Connections 2004, Vol. 6, No. 3
- Petroleum: God's Well-Timed Gift to Mankind
- Equipped for High-Tech Society
- Can Christians Trust "Secular" Science?
- Faith, Reason, and Personal Persuasion
Petroleum: God's Well-Timed Gift to Mankind
Hugh Ross, Ph.D.
I am old enough to remember the days when gasoline sold for $.26 a gallon. But, even at today's high prices, gasoline is a bargain compared to what it could cost if it were not so easily and abundantly accessible. Recent research by geologists and physicists reveals that humans are living at the best possible time in Earth's history for harvesting petroleum-a resource that helped launch and sustain advanced civilization. Without a series of just-right geophysical events and conditions, there would be no complaining about pump prices, because there would be little or no fossil fuel to complain about.
To appreciate this miracle of fuel's availability to humanity one needs to understand how petroleum forms and is stored in the earth. First, sedimentation and plate tectonics bury organic material. This buried organic matter is transformed by heat, pressure, and time into kerogen (high-molecular-weight tars). With yet more time and heat a significant portion of the kerogen is converted into petroleum.1 Through still more time, however, microbial activity works to degrade petroleum into methane (natural gas).2
Certain kinds of organisms are much more likely upon death and burial to be transformed into kerogen than others. The most efficient kerogen producers were the swarms of small-body-size animals that inhabited large shallow seas soon after the Cambrian explosion (so named because 50-80% of animal phyla "exploded" onto the scene 543 million years ago). If the Creator's goal is to provide humanity with the richest possible reserves of fossil hydrocarbons, a fixed period of time must transpire between the epoch when efficient kerogen producers were dominant on Earth (about 500 mya) and the appearance of human beings (some tens of thousands of years ago). With too little time, not enough petroleum will be produced. With too much time, too much of the petroleum will be degraded into methane.
There is more to the production of fossil hydrocarbon reserves than just the burial of particular organisms and their progressive conversion into kerogens and petroleum. Certain sedimentation processes are needed to lay down the porous rocks that will become reservoirs. Later, these rocks must be overlaid with fine-grained rock with low permeability (sealer rocks). Finally, certain tectonic forces cause appropriate caps under which fossil hydrocarbons can collect.3
Long years of specific sedimentary and tectonic processes are required to produce appropriate reservoir structures for collecting and storing fossil hydrocarbons. And yet too much time will lead to the destruction of the reservoirs. Additional tectonic and erosion processes eventually cause the reservoirs to leak. If too much time had transpired before humans came on the scene the fossil hydrocarbon reservoirs would have emptied, and the resources with which human beings were able to launch an industrial and scientific revolution would have been missing or insufficient.
Both methane and kerogen play significant roles in sustaining modern civilization and technology, but their importance pales in comparison to petroleum, particularly in the plastics industries. While human technology is now sufficiently advanced to consider and develop ways to get by without petroleum, it seems doubtful that such technology would have arisen without access to large amounts of petroleum to begin with.
Human beings indeed arrived at the optimal "fossil-hydrocarbon moment." Such optimized timing raises reasonable doubt about any naturalistic model for life and humanity, but aligns perfectly with what a biblical creation model would predict.
- J. S. Seewald, "Organic-Inorganic Interactions in Petroleum-Producing Sedimentary Basins," Nature 426 (2003): 327-33.
- I. M. Head, D. M. Jones, and S. R. Larter, "Biological Activity in the Deep Subsurface and the Origin of Heavy Oil," Nature 426 (2003): 344-52.
- N. White, M. Thompson, and T. Barwise, "Understanding the Thermal Evolution of Deep-Water Continental Margins," Nature 426 (2003): 334-43.
Equipped for High-Tech Society
Hugh Ross, Ph.D.
Human beings seem vastly "over-endowed" for hunter-gatherer or agrarian existence. For tens of thousands of years humanity carried intellectual capacities that offered no discernable advantage. From a Darwinian perspective, such capacities would be unlikely to arise and, even if they had randomly emerged, they would likely have been eliminated or minimized by natural selection. From a creation perspective, however, these special capacities make sense. They serve the highly specialized needs of a technological society, benefiting the life quality and longevity of all humanity.
The dexterity of the human hand certainly gave the human race an early survival advantage. Humans could craft more elegant tools and weapons than other bipedal primate species. However, the ability to type faster than a hundred words per minute seems to have offered no particular survival advantage until the twentieth century. Likewise, the remarkable ability to play a Liszt piano concerto had no utility until the invention of the piano.
The intelligence quotient of the human brain gave the human species a huge survival advantage in that they could invent new implements for hunting, farming, cooking, building, and even governing. But, again, not until the twentieth century was any use found for the phenomenal capacity of the human brain to perform such higher mathematical functions as nonlinear tensor calculus, relativistic quantum theory, and higher dimensional geometry. These abilities come at a cost: thirty-five percent of the entire blood flow in the human body services the brain. Moreover, to make room for the brain lobes that support mathematics, logic, analysis, communication, and meditation, the lobes that support some of our senses (smell and sound in particular) and of our muscles were reduced. Thus, the human brain comes equipped for higher mathematics, analysis, and meditation beyond the demands of mere survival.
Many biologists have pointed out that when humans are compared to other mammals, they are dramatically oversexed. The human sex drive is unusually strong and is virtually continuous. Whereas the females of other mammal species are sexually receptive for only a few days out of the year, human females are ready to mate throughout the year. This tremendous capacity for sex explains how the human race was able to multiply to six billion individuals in a relatively short time period. This rapid reproduction of humanity was God's specific goal and is explicitly laid out in Genesis 1 and 9.
Extraordinary capacity and drive for sex is particularly critical in a high-tech society. Both affluence and technology work against human reproduction by providing humans with powerful diversions.1 If it were not for exceptional sexual capacity, the human species could not survive a high-tech environment.
These three anticipatory endowments-among others-equip humanity for peak performance in a high technology environment. Humans, unlike any other species of life, appear to have been equipped in advance for a life far different from the one they experienced when they first appeared. Such equipping of humanity, while puzzling from a Darwinian view, points to a Creator with foresight and a special plan for the creatures who bear His image.
Nations with per capita income exceeding $20,000 all have birth rates less than the replacement rate. Interestingly, the availability of superior birth control methods does not play the most significant role in lowering the birth rate. That distinction belongs to the availability of electric lights and the degree of urbanization. Also, the age at which men and women have their first child rises in direct proportion to the level of technology that they enjoy.
Can Christians Trust "Secular" Science?
How much trust can Christians-or anybody else-put in the findings of non-Christian scientists? Some believers say none, particularly on matters of origins.1 At first glance, such skepticism may seem warranted. After all, God's word says the unregenerate "suppress the truth by their wickedness" (Rom. 1:18; see also Eph. 4:17-19). Ephesians 2:1-3 comments that Satan manipulates the minds of unbelievers.
The influence of God's common grace may help answer this question. Within this historical doctrine resides a biblical warrant for engaging-and celebrating-the discoveries of modern science.
Evangelical theologians define common grace as an expression of God's beneficence to all humanity. It does not remove the penalty for sin, but it does endow everyone with "innumerable blessings" from God2 and helps to restrain the full expression of evil of which humans are capable. Saving grace, as a distinct category, refers to God's acceptance of Christ's death as full payment of sin's penalty on behalf of the repentant sinner.3 Saving grace gradually transforms that person inwardly, setting the individual free from sin's grip.
In the words of theologian Louis Berkhof, "[Common grace] curbs the destructive power of sin, maintains in a measure the moral order of the universe, thus making an orderly life possible, distributes in varying degrees gifts and talents among men, promotes the development of science and art, and showers untold blessings upon the children of men."4 Even though God has pronounced a death sentence upon those who refuse his saving grace (Rom. 3:23), the punishment has been temporarily stayed.5 Meanwhile, unregenerate persons are capable of recognizing the wonders and workings of the natural realm.6
Common grace, with its companion doctrine of general revelation,7 provides the foundation for Christian involvement with culture, including dialogue with modern science.8 Far from asserting that unbelievers perceive the natural world in some way that distorts reality, the Bible presents a number of examples of unbelievers who are able to classify the physical world with satisfactory accuracy. In Matthew 7:9-10 Jesus acknowledged the ability of unbelievers to distinguish between bread and stones, fish and snakes. The Old Testament records that unbelievers built major cities such as Nineveh, Sodom and Gomorrah, and Babylon, accomplishments that required some understanding and application of engineering principles. The pagan King of Tyre sent cedar logs, carpenters, and stonemasons to Israel's King David to help build his palace (2 Sam. 5:11). Again, this account assumes that nonbelievers are able to classify trees correctly and use both math and engineering. The Bible asserts that all humans, regardless of religious perspective, can access at least some truths about the natural world.
Common grace explains how the ancient Muslims were able to make great strides in mathematics, and the Greeks in astronomy. Likewise, it explains why Hindu and Christian biochemists working alongside each other in the lab make identical analyses of the inner workings of the cell. Christians can freely embrace truth about the natural world wherever and by whomever it is found. Given this magnificent gift of common grace Christians can rejoice in, rather than distrust or disregard, the findings of science research and declare, "All truth is God's truth."
- God's Two-Part Harmony, by Kenneth Samples
- A Reformed Perspective on the "Physics of Sin," Krista Bontrager
- Without a Doubt, by Kenneth Samples
- See James Jordan, Creation in Six Days (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 1999), p. 127.
- Gen. 17:20 (comp. vs. 18); 39:5; Ps. 145:9,15,16; Matt. 5:44,45; Luke 6:35, 36; Acts 14:16, 17; 1 Tim. 4:10.
- Classically, "saving grace" has been called "particular grace." I am, however, adopting the terminology used by Wayne Grudem because it seems a little more modern in what it conveys. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), p. 657.
- Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 4th ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979), p. 434, summarizing John Calvin's position on common grace.
- This analogy is borrowed from Berkhof, 442.
- Luke 6:33; Rom. 2:14, 15.
- Kenneth Samples, Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004), pp. 42-51.
- For more about this connection, see Michael Scott Horton, Where in the World is the Church? A Christian View of Culture and Your Role in It (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 2002).
Kenneth Richard Samples
Recently a newspaper reporter asked me to respond to two provocative questions: (1) "Is it necessary to leave reason and move to faith in order to embrace Christianity?" and (2) "If there are strong arguments in support of Christianity's actually being true, then why aren't more people, particularly intelligent, well-educated people, persuaded as to its truth?"
As to the first question, historic Christianity doesn't require believers or nonbelievers to choose between faith and reason, as though the two are unalterably separate spheres. Rather, Christianity is uniquely a reasonable faith (a trustworthy and reasonable belief system). The events that form the core of Christian belief-the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth-are rooted in history. Christian apologists for two thousand years have presented diverse evidences and arguments for embracing Christian truth-claims.
While specific Christian doctrines such as the triune nature of God and the union of the two natures of Christ certainly transcend human comprehension, Christian belief never violates reason itself. In fact, Christian philosophers have argued that the God of the Bible uniquely provides the metaphysical foundation for logic and rationality.1 The consensus throughout church history is that faith and reason are compatible and complementary.
The New Testament word for "faith" or "belief" (Greek: pisteuo, the verb; pistis, the noun) is rich in meaning. To have biblical faith in Jesus Christ for salvation includes: (1) a genuine (factual and historical) knowledge of the gospel events; namely, Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, (2) a personal assent to the truth and importance of those events, and (3) a confident trust in the object of that faith (the risen Lord Jesus Christ). Faith, in a biblical context, is therefore not separated from authentic human knowledge of truth and reality.
As to the second question, it is true that some highly educated people are not persuaded of the truth of historic Christianity. However, many leading intellectuals in the world from various academic and professional fields do embrace historic Christianity as a rational and viable world-and-life view.2 Early twentieth century Christian apologist and writer G. K. Chesterton makes this comment about those who reject Christianity: "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried."3 When it comes to the "ultimate issues of life," people persuasion involves more than exposure to rational arguments typically presented via the public educational system, even higher education.
Christian philosopher Ronald H. Nash argues that it is important to distinguish between arguments on one hand and personal persuasion on the other.4 People come to their beliefs about reality and truth based upon various factors, some rational and some nonrational. A good argument provides reasonable and truthful support for its claim. Just because a person is not persuaded by a given argument doesn't necessarily mean that the argument is somehow logically defective. Nonrational factors such as ignorance, bias, self-interest, fear, or pride may stand in the way of a person genuinely understanding and feeling the full force of a powerful argument and thus being persuaded by it. A person's noetic (belief-forming) faculties are seldom as neutral, detached, and coolly objective as many people-including especially "intellectuals"-would like to think. This subjective, egocentric predicament is shared by all people, regardless of educational level.
Persuasion, then, seems to be "person-relative,"5 and no single argument will likely persuade everyone-especially when it comes to the big issues. And simply because some questions are hotly contested does not mean that all positions on them are equally valid and none superior; hence, the importance of the biblical imperative to put beliefs to the test (1 Thess. 5:21; 1 John 4:1).
It would be fair to say that few people accept or reject Christianity based purely upon rational factors. After all, human beings are far from purely rational creatures. Scripture indicates that a person's coming to (or conversion to) faith in Christ is never a solely intellectual decision (Acts 13:48; 1 Cor. 12:3). God's efficient grace works in remarkable ways to draw people to Himself (John 6:44, 65).
In conversation with nonbelievers, one might ask why they reject specific Christian truth-claims. Is their unbelief based upon rational or nonrational factors? Instead of a reasonable faith, it may be that nonbelievers have, in effect, an unreasonable lack of faith.
- Kenneth Richard Samples, Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004), see chapters 1 and 2.
- See, for example, Kelly James Clark, ed. Philosophers Who Believe: The Spiritual Journeys of 11 Leading Thinkers (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1993); and Eric C. Barrett and David Fisher, Scientists Who Believe: 21 Tell Their Own Stories (Chicago: Moody, 1984).
- G. K. Chesterton, www.chesterton.org/acs/quotes.htm;accessed July 14, 2004.
- Ronald H. Nash, Faith and Reason: Searching for a Rational Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), 108-10.
- Nash, 109.