancient Sources on the topic starting on page 429). Overall, the book doesn’t push any new ideas in terms of Creation Science of Evolutionary Theory, but does an excellent job of summarizing the debate in a manner that any Christian could pick up and engage with.

While I don’t hold to the YEC or OEC (Old Earth Creationist) positions of the authors, I found their efforts enlightening and edifying. Keathley and Rooker approach the topic in a simple Q&A method, offering good insight and resources about the discussions in the book. While they don’t shy away from their own stance, both of the authors write charitably of Christians who hold to other positions. Perhaps the most valuable chapter in the whole book is Chapter 38, “Can a Christian Hold to Theistic Evolution?” Keathley and Rooker don’t acquiesce to the TE position, but they do acknowledge the adherents aren’t villains. They “[affirm] the Bible’s inspiration, inerrancy, and authority,” (384). In a book that might provide fodder for bashing those of different stripes, instead they exhorted those who hold to TE, “to formulate a model that fits well with the biblical text,” (385).

Christians need more books like this, which seek to amiably explore issues that are often divisive. Keathley and Rooker are to be commended for their candor and their caritas.

Alarmist? I’m in good company.

I am as sure as I am of Christ’s reign that a comprehensive and centralized system of national education, separated from religion, as is now commonly proposed, will prove the most appalling enginery for the propagation of anti-Christian and atheistic unbelief, and of anti-social nihilistic ethics, individual, social and political, which this sin-rent world has ever seen. – A. A. Hodge, “The ‘Engine’ of Atheism,” Evangelical Theology 1890

Hodge was one of the leading theologians at Princeton near the end of the 19th century. In himself, he is worthy of study (and Mark Noll has some good stuff to say about him), but I’m interested in him for a different reason now. I don’t prognosticate like Dr. Hodge did, but I have to give him credit for being right.

Sarah and I just finished the IndoctriNation documentary, and I wanted to interact with it for a few moments before going to bed.

For those who don’t know, IndoctriNation is a Christian family’s journey around the country (mostly the Midwest and Eastern seaboard), to check out the state of affairs in public schools. The conclusion is fairly straight forward: public schools are a wreck, and for no reason should Christian families send their kids to one (nor should Christians work there). The film highlights that prominent Christian leaders like Franklin Graham will say we need to take the schools back, but a quick history lesson will show that they were never really “ours” in the sense that Graham means. According to Gunn and the people he interviews, Christianity and government-run schools are simply incompatible. He talks with people who worked in the government school system for years, until the Lord made it clear to them they had to leave.

The movie is worth it for the interviews alone. Seriously.

Now, for a couple of points of agreement.

1) I’m glad Gunn really pushed the Salt & Light mentality. I have family and friends who work in public schools, and I know they are attempting to serve Christ where they’re at, but I do wonder if they’ve ever really thought about what they’re doing. I know after the 6 months I worked in the government sector, I was in the wrong place. And it’s not that I don’t get it: education matters, therefore we shouldn’t abandon educating young people. I agree. But how can you be salt and light in a place that you are legally forbidden to spread your saltiness or shine your light? Jesus said,

You, beloved, are the salt of the earth. But if salt becomes bland and loses its saltiness, can anything make it salty again? No. It is useless. It is tossed out, thrown away, or trampled. And you, beloved, are the light of the world. A city built on a hilltop cannot be hidden. Similarly it would be silly to light a lamp and then hide it under a bowl. When someone lights a lamp, she puts it on a table or a desk or a chair, and the light illumines the entire house. You are like that illuminating light. Let your light shine everywhere you go, that you may illumine creation, so men and women everywhere may see your good actions, may see creation at its fullest, may see your devotion to Me, and may turn and praise your Father in heaven because of it, (Matthew 5:13-16, The Voice).

This is so important: you cannot be light in a place where you are made to snuff out the flame. I hear pastors and lay Christians of all types say it frequently, “We’re sending our kids so they can share the Gospel.” Unfortunately, that means you are sending them to do something (that requires training) to a place that tells them there is no God (where they will receive their training). I’ve written at length about this in my philosophy of education, so I won’t rehash it here. But I just don’t get it.

2) I was stoked that Gunn (and others like R.C. Sproul, Jr.) brought it back to Deuteronomy 6. This is one of my favorite passages of Scripture, and it is a conviction for me every day:

Listen, Israel! The Eternal is our True God—He alone. You should love Him, your True God, with all your heart and soul, with every ounce of your strength. Make the things I’m commanding you today part of who you are. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you’re sitting together in your home and when you’re walking together down the road. Make them the last thing you talk about before you go to bed and the first thing you talk about the next morning. Do whatever it takes to remember them: tie a reminder on your hand and bind a reminder on your forehead where you’ll see it all the time, such as on the doorpost where you cross the threshold or on the city gate, (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, The Voice).

Let it be the first and last thing, every day. That’s powerful, and only reinforces my belief that education belongs first in the home. Even if you don’t feel qualified to teach Chemistry, the Word of God should be so paramount in your thinking that your children don’t know any other way to see you other than through the lens of Scripture. Lord knows I do not accomplish this every day, but man, what an awesome responsibility.

Of course, the movie is not without some faults.

1) While I agree with so much of the film (I found myself saying, “This is what I’ve been saying for the last two years,” quite often much to my wife’s chagrin), I cannot get into the idea that evolution is inherently atheistic. Like any other tool it can be used in that manner (even the Bible can be used by atheists to “prove” God isn’t real), but evolution itself cannot be the starting point. Everyone starts here: god. Capitalize, make it plural, whatever; nothing changes the fact the most foundational belief for every person is what they believe about God.

2) I wish the film had gone on to critique Christian schools. I know, their purpose was fairly pointed, but I worry what will happen when Christians see this film, and then put their kids in a “Christian” school that does all the same things (minus the teaching of evolution of course). Think about it: is evolution really the issue? If Gunn is right and the current model of schooling is based on pagan philosophies which denied the existence of God, and saw humanity as cattle, then why would a Christian school do the same thing? I actually asked someone at ACSI that question, and they deflected the question, got mad at me and hung up without any salutation the first chance they got. I don’t really blame them (I know I can be a pain), but I genuinely don’t get why Christian schools would do the things identical to the public schools while telling parents to pull their kids out of public schools. That’s borderline lunacy if you ask me.

Overall, I cannot recommend the film enough. For the few grievances I might have with it, IndoctriNation is on the money. Christianity, when properly examined through the lens of Scripture in regards to education, is wholly incompatible with government-run education.

I know to many, that sounds like a radical or extremist point of view. Well, if I can count myself in the company of men like A.A. Hodge, men who fear God and love Jesus Christ, then I’ll take any label you want to put on me. Alarmist, included.

Creation Science

As always, I encourage you to download the handout and fill it out as you watch the video above.

This past week’s lesson was a good one. The PowerPoint didn’t work. We ran out of time. And multiple people expressed disappointment that we didn’t get to have more of a discussion.

What made it good had nothing to with the decent lecture I had prepared. And it wasn’t because we had a pretty amazing time of praise before we got started. Our lesson this past Wednesday was awesome because fellowship happened.

People volunteered to help bring food and drinks for next week. People hung around and chatted afterwards about life and all the in-between stuff. People were open, even if it made them a little but uncomfortable.

This is really what I love about teaching. Take all the fancy lectures and intelligent words and just throw into the ocean for all I care. Church gets real when people fellowship with one another.

So while I had some thoughts I wanted to post about Creation and Evolution, I’m not going to. Instead, I’m just going to say, man we had a good time this week.

Reading Genesis

I encourage you to watch the powerpoint presentation above, filling out this handout as you watch, BEFORE you read this post.

This week we looked at how important it is to ask ourselves, “how am I supposed to read this?”

I don’t read an engine manual the same way I read a Stephen King novel, and rightfully so. Neither do I read a Robert Frost poem as though it were an article from the NY Times. Everyday we exercise our judgment regarding how  we read something, yet often the Church uses this notion selectively when applying it to the Bible.

Throughout Church history, different groups have said, “you should read X passage metaphorically because we believe Y,” (feel free to insert any other form of reading in place of metaphorically). We, as a people, tend to want to read the Bible a certain way to prove a certain point (this is ironic since often this is the accusation hurled at scientists by the same people). This is something we must move beyond.

I’m not saying that the Church has always been wrong (I, for instance, take Jesus literally when he says “no man may come to the Father but by me”), but we have to be willing to have our lives rearranged according to God’s purposes.

I encourage you, over the next couple of days, read Genesis 1-11 and ask yourself this question: “what is the Bible teaching me about who God is?” I think this is a far more valuable question than, “does this prove or disprove my scientific theory?”

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

The Farnsworth Problem

There’s no scientific consensus that life is important. – Professor Farnsworth

In last week’s Science & Faith lesson, I showed a clip from Futurama. The video is succinctly summarized in the statement above, and it is this idea that brings me to one of the greatest issues we face when we engage in the whole “science vs. faith” discussion.

Science does not, and cannot, determine the meaning of our life.

Now, there are good scientists out there who understand this, and routinely engage with various worldviews to figure out what life is really “all about.” And there are scientists out there who are very good at what they do, but lose sight of purpose when they try to draw meaning from their research. There is a third category I want to discuss, and I think it is far more detrimental. You see, there are Christians out there who demand that science determine meaning, and therefore refute science when it can’t. In essence, this last group requires science to tell us how things work, and at the same time why that gives meaning to the working. But science isn’t a worldview, it’s a discipline of study and research. Once a scientist explains the how, their job is essentially done. The why? That falls to the realm of faith.

The danger we often find ourselves in is this: we hold science to a standard that only belongs to the realm of faith. This is one reason why so many young people leave the church (and you can read more about this here). We have to learn how to interact with science, without holding it to the same standard as revelation.

I think this is such a critical component of studying anything that falls outside the realm of “the Bible.” If we believe that the Bible is a special insight into who God is, then can we really expect anything else to come close to that? I don’t think we should, even if we could.

I welcome thoughts.

Science & Faith: A Primer

The small group I teach is embarking on an 8-week journey this Spring. As many of those in attendance are college students, we are endeavoring to dig into God’s Word and wrap our minds around the correlation between science and faith. Since I am learning as I prepare for these lessons, you can expect some further blog posts to help me work through the material, and hopefully get some good discussion going.

Our first lesson was a basic introduction to apologetics, and laid the four main foundational ideas that I think are necessary to this study:

  1. Christ must always be our foundation.
  2. The Bible is not a science book.
  3. Science does not determine meaning in life.
  4. We must always keep in mind what the Bible defines as true wisdom.

If you’re interested in knowing what was discussed, you can watch the video of our PowerPoint below. You can also click here to download a copy of the blank handout waiting for you to fill it in (or, for the less initiated, you can download a completed handout here).

I hope that you will join us, online or in person, as we draw closer to our Creator, and recognize the role science can play in our understanding and proper attitude towards His Creation.

Science and Advent

I’m going to geek out for a minute or two. If you don’t know about CERN, this post may bore you. Still, I encourage you to read on at your own risk.

For the past couple of years, this giant machine has been slamming atoms together at faster than light speeds in the effort to unlock the mysteries of the universe. Cheesy, right? The subject fascinates me though. Max Planck, the guy who got the ball rolling in the realm of quantum physics, understood that science without God was incomplete.

And this week has been an exciting one in both realms. For Christians, Advent is fully in swing. We wait, anticipate, and most importantly, participate in the coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ. For scientists, the God particle seems just around the corner.

Of course, not everyone in either camp is excited. In fact, there seems to be a rising level of animosity from atheists this holiday season (but that’s probably best saved for another post). Many Christians fear the worst when it comes to science, and CERN ranks high among signs that the anti-Christ is coming (for the brave and the bold, check out the comments in the above link).

Yet, in spite of the arguments and rivalries, the news coming out of CERN this week is exciting. Because what so many people don’t realize is that with every step, we’re drawing nearer to our Creator. How so? Well, Planck said it best: “Science…means unresting endeavor and continually progressing development toward an aim which the poetic intuition may apprehend, but the intellect can never fully grasp.” CERN demonstrates the lengths to which people will go to seek out the meaning of life, and the thing that keeps it all together. For Christians, this is an awesome thing because we already have the answer!

And this is the time of year when we celebrate His birth.

This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. – John 17:3

Eternal life doesn’t mean “pie in the sky someday.” It starts today. In fact, Jesus said we would have it in abundance. So whether you dig science like I do, or you think smart people are going to inadvertently trigger Christ’s return, remember the reason of the season. For He is worthy of all praise!

Bad science and worse logic

Tonight, I am tired. Perhaps a bit frustrated too. And still, even with a weary body and distracted mind, I can spot bad science from a mile away.Hubble - Pillars of Creation

This article came out recently and, quite frankly, it makes me borderline angry. Why? Because it’s misleading, for one. And two, it demonstrates just how lost so many are in this world.

Let me briefly explain.

We’ll start with bad science:

Two hundred million years earlier, during the violent throes of planetary formation, Earth was a mass of molten minerals set afire by collisions with planet-sized heavenly bodies.

These Olympian crashes probably threw up the Moon and also caused billions of tonnes of liquefied gold and platinum — enough to cover the planet with a crust four metres (13 feet) thick — to sink to centre, creating its core.

And there the precious metals lie, forever beyond the reach of grasping human hands.

This much was known.

How do we knowsomething like what is described in this passage?

Can we verify this through any of our five senses?

Can we read the account, or at least speak with someone who witnessed these events?

Can we in any way possible visually (or in any other way) confirm that these ideas are indeed KNOWN as opposed to believed?

The overwhelming response to those questions is…no. This is bad science because it states as fact what is actually theory because it cannot be verified as fact through the scientific process.

What’s worse is that most people (not all) will read that article and simply assume that what it claims is true. Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and everyone else. They won’t take the time to logically reason to themselves that this concept is based on all kinds of preconceived notions that they [the readers] may or may not agree with. No, they will read it, accept it, and add it to their mental piggy bank of “facts.” Such an article is irresponsible from a media standpoint (and a scientific one as well), but it is also manipulative because it does not leave room for the reader to question it’s validity.

To talk about these things is to delve into the realm of faith. And I have no problem with someone who wants to believe that science has the right idea when it makes claims about trillions of years ago and what have you. But I want them to be honest about it. I want them to call it faith, not science.

This is the perfect example of how bad science leads into worse logic.

Priorities

I have mixed feeling on Shuttle Atlantis’ mission to repair the Hubble telescope.

On one hand, I think it’s amazing what we’ve seen through the photographs taken by the satellite. You want to talk about God’s awesome creation? Browse some Hubble images on Yahoo! or Google, and you will see just how creative God is. I think there’s still a lot we can learn through these pictures, and I think that eventually we’ll have a more accurate grasp on time and space through this (the present conceptions are fine for now, but I think they fall short in many ways and will need some major overhauls in the next 50 years). Through things like this, we not only advance human knowledge, but we come closer to God. The more we learn, the more we realize we don’t truly understand (regardless of what the Associated Press says). But as awesome as all this is, is it worth it? The estimated cost of the Hubble telescope in total is $10 billion. That’s a lot of dough.

And here is why my feelings are so mixed. To provide everyone on this planet with clean drinking water is estimated to cost, can you guess?, $10 billion. That’s it. One satellite gone and the water problem would be solved. Of course, I don’t think it’s NASA’s job to fix the world’s issues. But it puts things in perspective a bit. We’re eager to point out the obvious mistakes (like spending $450 billion on Christmas every year or the automakers taking massive bonuses at the expense of the country), but its not as easy to ask if we’re being good stewards of this life. Let’s say we put the Hubble off for 20 years, we had never launched it in 1990, and put that money to solve the water issue? What would we lose? Could we not launch the Hubble now? Would we be behind in any real significant way?

Its not easy to convince the world that people come before knowledge, particularly when we still so clearly value “stuff” and material possessions over people. Its sad that our priorities are out of whack in so many ways. Its sad that my priorities are messed up too. In the end, I appreciate the Hubble for what it is. But I wonder why we expect one area of our lives to be lived more responsibly when other areas of our lives aren’t? Consumerism in the individual will be more likely to change if those whom we take are cues from change the way they spend money. Change in government is usually top down. But revolutions start at the bottom I guess. So who will make the first move?