Friday, April 30, 2010

Noah's Ark?

If you've heard anything about the recent claim that a team of Chinese and Turkish archeologists are "99.9% sure they have discovered Noah's Ark," beware. These types of stories -- like the "missing link" stories from the Darwinist scientific "experts" -- usually have a way of being more heat than light. As I write this, I have no idea what the most up-to-date information is but I do know that Frank Turek will be discussing the issue on his radio program on Saturday, May 1, 2010. Frank has actually participated in some expeditions that have tried to locate the ark so I am sure he has reliable contacts to tap before/during his radio show. Click here for a link to Frank's weekly AFR radio broadcast:

AFR FM Radio (station list available on AFR.net)

or go to CrossExamined.org for RSS and iTunes feeds.



Sunday, April 25, 2010

And Now For Something Completely Different

This is incredible. For those of us who may think we are "in touch" and connected to our high-tech world, think again. Pranav Mistry has a few -- shall we say -- "unique" ideas about the future of computing.

Enjoy ...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Very Tiny Place In The Heavens (part 4)

[This is the 4th installment in this series. To see the others, click on the following links: Part 1 -- Part 2 -- Part 3]

In his 1994 bestseller, Pale Blue Dot, atheist Carl Sagan offered this picture as the latest proof of the Copernican Principle and of humanity's breathtaking insignificance. In 1990, while at the edge of our solar system, the Voyager 1 spacecraft turned its camera back toward its launch point and snapped this photo. Yes, that "pale blue dot" at the center of the photo is the Earth. Sagan's reaction to seeing this snapshot included the following ...
Sagan's "Pale Blue Dot"
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves … It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.
The authors of The Privileged Planet have a completely opposite take on this discussion. In their compilation of evidence that points to the Earth’s place in the cosmos as being special, Gonzalez and Richards, when analyzing such disparate data as: the size, orbit and position of the Earth as well as the interdependence of its ongoing formational processes, the size and location of the Moon relative to the Earth and Sun, the Sun’s composition and location within the Milky Way, and the structure of the galaxy itself; make a compelling case that each of these is fine-tuned to allow the existence of complex, self-aware life. But that's not all.

They also show that the same factors that allow us to live in this place and time, also allow us the ability to discover just how unique and improbable it is that we live here. Our place in the solar system, our location in the galaxy, even the unusual size of the moon relative to the Earth, have allowed us to observe phenomena and make discoveries we could never have made if we were anywhere else. There is no reason why these two realities should be related to one another. But the fact that they are plays strongly into the idea that there is an element of design involved in our existence here.

Theists have reacted with understandable indignation to the assertion that these are just anthropic "coincidences." Arguing that the factors involved in our appearance here reveal an incredible level of fine-tuning, theists demand an explanation for it. They also rightly point out that SAP and its progeny, MU, are not only products of pure speculation but that they are blatantly unfalsifiable. Man’s existence is special and the universe he lives in appears to point to him as its purposeful objective.

And this brings me back to the reason I began this short series. As I watched the Hubble Deep Field 3D image in the original video and listened to the narrator's comment about how we live in "a very tiny place in the heavens" I realized that we can take that truism in completely different directions. Naturalists like Weinberg and Sagan take our existence here in this little corner of the cosmos to be a hopelessly brief and insignificant coincidence. Theists (like me) take it as breathtaking evidence that the entire universe was created not only with us in mind, but with us as its ultimate purpose.

Yet we are both looking at the same data.

I believe our response to the anti-theistic lines of reasoning, and the naturalistic worldview that spawned them, should include three commitments. First, we must insist on a commitment to truth. The Copernican Principle is based on a lie.  Sadly, the distortions of this historical account have become so entrenched in the university, the culture, and even the church, that most Christians are completely unaware of them. It comes as a shock for most to hear that their understanding of the actual thinking of Copernicus and later Galileo, which led to their alleged “revolution,” is incorrect. As apologists, we must use every means possible to correct and disseminate the real story.

Second, we must promote a commitment to objective reality and empirical evidence where this subject is concerned. This effort offers us common ground with even the most ardent naturalistic scientists.  Science itself relies on a commitment to realism and disciplined analysis of empirical data. It despises the relativistic, non-rationality of postmodern philosophical thought that has driven this debate thus far. As such, the thinking that led to the “uncritical equation of geocentrism with anthropocentrism” must be questioned. There is no data that can be used to link these two conditions.

The only way the latter follows from the former is by the infusion of metaphysical assumptions into the discussion. In particular, this allowance for naturalistic presuppositions led to SAP and MU in the absence of any supporting data. When speaking about scientific matters the debate should be confined to the data so that it can speak for itself and lead where it might.

This commitment to objective analysis of the data is what defines our third commitment. When the data is analyzed the theistic hypothesis and the centrality of man to the creation both come crashing through all the rhetoric. The Gonzalez/Richards hypothesis offered in The Privileged Planet is one that combines data mentioned above about the habitability of this planet with parallel data that relates to our ability to observe and collect it. The authors combine these probabilities in their updated version of the Drake Equation.  In this way the multiplicative nature of the data demonstrates the vast mountain of improbability that the collective life-essential parameters must have scaled in order for us to be here.

By this objective measure, the unfalsifiabilty and pure conjecture of MU are transformed from a threatening, infinitely-headed hydra into a theory with implications that could not conceivably be more beneficial to the theistic hypothesis. I say, let the naturalistic scientists have their way. Let them deduce MU from SAP. When the naturalistic scientist cites MU as the method by which all the design in our universe, including the existence of human life, is explained, he makes a startling admission. In essence he is saying that the level of design – that the precision of the fine-tuning of this universe – is so incredibly high that it requires an infinite explanation.  This should give him pause because in his zeal to bury the theist he has offered an explanation that inadvertently, but perfectly, defines the God he so wants to avoid implicating.

The irony here is stunning.  Naturalistic scientists, seeking to demean the theistic hypothesis by capitalizing on the fact that the Earth does not sit at the physical center of the universe, have succeeded in elevating the importance of our existence to infinite levels.

Realtors offer location, location and location as the most essential aspects of a property’s value. Though we may not be at the physical center, the data does suggest that we are at the habitable, observable and teleological heart of the universe. As far as location goes, one can hardly comprehend a more valuable, or a more remarkable, location than that.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Intellectual Honesty Personified

Antony Flew died on April 8, 2010. For those who are not familiar with him, Professor Flew was, for a great portion of his academic career, considered the leading philosophical atheist in the world. He wrote several books defending his atheism and refuting the claims of anyone who believed in any kind of God.

Then, in 2004, Antony Flew announced to the world that he had become a deist. The enormity of his "conversion" to belief in some kind of deity is hard to fathom. It was a courageous move on his part considering the flack and derision he received from many of his skeptical and atheist colleagues. Interestingly, Flew attributed his change of mind to the strength of the arguments he saw in the Intelligent Design movement. The evidence was simply too strong for him to ignore.

If you want to read his own description of his intellectual journey his book, There Is A God: How The World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, is a quick and delightful read. Though (as far as I know) he never made the complete jump to Christian Theism, the book includes a concise, powerful account of the strongest argument he had ever heard regarding the resurrection of Jesus. It is an argument he received from a fellow British intellectual (and theologian), N.T. Wright that is outlined in Wright's massive tome, The Resurrection of the Son of God.

I don't think anyone who is realistic could claim they would be honestly open to changing their mind about something as huge as the basis for their entire worldview. I wish more of us (on both sides of the atheist - theist debate) would be. It is a rare and courageous person who could do such a thing.

One of Flew's favorite phrases was that he was determined to "follow the evidence wherever it leads." I greatly admire Antony Flew for his willingness to practice what he preached. I pray that he followed the Truth all the way to Christ, and that all of us would display the intellectual honesty and willingness to do the same.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Short But Sweet

Today, during a discussion over at Apologetics315, Richard Ball made the following comment that I thought was masterful in its brevity and clarity. I've decided to plagiarize it whenever I need a quick version of the argument from reason and morality (with full credit to the originator, of course).

Check it out -- and memorize it!
"The fact that reason should exist at all, let alone reason that is to be trusted, is a conundrum to the atheist.
Ditto morality. Forget the argument about objective vs. subjective morality -- how/why should morality as a concept even exist in an amoral indifferent universe?
Ditto consciousness -- why/how should it emerge in a mindless, unconscious universe?
The intellectual field that atheists and Christians play on is one that is only coherent, rational, and logical if theism is true. Indeed, it is arguably only possible if theism is true. You can choose to believe atheism by faith, in spite of the evidence, but I disagree that the belief is based on sound reason."

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Very Tiny Place In The Heavens (part 3)

[This is the 3rd installment in this series. To see the others, click on the following links: Part 1 -- Part 2]

Considering the significance of our place in the cosmos has led many to the realization that, in some sense, the universe seemed to know we were coming -- that it looks designed to support advanced human life. This observation has been labeled the Anthropic Principle (anthropos = Greek for "man"). This is not just because we wish it was so. It is because there are so many factors so finely tuned to support life. There are literally hundreds of them and all of them have to be "just right" or life would not exist anywhere in the universe.

Naturalistic scientists who play up the Copernican Principle have tried to claim that these anthropic observations are nothing but the rumblings of our hopeful imaginations or, at best, a string of amazing coincidences. They have done so by categorizing the anthropic "coincidences" in two ways.

First, the Weak Anthropic Principle (WAP) can be seen as a logical extension of the Copernican Principle. WAP suggests that, whether or not our physical location has been moved from the center of the cosmos is irrelevant because there is nothing at all special about our existence anyway, regardless of where it is in space. In fact, we should expect to observe conditions, however unusual, that are compatible with, or even necessary for, our being here to observe the cosmos in which we live.

Second, the Strong Anthropic Principle (SAP), proposed by physicist Brandon Carter, asserts an even more robust case for our existence in which he states that, “any universe with observers in it must be observer-permitting (emphasis mine).” Carter’s inclusion of the word “must” in his definition touched off widespread debate about what he meant to say but the result of this line of thinking has been that the importance of life on Earth was diminished, beyond the level of expectancy posed by WAP, to the point of a mandatory entailment.

Not allowing the Copernican Principle any room for life’s meaningfulness to be introduced into the discussion, naturalistic science has literally taken the SAP to an infinite conclusion in the Multiple Universe (MU) hypothesis. There are several versions of this understanding of the nature of the universe, but they all share two characteristics – that there exist an infinite number of universes, and that they are all different. In this way, man’s existence descends to the level of pure chance and infinite unimportance. Thus “the Copernican Principle...explains all those ways in which our setting is commonplace [while] the Anthropic Principle[s] account for the exceptions.”

The conclusions one reaches about this issue are all very dependent on the presuppositions one begins with. And this was my point from the beginning of the first post. I'll conclude with some thoughts on that the next time ...

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Defrocking The Priests Of Scientism

The “skeptical” materialist Michael Shermer recently offered the following as a description of his atheism:
“There’s no, like, central set of tenets that we adhere to or believe in, or anything like … a Christian or a Jew or whatever. We don’t have anything like that, because there is nothing. It’s just simply we just don’t believe.”*
Shermer’s denial of any adherence to religious belief is instructive in light of the widely heralded claims he and others make about the legitimacy of Christian input to the marketplace of ideas. A “religion,” let us remember, is nothing more than a template by which one understands and responds to the world. Everybody has one. Shermer’s religion is simply informed by a belief that God does not exist. But that assertion does not allow him to escape the fact that he holds to a systematic view of the world. He has simply tried to construct his understanding of ethics, truth and ultimate reality on the non-existence of God. The question is not about who holds religious views. The question is which of those views correspond best with reality.

Acknowledging this materialist religiosity is not just a clever way to make a trivial point – not when we have been trained to believe that legitimate dialogue starts with the tacit acceptance of naturalistic assumptions in any discussion about what really matters. Any view that questions that mindset is categorically dismissed as a matter of personal opinion that need not be taken seriously. It is within such a paradigm that only scientists may offer us “proof.” Our scientific culture ordains scientists as the source of all wisdom and authority.

If Naturalism is true, this all makes sense. If the physical world is all that is real; if every phenomenon must be understood as a consequence of molecules in motion; if material causes are the only kind we are allowed to invoke, it stands to reason that science – the study of the natural world – is the only explanatory game in town. If science holds all truth, our belief in science – scientism – is our greatest hope.

But if science is the only appropriate defender of the Naturalistic worldview, it seems fair to ask how science can analyze things that, under the presuppositions of Naturalism, are not possible even in principle? How do the priests of scientism propose to explain away non-natural realities?

Take for instance the often-repeated declaration that “science has disproved God.” This is an odd claim to say the least. For one thing, it must simultaneously address the mutually exclusive truths that: 1) science is the study of the physical universe and, 2) no credible theist has ever claimed that God is part of the physical universe. This detail seems to be lost on the priests of scientism – especially on those who espouse their disbelief in the deity with a smug wave of the hand and a demand for “evidence.”

They insist that the Christian theist offer acceptable physical evidence for a non-physical entity that the scientific clergy has already dismissed by mere presupposition. Do they not see the circularity in their reasoning? Without it, the entire scaffolding of scientism collapses under the weight of its own criteria for identifying truth.

It is wildly ironic that the priests of scientism seem ignorant of the language of their faith. Science depends on mathematics to make its case. Moreover, this mathematical structure has been described by naturalistic scientists themselves as “an abstract, immutable entity existing outside space and time” that allows for the orderliness and invariant properties we observe in nature. It is “something bordering on the mysterious” that has “an eerily real feel” to it and satisfies “a central criterion of objective existence.”* Stephen Hawking wonders where such characteristics as mathematics, and the laws of physics and chemistry could have originated. Even atheist Bertrand Russell once remarked that mathematics holds both “truth and supreme beauty.”*

Mathematics is the language of science – the vocabulary of those who deny non-physical reality – yet mathematics itself is the combination of numbers and concepts, neither of which are physical but both of which are undeniably real.

It is through mathematics that scientists engage in the quantum metaphysics by which they try to evade the clear causal inference of Big Bang cosmology. They profess that our universe really required no cause at all and that they know this because the otherwise inexplicable degree of fine-tuning in this universe implies that we must just be living among an infinite number of other ones. As cosmologist Max Tegmark has put it, this “idea … seems strange and implausible, but it looks as if we will just have to live with it, because it is supported by astronomical observations.”* Of course, the fact that these alternate universes are, by definition, unobservable is never addressed by those who demand “evidence” from the theist whose “blind faith” is considered a target for their derision.

Agent causation. Life from non-life. Mind from matter. Non-material objective reality. Each of these actualities is part of our common human experience, yet each is foundationally inconsistent with a naturalistic view of the world.

This is not to say that the scientific enterprise is misguided. Far from it. The point is that, on Christian theism, science is understood in context as the rational method whereby we discover and understand the order and majesty of God’s creative work. Seen that way, each of these conundrums vanishes inside the more comprehensive view that nature is not a full description of reality. It turns out that Christianity’s explanatory power far exceeds the naturalistic alternative.

This does not diminish science. It simply acknowledges that materialism’s idolization of science is a futile ritual meant to account for realities the worldview itself denies. “Be patient,” we are told, “science may not have explained these things yet, but it will. Just give it time.” Though meant to persuade, this pious exhortation serves only to confirm the materialist’s religious zeal.

The priests, it seems, also fancy themselves as prophets.


__________ Notes __________

~ Excerpt from the transcript of the December 31, 2009 Hugh Hewitt radio program available at: http://www.hughhewitt.com/transcripts.aspx?id=53dc1daa-c9b6-429f-9732-923b01ba19b3

~ Max Tegmark, “Parallel Universes.” (Scientific American. May, 2003), 49.

~ Dean Overman, A Case Against Accident and Self-Organization (New York, New York: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 1997), 159.

~ Tegmark, 41.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

A Very Tiny Place In The Heavens (part 2)

Ptolemy's Geocentric Universe
[This is the 2nd installment in this series. The first is here]

The unseating of the Ptolemaic understanding of the universe, first introduced by Copernicus (late 15th century), and verified through data analysis by Galileo (late 16th century), has been used to vilify theism and its sympathetic scientists for over 300 years.

Here's why ...

On the ancient view (like Ptolemy's: 90-168 AD) the universe could be best described as a giant "sump." In the given illustration (at right and the only decent one I could find), imagine the whole picture turned counter-clockwise 90 degrees. This puts the Earth at the bottom of the diagram, where the sump's bottom lies.

On this view the value/worth of things increased as one went further "up" into the heavens -- or away from the sump. For instance, Hades was a really bad place to go because it sat beneath the Earth and you simply cannot get any lower than that. Just above the Earth was the "first heaven" or, as we would refer to it now, the atmosphere that surrounds us. When Jesus told us that the "kingdom of heaven" was "at hand" this is what he meant -- that the life God promised us was immediately obtainable right where we are now. We didn't have to go anywhere to acquire it.

Just above the Earth (in the "second heaven") was the realm of the Sun, stars, and planets. The ancients believed the Earth was fixed at the bottom of the sump while these objects moved around above it within the second heaven. Thus the notion of a "geocentric" universe -- the idea that the Sun and stars moved around the Earth.

Way out beyond the stars and planets was the "third heaven," where God himself lived. When Paul (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:1-3) relates his story of being "caught up to the third heaven," this is what he means. He is claiming that he was (somehow) brought into the very presence of God.

All this is simply to show the ancient, geocentric view of the universe that had been around for some time but that was formalized by Ptolemy. When Copernicus came along and put the Sun at the center of things -- postulating that the Earth revolved around it instead -- what he actually did was move the Earth further away from the "sump" and out into the second heaven. This change, which has been mischaracterized by many ever since, actually moved the Earth to a more important position in the hierarchy of things!

Regardless of the fact that the intent of neither Copernicus nor Galileo was to diminish the Earth's status based on its position; Regardless of the fact that the physical location put forth by these two Christian astronomers actually exalted the position of the Earth to a higher level than the Ptolemaic understanding. Despite these facts, the perception that man’s status within the universe was diminished by their discoveries continues to thrive. This has been the case because the revision of the physical location has been equated with a diminished view of the importance of man in the cosmos.

This Copernican Principle, that we should assume that there is nothing noteworthy about the Earth’s cosmic position or the life it supports, has led to two follow-on views concerning our place in the universe.

More on that next time ...

___________ NOTES ____________

Dennis R. Danielson, “The Great Copernican Cliché,” presented at the combined American Astronomical Society and American Association of Physics teachers meeting. San Diego, California. January 11, 2001.

Guillermo Gonzalez & Jay W. Richards, The Privileged Planet. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 2004. p. 248.