Christianity and Science

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Ken Ham Rescinds Alien Damnation?

mars-1I wrote very recently about Ken Ham declaring aliens eternally doomed. Now, however, Ken Ham is claiming that headlines like my post (or those declaring aliens are going to hell) are mistaken. I just want to briefly look at this claim. In his most recent blog article, he states:

So, “is there intelligent life in outer space?” After reading the Huffington Post article and the other items on secular websites responding to my article, my answer is this: “there doesn’t seem to be much intelligent life left here on earth—let alone to find any in outer space!”

Well, that’s all well and good, but I’m curious as to how someone could say that I would be mistaken for thinking that this would somehow make invalid the analysis I made of his site regarding aliens being doomed. But it seems Ham is responding by simply saying that there are no intelligent beings elsewhere, and so we are supposed to conclude that that somehow means aliens would not be doomed (because there are none). But that doesn’t really meet the analysis of some of those who are critiquing Ham’s position.

What it comes down to is Ken Ham’s own words:

You see, the Bible makes it clear that Adam’s sin affected the whole universe. This means that any aliens would also be affected by Adam’s sin, but because they are not Adam’s descendants, they can’t have salvation.

Thus, according to Ken Ham himself, if aliens do exist, “they can’t have salvation.” I’m not sure exactly what distinction is to be made between this and going to hell, but it seems that Ham’s only answer is that there are no aliens, so this doesn’t apply. Again, that doesn’t meet the critique I’ve already leveled against his view.

But, perhaps I’m mistaken and Ham is merely trying to assert that only certain headlines are mistaken. He cites these specifically: “Creationist Ken Ham Says Aliens Will Go To Hell So Let’s Stop Looking For Them”; “Creationist Ken Ham: Aliens are going to hell so just stop looking for them.” I think it’s fair to say that these headlines are not exactly accurate representations of Ham’s view. Instead, Ham seems to be saying 1) Aliens don’t exist; 2) Because they don’t exist, we shouldn’t bother to spend time looking for them; 3) a theological reason for thinking they don’t exist is that they “can’t have salvation.”

It is point 3 which I took issue with in my post, but the headlines Ham cites seem to combine all 3 points into one without any clarity. Thus, I appreciate Ham clarifying his position. The points I brought up in my critique, however, still stand.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Ken Ham Declares Aliens Eternally Doomed- I analyze Ken Ham’s statements about aliens and the possibility for their salvation.

Alien life: Theological reflections on life on other planets- I engage in some [highly] speculative theology related to the possibility of aliens.

Did God Create the Universe for Humans?-Some Thoughts on God’s purposes for creating-  I argue that God’s purposes in creating are needlessly limited when people object that God created the universe [only] for humankind.

Aliens that believe in God: The theological speculations of Robert Sawyer’s “Calculating God”- I reflect on a science fiction book, Calculating God, which has aliens that believe in God.

 

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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Ken Ham Declares Aliens Eternally Doomed

Constellation_Fornax,_EXtreme_Deep_FieldKen Ham, a prominent young earth creationist and the founder of Answers in Genesis, recently lamented on his blog about the money being spent on the search for extraterrestrial life in space. Interestingly, part of his objection was that aliens probably don’t exist because they would not be saved:

I do believe there can’t be other intelligent beings in outer space because of the meaning of the gospel. You see, the Bible makes it clear that Adam’s sin affected the whole universe. This means that any aliens would also be affected by Adam’s sin, but because they are not Adam’s descendants, they can’t have salvation.

That’s correct: according to Ken Ham, we can speculate about whether aliens may or may not exist (though both he and I agree that we think it is very improbable), but we can know for sure that aliens cannot be saved. Keep this in mind through the rest of my post: Ken Ham did not say that aliens may not be saved, but rather that they “can’t” be saved.

Space and Cost

Ken Ham was concerned with the notion that we’re spending so much money on space travel: “I’m shocked at the countless hundreds of millions of dollars that have been spent over the years in the desperate and fruitless search for extraterrestrial life.”

I would first point out that the money being thrown at this is hardly exclusively dedicated to the search for ET. Rather, much of it goes to new technology like new telescopes, listening devices, etc. which actually bring benefits for the rest of society. Thus, the money is not being spent in a “fruitless” fashion.

One might come back and say: “What if all that money was instead spent on feeding the hungry, clothing the needy, etc.?” I think that’s a valid point and it is one with some initial force. One wonders, though, about the notion of division of effort. There is a real sense in which not all of human effort may be directed towards one end. As a Christian, I certainly desire to aid those in need, but I would not say that means every dollar I spend should be directed towards that end. There are other evils than need in the world (such as abortion) to direct effort towards, and there are also other goods to promote (evangelization would be one I would list). As such, my activity must be divided. Similarly, on a national level, there are numerous ends to pursue, and an argument which reduces national spending to a single issue is simplistic.

I’m open to disagreement here and would love to hear from those who are either pro-space exploration or con. I lean pro- but I think there is some force to arguments against.

153734main_image_feature_626_ys_4Doomed Aliens

The thrust of Ken Ham’s post, however, was that aliens would not be saved. He acknowledged that “[T]he Bible doesn’t say whether there is or is not animal or plant life in outer space.” Given his nod to the fact that the Bible is clearly not concerned with the broader universe, it is then shocking to find that Ham asserted without qualifications that “[aliens] can’t have salvation.” I wonder: where is that found in the Bible? Where might I find the notion that: “If aliens exist, they can’t have salvation” implied in the Bible?

Ham’s argument was an implicit one: because “The Earth was created for human life” (an example of the single-end fallacy regarding God’s creation which I discussed elsewhere), and “Adam’s sin affected the whole universe. This means that any aliens would also be affected by Adam’s sin, but because they are not Adam’s descendants, they can’t have salvation.”

The argument depends upon a number of hidden and explicit premises. First, one must ask in what way Adam’s sin affected the whole universe. Does that mean that intelligent aliens instantly became cursed and condemned by the Fall? It seems Ham’s argument depends upon that premise, but there is surely no bibical data to back that up. Rather, Ham is assuming that the Fall means that any other life in the universe would necessarily be sinful and in a state of rebellion against God. Although the Bible speaks of humans being in rebellion against God, and it speaks of “all creation groan”ing awaiting for God’s coming to reconcile all things, it is surely a massive inference to leap from that to the notion that any aliens anywhere are eternally doomed.

Second, the argument assumes that God did not or would not (can not!?) mediate between other sentient beings and God. Surely it is a major assumption to state that God would not operate in a certain fashion about speculative aliens who have speculatively been included in the Fall and are speculatively doomed for eternity! For Ham to turn around and just assert that God would not save these aliens (or again, perhaps cannot, because he states that they “can’t have salvation), is a major theological error.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, the question of how Ham reconciles his first premise with his premise that “because [aliens] are not Adam’s descendants, they can’t have salvation.” After all, the same proof-texts which may be cited to try to imply that all of creation groans under the Fall (Romans 8) could also be taken, when read with the same presumptions, to mean that aliens will be saved or at least have hope of salvation: “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God [Romans 8:20-21 NIV].”

Thus, Ham’s argument has a faulty conclusion: if it is true that all of the universe fell through Adam and is therefore doomed, then it equally follows that, according to the same text, it will all be saved through Jesus as the new Adam (not universalism, but rather the “hope of salvation”). There are no grounds for Ham’s assumptions.

Conclusion

Ken Ham has overstated his case to the extreme. Although he may have some force to his argument about the needless spending of money on various space exploration projects (and again, I think these aren’t needless but that perhaps his side has some a priori power), he has committed some major blunders when it comes to speaking of the possibility of alien salvation.

As always, I’d love to have your thoughts in the comments. What do you think about Ham’s statements? Be sure to check out his blog post to get his side of the argument.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Alien life: Theological reflections on life on other planets- I engage in some [highly] speculative theology related to the possibility of aliens.

Did God Create the Universe for Humans?-Some Thoughts on God’s purposes for creating-  I argue that God’s purposes in creating are needlessly limited when people object that God created the universe [only] for humankind.

Aliens that believe in God: The theological speculations of Robert Sawyer’s “Calculating God”- I reflect on a science fiction book, Calculating God, which has aliens that believe in God.

 

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Death Before the Fall” by Ronald Osborn

dbf-osborn

I eagerly anticipated the release of Ronald Osborn’s book, Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering, as it is a topic of great interest to me. The work is divided into two major sections: “On Literalism” and “On Animal Suffering.”

The first part occupies the bulk of the book (100/179 pages of text). In it, Osborn first offers his interpretation of the creation account in Genesis 1. His take on it is that is fairly open to being taken in a number of ways. For example, having creatures come forth “from the earth” may be direct special creation, or a linguistic device aimed at describing the “open” status of creation–its ability to change and self-correct (see esp. 27-28).

After laying out the interpretation, Osborn sets out to show how “literalism” is a mistaken hermeneutic. He argues that literalism has been brought to the forefront due to Enlightenment ways of thinking. That is, biblical literalists are influenced by modernism and their readings tend to be highly reliant on that kind of rationalist epistemology (42ff). A major difficulty with literalism, he notes, is that it seems to ultimately lead to fideism: one’s view of what the “plain sense” reading of the Bible is must be taken as normative for all areas of inquiry (44; 45-46). Another difficulty is that literalism tends to actually go far beyond what the text says in order to defend a preferred interpretation of the text (56-57).

Scientific creationism, Osborn argues, is flawed because it isn’t a “progressive research program” but rather a “degenerative” one. That is, scientific creationism is simply adjusted in an ad hoc way to meet new challenges rather than predicting them (63ff). He rounds out this first part with a discussion of how literalism ultimately leads to circling the wagons and an “enclave mentality,” alongside various representatives of historical interpretation of Genesis–Barth, Calvin, Augustine, and Maimonides.

The second part focuses on animal suffering and approaches it from a number of angles. He begins the section with three difficulties with a “literalist” view of animal suffering and the Fall. Briefly, these are the notion that a flawless creation as put forward by some seems to simply be the winding up of a watch; that God is made to be a deceiver; and difficulties with how the curse is to be applied to animals (126ff). These are presented briefly but cogently and each offers a unique challenge to typical creationist readings of the text. Next, Osborn turns to explanations other than the Fall as reasons animals suffer. He turns to the book of Job and argues both that God may have created nature with predation and death and also that God’s answer to Job out of the whirlwind may be applied to animal suffering (154-155). Moreover, God’s choosing to participate in the world in the Incarnation helps to consummate all creation and bring it to completion (165).

A difficulty with the book is the sustained polemic against literalism/YEC. At times, Osborn shares great insights in the movement. Moreover, pointed criticism is surely needed in some form. Unfortunately, after some helpful introductory comments, he seems to degenerate into posturing against those with whom he disagrees. For example, after admitting that Gnosticism is rather ill-defined, he nevertheless goes on to compare literalism to Gnosticism and simply state that they each share certain features in common (86ff). I like to call this the “Gnostic fallacy” in which someone declares the ‘other’ to be a Gnostic in order to refute them. As Osborn himself notes, Gnosticism is hard to pin down, which also means it is very easy to twist various teachings into lining up with Gnosticism. I think this is honestly one example. [See comments for Osborn's clarifying comments on this section.]

This section is understandable, and it is easy for someone like Osborn–a former YEC (like myself)–to want to lash out against these formerly held, and sometimes damaging, beliefs, but it is not a very helpful. I suspect it will alienate any readers he would perhaps hope to engage in dialogue, which leaves one wondering about the audience for the book.

Another difficulty with Osborn’s sustained critique of “literalism” is that he never provides much insight into how and/or when texts are to be read literally. That is, would the Gospels need to be read literally when they speak of Jesus dying on the cross and rising again? Osborn clearly affirms this, but doesn’t provide mechanisms which distinguish between “literalism” and simply proper exegesis which would allow for and engage with literal readings of the texts.

One further problem is that the book, despite purporting to be about Death Before the Fall, only briefly addresses this issue. The book really doesn’t provide anything more than most basic non-young earth literature does when it comes to the issue. As such, it is difficult to determine exactly how useful the book is when compared to other works.

Ultimately, Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering does not contribute much new to the debate over whether animal death could occur before the fall. Osborn presents many interesting points–particularly in his heavy critique of literalism as a method–and the book is worth the read, but its limited treatment of the title is a disappointment.

Readers who are interested in the topic of animal suffering and death before the fall are better served to pick up Michael Murray’s excellent and enthralling book, Nature Red in Tooth and Claw: Theism and the Problem of Animal Suffering. Murray’s work is superior in both tone and treatment. It focuses entirely on the topic of animal suffering from a philosophical perspective (and is thus more academic than Osborn’s work, for better or worse). The work has a lengthy (33 pages) chapter dedicated explicitly to philosophical issues with animal suffering and the Fall, which makes it far more in-depth than the work reviewed here. Finally, it provides much greater depth on various theodicies when it comes to animal suffering. Those interested in that topic and the topic of death before the Fall or how the Fall relates to animal suffering would be better served to pick up Murray’s work.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote!- Do Trilobites Yield a Greater Good?- I discuss a very minor point in Murray’s work which shows how diverse its threads are for thinking on this topic.

Source

Ronald Osborn, Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsit, 2014).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Sunday Quote!- Can Randomness have Purpose?

3vce-mrEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Can Randomness have Purpose?

The concept of chance or randomness and its relation to God’s purpose and sovereignty is one which is very interesting to me. It has applications all kinds of direct theological applications. While reading Three Views on Creation and Evolution, I came upon an application related to the origins debate within Christianity. Howard J. Van Till, who was writing in support of theistic evolutionism, considered the possibility that God could have purpose even through the process of evolution:

While we’re on the issue of purpose, let’s look briefly at a common misunderstanding–that randomness rules out purpose. It is often claimed that randomness [which]… prevail[s] in the fundamental processes and events of biotic evolution rules out the possibility… [of] any preestablished purpose… Suppose there were a perfectly honest gambling casino in which no game was rigged–every[thing]… was authentically random. Does that rule out the possibility that the outcome of the casino operation cannot possibly be the expression of some preestablished purchase? Clearly not. In fact, the operators of the casino depend on that very randomness in their computation of the payout rates to insure that they will have gained a handsome profit… (168, cited below).

Apart from the strangely worded question he asked, Van Till’s point is that there may be purpose even with randomness: a truly random casino can still be oriented toward the purpose of making money. Thus, Van Till reasons, God could have done the same thing with the entirety of creation.

Now, I think this is an interesting claim, and I also think there is some plausibility to it. However, there does seem to be a significant disanalogy as well: the casino operators don’t care about the outcome of the random games, because their overall outcome is to have monetary gain. Presumably, however, God would care about the outcome of the randomness. Just having any creatures come from evolutionary processes would not seem to fit God’s plan as established in Genesis (creation, fall, redemption, consummation). Instead, there would have to be creatures capable of participating in that plan. Of course, Van Till might simply reply by saying that God would have known the outcome ahead of time and so that’s not at issue (or some similar response).

What do you think of the notion that chance or randomness may have purpose? If not, why not? If so, do you think this may be applied to evolution as Van Till does? What other applications do you think this may have?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote- If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Source

Howard J. Van Till, “The Fully Gifted Creation: ‘Theistic Evolution’” in Three Views on Creation and Evolution edited by J.P. Moreland & John Mark Reynolds (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999).

SDG.

Sunday Quote!- Reframe the Origins Debate?

3vce-mrEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Reframe the Origins Debate?

I have been going through a number of books in the Zondervan Counterpoints series and completed Three Views on Creation and Evolution recently. There are a number of choice quotes found throughout the book and overall I enjoyed it quite a bit. One author therein suggested that we need to view the creation/evolution debate in a different light which avoids the false dichotomy of creation or evolution:

Is the creation’s formational economy sufficiently robust (that is to say, is it equipped with all the necessary capabilities) to make it possible for the creation to organize and transform itself from elementary forms of matter into the full array of physical structures and life-forms that have existed in the course of time? (Van Till 185-186, cited below)

Howard J. Van Till is a theistic evolutionist (he does not like the term–or at least did not at the publication of this book), and he views that position as a “fully gifted creation”–one in which God, on creating, imbued creation with the capacities to develop naturally over the course of time. This is the “economy of creation” in which–according to Van Till–God created without the need for continual intervention.

Now, so far as this reframing is concerned, it seems to me that Van Till, in attempting to avoid the either/or dichotomy between creation and evolution, went a bit to the other extreme. Putting a word like “robust” in there suggests that anyone who would disagree is clearly questioning the capacity of the Creator in creating. However, I do think there is something to the notion that we do need to rethink exactly where the lines form in the origins debate. I have written on the various options for Christian origins positions and I think that we need to be aware of the fact there is more to it than even “three views” could begin to outline.

Regarding the question itself: what do you think? Do we need to outline the origins debate with different terms so that we can avoid a false dichotomy? Moreover, do you think that creation is indeed set up in such a way?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

What options are there in the origins debate? – A Taxonomy of Christian Origins Positions- I clarify the breadth of options available for Christians who want to interact on various levels with models of origins. I think this post is extremely important because it gives readers a chance to see the various positions explained briefly.

Sunday Quote- If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Source

Howard J. Van Till, “The Fully Gifted Creation: ‘Theistic Evolution’” in Three Views on Creation and Evolutionedited by J.P. Moreland & John Mark Reynolds (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999).

SDG.

Dinosaurs, Noah’s Flood, and Creationism- An ecological challenge

SuchomimusI recently visited the Science Museum of Minnesota to check out the exhibit “Ultimate Dinosaurs” which features a number of dinosaurs which aren’t typically displayed in North America. I heard one other museum-goer talking about how they always thought that dinosaurs just were dinosaurs–that they were the same all over the Earth. But they weren’t! In fact, there is great diversity in the types of dinosaurs found in different parts of the world. Some are found all over North America; others are restricted to small parts of Africa or South America.

That got me thinking on creationism. A standard young earth creationist account of the history of the world would state that dinosaur fossils are found where they lay because the Flood put them there. Many YEC accounts are catastrophic in nature, arguing that the Flood recreated the surface of the Earth and left most or all of the layers of sediment we now observe. The dinosaurs (and other creatures) we find were swept up in the Flood and then laid down once the water had settled.

Pictured above and left, there is a fossil of a Suchomimus. Suchomimus was a fish-eating dinosaur which has only been found in Niger, Africa. According to standard scientific explanations, it lived in the Early Cretaceous period, about 121-112 million years ago. According to a young earth creationist account, this dinosaur died either during the Flood or migrated to the location it was found after the Flood. Either way, this was no more than a few thousand years ago. Pictured below and to the right, there is a fossil of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. It lived in the Late Cretaceous period, about 66-67 million years ago and ranged across what is now North America. Again, a young earth creationist account would have it dying during the flood or going extinct afterwards.

Tyrannosaurus-Rex-mn-sciThe Young Earth Creationist Explanation- A problem?

The young earth creationist (YEC) account is once more generally based upon the notion that the Noachian Deluge deposited these fossils where they are now found. The Flood is to explain how these fossils ended up in their present locations.

The fact that dinosaurs are found in different parts of the planet–and only in those parts–suggests an interesting problem for YECs: How is it that such a catastrophic event managed to destroy the surface of the Earth and then remake it through layers while creating the illusion of localized ecosystems at different points in history?

Such a challenge should not simply be dismissed. YEC literature sometimes suggests that the fossilized ecosystems which are proposed in different parts of the world at different (millions of years ago) times are merely products of the Flood depositing the fossils where they now lay. For example, according to YEC literature, many scientists believe that there was an ancient sea over North America merely because the Flood happened to deposit a bunch of mosasaur fossils and other marine life in a certain layer of the sediment it laid down.

The observed evidence, however, goes against this notion. Consider the Suchomimus (pictured above, left) once more. It has been found only in a localized area in what is now Africa. It is nearly certain it was a fish eater. This notion is not a mere product of accidental laying down of fish fossils near and around where Suchomimus has been found. Instead, it is based upon observational evidence. First, its large claws seem perfectly adapted to snagging large lungfish along the shore (large lungfish fossils have been found in the same area). Second, its narrow skull lined with extremely pointy teeth suggest a fishy diet, as it is once more adapted to eating them. Third, and most telling, fish fossils have been found with tooth marks from Suchomimus on their bones.

So what? How does this bring up a problem for YEC? Well, to put it simply, it demonstrates that the localized ecosystem found near and around Suchomimus is not a mere random product of fossils being jumbled together and then deposited during the Flood. Instead, predator and prey are found in a localized environment with other fossil specimens that fit neatly into the same ecosystem. But on the YEC account, how could this happen? Surely it would be an astounding happening if an entire ecosystem were swept away by the Flood, jumbled up with others along with sediment and the like, subjected to tidal waves across the surface, and then neatly deposited in a localized area, preserving that same ecosystem.

cretaceous-mapA Possible Alternative

Some YECs (such as Kurt Wise) have instead suggested that the Flood did not destroy the whole surface of the Earth but was rather providentially brought about by God along with catastrophic plate tectonics. On this scenario, water rapidly rose and covered the face of the Earth, bringing with it sediment and the like which rapidly buried such localized ecologies.

Setting aside difficulties with such a scenario related to the means by which it would have allegedly occurred, it should be clear that this explanation is at least somewhat more palatable. It doesn’t turn ecosystems into mere fictions. However, this scenario doesn’t solve everything. For example, why are there separate and distinct ecosystems, one atop the other, in the same place? Going to North America, Tyrannosaurus Rex has been found across much of what is now North America. Again, we find prey with T-Rex tooth marks in their bones and the like. We have preserved ecosystems from this time. But different places (like the inland sea I discussed here) feature what appears to be a marine environment. Moreover, different layers, like those exposed through glaciation in the upper Midwest, show entirely different (and seemingly more primitive) marine lief. This raises a number of issues, most of which are relevant for any alleged Flood scenario.

First, if the Flood was a sudden event which covered the face of the Earth and thus preserved ecosystems in place, how did it manage to kill off and bury so much marine life? It seems like it must have been gentle enough to preserve the fossil evidence, so why did the marine life not simply swim away and get scattered across other layers as it died? Second, how do we have distinct and separate ecosystems preserved in different layers, one atop the other? Again, the suggestion was that ecosystems were preserved in place–so why do some places have different ecosystems above one another? Third, why are the types of sediment laid down distinct for each ecosystem? If the sediment was all due to one event, then why does the sediment type match the ecosystems which it buries?

herrerasaurusThe Balance of Evidence

At this point, I think we must remember that we may evaluate such claims from a number of angles. First, the YEC explanations seem very ad hoc–that is, they are invented  by adjusting the Flood scenario (or some other device like distant starlight moving faster)–in order to explain away the difficulties rather than pursuing the evidence. It is reactionary rather than investigative. [I edited this line after some insight from a comment below.]

Second, realistically, which portions of the YEC explanation might be found in the Bible, if any? Having read the accounts of the Flood and Creation many times, I have to say I have never once spotted a place wherein it discusses the distribution of dinosaurs, the way the Flood laid down sediment, or any number of things put forward by YECs.

Third, when YECs and others are offering alternative scientific explanations–i.e. an explanation for “how did this [dinosaur] get here?”–they must deal with the fact that we’re looking for the most likely explanation. As I discussed in another post on dinosaurs and creationism, the proposed alternative YEC explanation is very clearly more complex and less likely than that of the one already offered–that the dinosaurs simply existed at different times and/or in different places over the course of history. We should be honest in our evaluations of evidence and look to see which explanation is more likely. Remember, we should be investigating the evidence while trying to stay free of any a priori assumptions about what must have happened and instead look at the evidence to see which explanation best fits. As I pointed out in the post linked above, proposing a global catastrophic Flood as the alternative hypothesis demands an enormous burden of proof.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

“Oceans of Kansas,” Unexpected Fossils, and Young Earth Creationism- I discuss the alleged findings out out-of-sequences fossils in the fossil record and how YEC explanations fail to show they are attributable to a global catastrophic Flood.

What options are there in the origins debate? – A Taxonomy of Christian Origins Positions- I clarify the breadth of options available for Christians who want to interact on various levels with models of origins. I think this post is extremely important because it gives readers a chance to see the various positions explained briefly.

The photographs in this post were taken by me at the Science Museum of Minnesota with permission. Any use of these pictures should be only with express, written consent. The map is an image created by BBC and I do not claim any rights over it but use it through fair use.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Intelligent Design in Fiction – Ben Bova’s “New Earth” and Intelligent Design

bb-neBen Bova is a six time winner of the Hugo Award. His books hit best seller lists, and he is acknowledged as one of the all-time masters of science fiction. I’ve already explored several themes found in one of his latest books, New Earth. Here, we will look at how one might view the book as a fictionalization of the way to discover intelligent design in unexpected places. I should note that I am highly doubtful that Bova intended the book to be viewed through this lens, which makes the discovery of such a possible theme more surprising. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Expectations

When a team from Earth discovered the planet they dubbed “New Earth,” it defied explanation. Between a pair of stars, one of which went nova in the relatively recent past, the timing was off for such a planet to exist. The strangeness of the planet only increased when life was discovered on its surface. Finally, when intelligent life in fairly similar form to humans greet the human visitors in English, the astonishment of the explorers is complete.

But of course that’s not all that is strange about the planet. Under the surface it is actually hollow, with metal mantle that contains a gravity generator. Each of these aspects ultimately leads to the inescapable conclusion: the planet was designed for life, specifically life like that of Earth. The revelation comes from a Precursor–an ancient, sentient machine–the planet was designed to lure humans into first contact so a message of coming destruction could be delivered. The planet and the life on it were indeed designed with purpose. The eeriness of the situation is, in fact, telling.

Finding Design

In New Earth, when things show up with unexpected parameters or where they “should not be,” it is reason for further scientific exploration. Ultimately, this exploration yields the conclusion of design. I must emphasis this aspect of the book: design is not a hypothesis excluded at the outset. Instead, it is the logical outcome of putting the disparate pieces of evidence–unexpected location, age, life, types and forms of life, breathable atmosphere, hollow planet, etc.–together.

Put this in perspective: today one of the major critiques against the notion of “intelligent design” in the origins of life, its diversity, or our universe is that, essentially, one must have an a priori commitment to reject such intelligent causes as some kind of primitive magical reality in which people believe anything. However, in New Earth, epistemic openness to the possibility of design leads to real scientific discovery… of design.

I can’t help but think there is something informative here. The notion that scientific hypotheses must, by definition, exclude design not only would–if consistently practiced–remove any notion of agent causation from any situation (such as a human doing something), but could also hamper actual discovery. Methodological naturalism–the notion that science must operate in such a way as to exclude the possibility of agency–could actually be limiting the scientific enterprise. This is not to say that any unexpected observation should immediately be credited to design. Rather, my point is that if design is the most plausible of competing hypotheses, there is no reason to exclude it from the realm of possibility.

New Earth provides just such an example of how, ultimately, design was a better operating hypothesis than rival theories. When the explorers initially discussed the strange circumstances in the planet (specifically its seeming impossible location), one character remarked that [paraphrased] “It’s here! The models must be wrong!” Ultimately, this exclamation was shown to be incorrect: the models remained correct but did not account for the possibility of design.

Conclusion

One might note that Bova’s work perhaps shows the disjunct between design and naturalistic process. The juxtaposition of New Earth and its unexpected location, age, flora, and fauna against Earth’s more “typical” age and location provides readers with a reduced sense of the wonders of Earth. Moreover, in Bova’s broader canon, even Mars at one point had intelligent life upon its surface.

However, one must look to Earth and consider what we actually do observe rather than simply declaring that Earth “is here” so it must have gotten here through naturalistic means. Does Earth (or our universe) provide evidence for the hypothesis of design? That is, is design a more plausible explanation than naturalistic explanations which are offered? That’s a question which will take much exploration.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

A Solar System and Cosmos Filled with Life?- A reflection on Ben Bova’s “Farside” and “New Earth”- I explore the notion that life should be expected all over the place in a post that looks at some of Bova’s most recent works.

Our Spooky Universe: Fine-Tuning and God- Here, I present evidence that our universe indeed has been designed.

“Fitzpatrick’s War”- Religion, truth, and forgiveness in Theodore Judson’s epic steampunk tale- I take a look at the book Fitzpatrick’s War, a novel of alternative history with steampunk. What could be better? Check out some of the worldview issues brought up in the book.

I have discussed the use of science fiction in showing how religious persons act. Check out Religious Dialogue: A case study in science fiction with Bova and Weber.

Source

Ben Bova, New Earth (New York: Tor, 2013).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Sunday Quote!- The War Between Science and Religion

ia-adEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

The War Between Science and Religion

I recently finished reading Imaginative Apologetics: Theology, Philosophy, and the Catholic Tradition. I have a review of the book coming in some time, but for now I’ll say it was an uneven experience. Lots of high points; many low points. One high point was Alister McGrath’s discussion of science and religion and the alleged war between the two:

This conflict is often expressed more generally in terms of the phrase ‘science and religion’, which unhelpfully reifies both notions, attributing concrete identity to abstractions. Science and religion are not well-delimited entities, whose essence can be defined; they are shaped by the interaction of social, cultural and intellectual factors, so that both notions are shaped by factors that vary from one cultural location to another… the historical evidence suggests that it was actually [two 19th century works not by Darwin] which crystallized a growing public perception of tension and hostility between science and religion. (144, 145)

I think this quote is particularly thought-provoking due to its two pronged approach to the “science vs. religion” mentality. First, I think McGrath is certainly correct to note that the reification of the terms is unhelpful, to say the least. People often say things like “science says ___” or “religion says ___.” Such statements turn either science or religion into separately existing, distinct entities which somehow make proclamations. In other words, they remove either concept from the people putting for the concepts under the umbrella terms “science” or “religion.” I find this unhelpful, and as McGrath later notes, only use the terms out of convention.

Second, exploring the historical origins of an idea like the “war” thesis between science and religion often has astonishing results. One finds, often, that one’s assumptions are challenged and even overthrown by the evidence.

What do you think? What other concepts might we unintentionally reify through our use of terms? How might we seek to avoid doing this?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Source

Alister McGrath, “The Natural Sciences and Apologetics” in Imaginative Apologetics: Theology, Philosophy, and the Catholic Tradition edited by Andrew Davison (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011).

A Solar System and Cosmos Filled With Life? – A reflection upon Ben Bova’s “Farside” and “New Earth”

bb-farside

Ben Bova’s contributions to science fiction are monumental. A six-tme Hugo Award winner (!!), he is established as one of the most successful and entertaining authors of our time. I have quite enjoyed a number of his works, though I have at times been critical of his portrayal of religion. Bova’s major series, the “Grand Tour,” follows human exploration of the solar system (and at some points, beyond). The series is constructed in such a way as to not require readers to follow it chronologically. They are interlinked and interrelated, but not interdependent. Here, we’ll look at two recent books in this series which look at the discovery of an Earth-like planet. There will, of course, be major plot SPOILERS for both books in what follows.

Farside

After telescopes on Earth discover an Earth-sized planet relatively local to our own Solar System (ten light years away), the race is on to learn more about this planet. Farside portrays the struggles of a number of people in their efforts to build an observation base on the dark side of the moon. Jason Uhlrich seeks his Nobel Prize in his attempts to be the first to observe and chart the planet.

Life has already been found within the Solar System, and now two rivals rush to be the first to discover it in the great beyond of the stars. What is interesting is to note some of the assumptions that go into Bova’s characterization of life beyond Earth. First, one primary assumption seems to be that where there is water, there must be life. Second, life should be expected in all corners of the universe.

These assumptions are the subjects of much debate within the scientific community around the possibility of life on other planets and the origin of life. Regarding the former, there are those who do believe that life will be found in abundance throughout the universe. After all, given that we exist, life cannot be all that improbable, right? The other primary way of thinking is to argue that life is, in fact, quite rare in the universe and our own existence is a wonderfully improbable jackpot win.

bb-neNew Earth

New Earth picks up some time after the events of Farside. Humanity has sent an expedition to “New Earth.” Upon arrival, there is a great mystery: “New Earth” is eerily like Earth itself. It turns out that a machine known as a “predecessor” has created the planet and grown these human-like aliens as a way to break it to humanity that there is, in fact, more intelligent life “out there.” Moreover, there is a catastrophic event coming towards the whole arm of the Milky Way which will wipe out these intelligent species, and humanity needs to help preserve themselves and the other species.

Though skeptical, ultimately all the members of the expedition are convinced, and the book ends with the message reaching Earth and the gearing up to proceed on this mission given by the Predecessor.

Reflection

There are, of course, any number of things that one could nitpick regarding the plausibility of the scenarios Bova envisions (one would be the rewiring of Uhlrich’s brain to “see” via hearing and touch… how does that work?), but here we’ll focus on two aspects of the work: the plausibility of life outside Earth and the mythos of the benevolent alien.

In Farside, readers who haven’t surveyed the body of Bova’s work discover that the Solar System itself teems with life: life once flourished on Mars, and its vestiges remain; on Jupiter, creatures soar in the skies; life is found elsewhere throughout the System. Bova’s vision of the origin of life seems to be that if there’s water, there may be life. Yet one has to wonder about the plausibility of life forming on a planet like Jupiter. How might biochemical interactions with delicate balances of material be maintained for long? What of the distance to the sun? The origin of life requires all kinds of factors to be “just right” and it simply is not enough to fudge the numbers by saying “It could have happened this way.” To develop a hypothesis around ad hoc assumptions is faulty.

Intelligent life, as explicated in New Earth, is even more problematic. It is easier to have single celled organisms than to have the complexity needed for intelligence. Even granting a naturalistic scenario, the conditions must be even more tuned for life and allow for the nurturing of that life for extremely long periods of time. The universe is indeed huge beyond belief but one has to wonder if even that immensity is enough to repeat the conditions which occur on Earth.

Of course, in the end, one must acknowledge that these are tales of science fiction, not proposals about how science fact might be. There is a certain sense of awe and wonder involved in considering whether life could exist all over the Solar System. It seems to me, however, that if that is the case, it probably got there by means of Earth–blown off the surface of our planet by an asteroid and traveled through space to Mars and possibly beyond.

Another major theme found in both books is what I dubbed the “Myth of the Benevolent Alien.” There is a kind of pervasive battle in science fiction between the notions that aliens want us dead or that aliens are going to be ultimately some kind of saviors of humankind. New Earth brings this benevolence front and center: some unknown life form created these “Predecessors” to find and aid intelligent life. It’s a scenario filled with wonder and hope. But it’s also a scenario which I’ve found time and again in materialistic literature.

The way this story goes: wherever possible, life is certain. It’s a kind of appeal to a fantasy of a godless universe wherein it may be possible to find hope and meaning in the stars. As one character (I believe it is Grant) said in Farside: Ad astra! (To the stars!). Second, the actual inherent implausibility of life both leads to this longing (we don’t want to be alone) and to a search for meaning (how did we get here?). My own answer is that theism provides a more plausible explanation of both the longing for meaning, meaning itself, and the way in which life arose. Interestingly, however, the atheistic accusation that theists are engaged in wishful thinking is perhaps mirrored through various declarations made by naturalists themselves (see the post linked above and in the links below).

Bova’s novels thus serve as a way forward in this discussion. By illustrating our longing and loneliness through the fulfillment of our desires (the discovery of life and the notion that we are not alone), Bova grants readers their wishes. However, we ultimately come to realize that these are indeed just wishes. Perhaps, one day, a “New Earth” will be discovered. But even if that happens, it will not be enough to satisfy our loneliness, nor will it answer our ultimate questions. Theism is the ultimate antidote to loneliness, the ultimate answer for our questions.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Materialists: Where is hope? Look to the stars!- I analyze one aspect of materialism: the way that some look to hope in the “beyond” of the outer limits of the universe. Hope, for materialists, may come from the stars. Our salvation may lay beyond our solar system, in benevolent aliens who will bring great change and advances to us.

Our Spooky Universe: Fine-Tuning and God- The incredible circumstances which allow for life to exist and thrive on Earth are the cause for not merely fictional speculation, but actual reflection upon our place in the universe and how it might relate to the transcendent. Check out this post which surveys the evidence for the existence of God found in “fine-tuning.”

Sources

Ben Bova, Farside (New York: Tor, 2013).

Ben Bova, New Earth (New York: Tor, 2013).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Sunday Quote!- The Desperate Lights of Genesis?

readinggenesis1-2-CharlesEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

The Source of Light: A Desperate Bid?

One of the heated questions about the age of the Earth of course concerns the meaning and length of the days of creation. Of the questions related to that, one which persists is where from and why, on a literal reading, is there light before the bodies which produce light (stars, sun, etc.) are apparently created (though this is also debated) on day four? In Reading Genesis 1-2: An Evangelical Conversation, Tremper Longman III offers the following comment on one path that some creationists take to explain the light prior to the sun:

The counterargument [to the fact that the solar bodies were not created until day 4] that God could provide an alternative light source is an act of desperation. Of course, God could provide light and darkness in some other fashion in a twenty-four-hour period, but that would still not constitute a literal evening and morning that is defined by the setting and rising of the sun and the movement of the other celestial bodies. (105, cited below)

Although I’m not sure I would qualify this move as “desperate,” I do still wonder how, exactly, one is to define the days of creation and a “literal” evening and morning without the actual solar bodies. I mean, realistically, what does it mean to say there is “evening” without such a reference point? Interestingly, some concordist positions (concordist meaning views which seek to explain the Bible in light of science or vice versa–and would encompass both young and old earth creationists of various types [see my taxonomy of positions]) actually take this to show that the days are not indeed 24 hour periods.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Do you see this move as desperate or do you think its perfectly reasonable? Somewhere in between? Why?

Source

Tremper Longman III, “What Genesis 1-2 Teaches (and What It Doesn’t)” in Reading Genesis 1-2: An Evangelical Conversation edited J. Daryl Charles (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2013).

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