Reasons to Believe

Connections 2006, Vol. 8, No. 1



Why the Universe Is the Way It Is
by Hugh Ross, Ph.D.

In the best-selling science book of all time, author Stephen Hawking explains that no human is content until he or she has complete answers to the following questions: "What is the nature of the universe? What is our place in it and where did it and we come from? Why is it the way it is?"1

From a naturalistic perspective, the pain, death, decay, and evil that humans and all life experience serve no real purpose. They simply are the consequence of a random set of cosmic coincidences that permit life to exist.
In countless publications and lectures, naturalists assert that the Christian explanation for the origin, structure, and history of the universe--a biblical creation model--cannot be correct. For a God as powerful, caring, and knowledgeable as Christians claim would have done a much better job of creating. "Your God has other options," they complain. "He could have built a better universe, one without these things in it."

God's Purposes in Creating
The first fallacy I see in this complaint lies in its assumption that God's sole purpose in creating the universe would (or should) have been to provide a perfectly comfortable environment for life, and especially human life. A second fallacy lies in the assumption that God intended this creation to be it, the one and only permanent home for humanity, that is, paradise or utopia.

From a Christian perspective, God could have innumerable reasons for creating the universe, Earth, and life in the manner that He did. The Bible declares one reason (number 1 below) and infers at least six others:

  1. to manifest and declare the attributes of God, specifically His glory, power, righteousness, wisdom, involvement, and love;
  2. to provide a suitable habitat for a variety of physical life and for human beings in particular;
  3. to provide the physical and historical context for God the Son to take human form and accomplish the reconciliation of man to God;
  4. to provide the necessary resources for the human race to rapidly develop civilization and technology and to achieve global occupation;
  5. to provide humanity with the best possible viewing platform for discovering--even measuring--expressions of God's glory, power, wisdom, and love;
  6. to provide a theatre for the rapid (in astronomical terms), efficient conquest of evil; and
  7. to provide human beings with the preparation and training they will need to fulfill their purpose and fully enjoy their reward in the new creation.


While these themes offer some insight into God's purposes in creation--especially that Christ would accomplish redemption--a complete biblical creation model is unattainable, and no one should be surprised that a few puzzling features remain incompletely explained.

The key point, however, is that everyone should stand utterly amazed that God could create a single universe that can accomplish so much--and with such effectiveness and efficiency. The skeptics who claim they could do better would do well to ponder what it takes to design a universe that can simultaneously fulfill even a few of the purposes mentioned. I sometimes challenge them to try.

Second Creation
A critical distinctive of the biblical creation accounts compared to other creation scenarios is the promise of a new creation that will some day replace the present creation. This new creation goes beyond paradise restored. It is a radically and gloriously different creation governed by different laws and framed by different dimensions.2

According to Romans and Revelation, the universe in which we presently reside awaits deliverance from its current limitations, including the presence of sin and its consequences.3 When God's plan--through Christ--to redeem the full number of fallen humans has been accomplished, this universe will have fulfilled its purposes. At that time, God will remove this universe from existence and introduce us to a far superior creation. To put it another way, the present creation is the perfect creation for God to accomplish His redemptive plan and to conquer evil in the process. The new creation that will follow is the perfect creation in which God can lavish His love upon those humans who have accepted, by His grace, the offer of redemption from sin.

The promise of a new creation to replace the present creation implies that God has purposes for humanity beyond those listed above. Thus, while human beings are equipped to value and enjoy the present creation, in the new creation they will need new and far greater capacities for love and delight.4 In 1 Corinthians 2:9 the apostle Paul reminds us that "as it is written, no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him."

References
    1.    Stephen W. Hawking, A Brief History of Time (New York: Bantam Books, 1988), 171.
    2.    Hugh Ross, Beyond the Cosmos, 2nd ed. (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1999), 217-28.
    3.    Romans 8:18-23; Revelation 20:7-21:8, the Holy Bible, New International Version.
    4.    For further study about the new creation see Ross, Beyond the Cosmos, 217-28.

 


Mars Looking Drier All the Time
by Jeff Zweerink, Ph.D.

"Follow the water," astrobiologists say, and the search for extraterrestrial life will inevitably prove fruitful.
Water is almost universally recognized as essential for life, therefore many scientists believe life will be found wherever researchers find abundant liquid water. Motivation for such research stems from the insurmountable problems for a naturalistic origin of life on Earth.

From an astronomical perspective, Mars is an obvious place to look for liquid water. The planet is physically similar to Earth, and has signatures of water in various places and geological features similar to those on Earth that form by water. Evidence from the past year seems to support the idea of ubiquitous water on Mars.1,2 However, another growing body of evidence argues that liquid water existed on the surface of Mars only for brief periods of time.3,4
One powerful find shows that the surface temperature on Mars has been above 0oC for no more than a few million years over the last 4 billion years. Ironically, the meteorite that engendered claims of fossilized Martian life is the same meteorite that establishes the perpetual frostiness of the Martian surface (and the top few kilometers of the Martian crust). Martian meteorite ALH84001 was dated at 4 billion years old using both argon and uranium/lead radioisotopic measurements. Argon is a noble gas so its abundance is sensitive to the amount of heating the meteorite has experienced. However, the argon date for the meteorite matches the uranium/lead date, so scientists determined that its temperature was below the freezing point of water for all but a maximum of 1 million years--far too brief to expect life under naturalistic scenarios.

A second discovery reveals increasing deposits of olivine (a mineral-like silicate containing iron and magnesium) in recent and ancient geological features on Mars. Olivine weathers quickly in the presence of liquid water. Therefore, abundant olivine deposits would not be expected if long-standing bodies of water existed on the Martian surface during the last 4 billion years. (However, liquid water pockets a few kilometers deep in the crust can interact with olivine, starting nonbiological processes which explain the atmospheric methane that some scientists have used to argue for Martian bacteria.5)

It appears that the "follow the water" strategy remains frozen by scientific advance. The growing body of evidence that long-standing liquid water never existed on Mars strengthens the case that Earth is the only life-supporting body in the solar system, and likely the universe.

References

  1. David C. Catling, "Twin Studies on Mars," Nature 436 (2005): 42-43.
  2. "Researchers Detect Methane on Mars," http://www.spacedaily.com/news/mars-life-04v.html, accessed November 30, 2005.
  3. David L. Shuster and Benjamin P. Weiss, "Martian Surface Paleotemperatures from Thermochronology of Meteorites," Science 309 (2005): 594-600.
  4. P. R. Christensen et al., "Evidence for Magmatic Evolution and Diversity on Mars from Infrared Observations," Nature 436 (2005): 504-09.
  5. Christopher Oze and Mukul Sharma, "Have Olivine, Will Gas: Serpentinization and the Abiogenic Production of Methane on Mars," Geophysical Research Letters 32 (2005): L10203.

 


First Chimpanzee Fossils Cause Problems for Evolution
by Fazale (Fuz) R. Rana, Ph.D.

Where were you on September 1, 2005? Perhaps you missed the announcement of a scientific breakthrough: the influential journal Nature published the completed sequence of the chimpanzee genome.1

This remarkable achievement received abundant publicity because it paved the way for biologists to conduct detailed genetic comparisons between humans and chimpanzees.2

Unfortunately, the fanfare surrounding the chimpanzee genome overshadowed a more significant discovery. In the same issue, Nature published a report describing the first-ever chimpanzee fossils. This long-awaited scientific advance barely received notice because of the fascination with the chimpanzee genome. News of the two discoveries produced different reactions among scientists. Evolutionary biologists declared the chimpanzee genome as evidence for human evolution, but some paleoanthropologists were left wondering how humans and chimps could have evolved, based on where the chimpanzee fossils were found.

According to the evolutionary paradigm, humans and chimpanzees share a common ancestor. About 5 million years ago, this ancestral primate spawned two evolutionary lineages that led to humans and chimpanzees. Anthropologists consider the physical, geographical separation of hominids and proto-chimpanzees to be the "driving force" for the evolution of humans and chimpanzees. They postulate that the formation of the Rift Valley isolated the hominids in East Africa (a hot, dry savannah) from chimpanzees in Central and West Africa (with warm, wet jungles). The geographical isolation of hominids and chimps, presumably, sent these two lineages along different evolutionary trajectories.

Evolutionary biologists think that fossil hominids like "Lucy," Homo erectus, and Neanderthals document the emergence of humans.4 Yet, until recently paleoanthropologists had no corresponding fossils for the chimpanzee lineage.

Surprisingly, the first chimpanzee fossils were discovered not in West or Central Africa, but in East Africa, near Lake Baringo, Kenya. These fossils, consisting of three teeth, dated to 500,000 years in age--meaning that chimpanzees coexisted alongside hominids. The Rift Valley provided no geographical rift for separate evolutionary histories, and therefore foils a key prediction of the human evolutionary paradigm.

Sally McBrearty, one of the paleoanthropologists who uncovered the chimpanzee fossils, noted, "This means we need a better explanation of why and how chimps and humans went their separate evolutionary ways. The discovery that chimps were living in semi-arid conditions as well as in the jungles seems to blow apart the simplistic idea that it was the shift to the savannah that led to humans walking upright."5

If the discovery blows apart a "simplistic idea," maybe it's time for a simple (and testable) idea--the RTB creation model for human origins.

References
  1. The Chimpanzee Sequencing and Analysis Consortium, "Initial Sequence of the Chimpanzee Genome and Comparison with the Human Genome," Nature 437 (2005): 69-87.
  2. See Fazale Rana with Hugh Ross, Who Was Adam? A Creation Model Approach to the Origin of Man (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005) for a discussion of human-chimpanzee genetic comparisons from a creation perspective.
  3. Sally McBrearty and Nina G. Jablonski, "First Fossil Chimpanzee," Nature 437 (2005): 105-08.
  4. See Who Was Adam? for a treatment on how the hominid fossil record creates problems for human evolution.
  5. Michael Hopkin, "First Chimp Fossil Unearthed," news@nature.com (August 31, 2005), http://www.nature.com/news/2005/050829/pf/050829-10_pf.html, accessed November 30, 2005.



How Humans Differ from Animals
by Kenneth Richard Samples

For many people the distinction between human beings and animals has become increasingly blurred. Exposure to the secular, naturalistic worldview--especially in academia--can leave one wondering whether the differences are simply a matter of degree. In this view, mankind leaped to the top of the evolutionary heap by chance events.

However, philosophers have identified many ways in which human beings differ dramatically from animals. Unique human qualities and traits set man apart from the animals by kind, not just degree. From a Christian worldview perspective, and specifically in light of the imago Dei (see sidebar), one would expect profound differences, including the few that follow.1

Inherent Spirituality
Human beings have an inherent spiritual and religious nature. The vast majority of people on Earth pursue some form of spiritual or religious truth. Most human beings have deep-seated religious beliefs and engage in intricate religious ritual. Pursuit of God or the transcendental is a defining characteristic of mankind and is evidenced in such common practices as prayer and worship--so much so that some have designated humans as homo religiosus--"religious man." By contrast, formal atheism is largely inconsistent with the overall history of human nature and practice. Even professed nonbelievers (atheists, skeptics) pursue questions concerning life's ultimate meaning and purpose and are drawn to whatever they consider to be of ultimate importance and value. Philosopher Harold H. Titus has said that even agnostics and atheists "tend to replace a personal god with an impersonal one--the state, race, some process in nature, or devotion to the search for truth or some other ideal."2

Man, of all Earth's creatures, is uniquely cognizant of his imminent death. This recognition brings him personal angst and contemplation of God and the possibility of immortality. The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates (c. 470-399 B.C.) stated, "The unexamined life is not worth living." It is left for man alone to contemplate what philosophers call "the big questions of life." Animals, on the other hand, can be very intelligent but show no sign of spirituality or concern with ultimate issues.

Sophisticated Communication
Human beings possess unique intellectual, cultural, and communicative abilities. Humans are thinkers, uniquely capable of abstract reasoning, and able to apply the foundational logical principle of noncontradiction (A cannot equal A and equal non-A). Human minds alone develop propositions, formulate arguments, draw inferences, recognize universal principles, and value logical validity, coherence, and truth. Only human beings wonder why the physical universe corresponds to abstract mathematical theorems.

What is the imago Dei?
Entire books have been written on the subject, but briefly, historical Christian theology has affirmed that mankind was made in the imago Dei (Latin for image of God) according to Genesis 1:26-27. As the crown of God's creation humanity uniquely displays the image of God by his rational capacities, moral volition, relational distinctives, spiritual qualities, and dominion over nature. Humans reflect the splendor of their Maker, yet in finite expression. As image-bearers humans possess inherent dignity and moral worth and should be treated with respect regardless of race, sex, class, or beliefs. Man's fall into sin severely tarnished this image.

Humans communicate their conceptual apprehension of truth using complex symbols (language). This language is complex and flexible (verbal or written). Language serves to network humanity and establishes human culture and societal institutions. Humans have a deep need to communicate with each other and they accomplish it through a sophisticated intellectual process. In contrast, animals also communicate (and possess many other amazing abilities) but they do not work with abstractions or ask philosophical questions.

Time and Truth Consciousness
Human beings are conscious of time, reality, and truth. They study the past, recognize the present, and anticipate the future. People live their entire lives aware of the constraints of time. Yet human beings also desire to transcend time: they think about living forever. Reflective people wonder whether their perception of reality matches with reality itself. Human beings uniquely pursue truth, leading to the founding and development of philosophy, science, mathematics, logic, the arts, and religious worldviews. What is real (metaphysics), what is true (epistemology), and what is rational (logic) are paramount questions, but again, only for man.

Although animals can have a keen intuitive sense of concrete time even surpassing that of man (e.g., some animals are more attuned to the changes of seasons), they lack any capacity for abstractions about time. Likewise, animals do seem aware of concrete reality but do not inquire into metaphysical, epistemological, and logical questions.

These differences between human beings and animals (more will be discussed in the next issue of Connections) may seem obvious, but people who do not identify with a Christian worldview continue to challenge a biblical view of creation. Much is at stake. The ongoing dispute over the status of the human fetus and the debate on embryonic stem cell research represent just two examples of great divides in worldviews. Good reasoning can help bring clarity to such significant issues.

References

  1. For more see Harold H. Titus, Marilyn S. Smith, and Richard T. Nolan, Living Issues in Philosophy, 9th ed. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1995), 28-29.
  2. Titus, Smith, and Nolan, 29.
  3. This article has been adapted from Kenneth Samples' upcoming book on worldviews, due to be published in 2007.


What If There Were No Hurricanes?
by David H. Rogstad, Ph.D.

Those who have suffered through the recent North Atlantic hurricane season would probably prefer nothing more than an afternoon shower ever again.

High death tolls, staggering property losses, and frightening devastation earn these tropical cyclones their reputation as "acts of God." People everywhere wonder, "If God is so great and has designed the world, why would hurricanes be a part of His good creation?"

This question deserves a compassionate, thorough answer,1 but this short article briefly addresses one aspect of such a complicated issue. What would life be like if Earth did not undergo hurricanes?

Scientific evidence suggests that Earth's rotation speed probably has the greatest effect on the number and intensity of storms the planet generates each year.2 If its rate were to change by as little as two hours per day, slowing from 24 to 26 hours, the number of violent storms, including thunderstorms and hurricanes, would certainly decrease. (On the other hand, a faster rotation rate would result in more numerous and far more devastating storms.) Perhaps hurricanes might disappear altogether; so humans would live in a much more benign environment-or would they? There is evidence that a planet without hurricanes, as devastating as they are, may not represent an improvement.
Earth derives a number of benefits from massive thunderstorms (of which hurricanes are the most severe), including these five:3
  1. Sufficient rainfall to water the earth. Major parts of the world rely on heavy storms to supply water for life's basic needs.
  2. Plant fertilizer from lightning. Nitrogen "fixing" by lightning converts some of the nitrogen in the air into a form that plants can use for food. Without it, many plants could not thrive. And plants are the foundation of humanity's food chain.
  3. Pruning of forests and prairies from lightning fires. Fires help maintain the diverse life-forms needed for a stable ecology naturally, by clearing away old growth and spurring new plant growth required for food.
  4. Pruning of forests by strong winds. In addition to fires, winds uproot weaker trees and open up the forest canopy for a greater diversity of plants and animals.
  5. Drought-breaking rainfall. Severe storms such as hurricanes (called monsoons, typhoons, or cyclones in other parts of the world) provide immediate, ample water supplies to end years of drought.
Earth's rotation speed is fast enough to provide the just-right quantity and magnitude of thunderstorms to sustain a rich diversity of life. But with that provision come occasional hurricanes in certain areas, storms with locally tragic effects. Rather than charging God with poor design or asserting that He does not exist or care, perhaps the best response would be to research and supply the ways and means to better protect people living in hurricane-prone regions. (Check out the newspaper article written by RTB apologist Mark Ritter for some additional thoughts.4)

References
  1. See Ronald H. Nash, Faith & Reason (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1988), 177-221; Kenneth Richard Samples, Without a Doubt (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004), 239-53; Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 3rd ed. (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2001), 175-99; and Krista Kay Bontrager, "Good God, Cruel World?" http://www.reasons.org/resources/skeptics/goodgod.shtml, accessed 10/27/05.
  2. A. Navarra and G. Boccaletti, "Numerical general circulation experiments of sensitivity to Earth rotation rate," Climate Dynamics 19 (2002): 467-83.
  3. Chuck Doswell, "Is there a good side to severe storms?" http://webserv.chatsystems.com/~doswell/goodwx.html, accessed 10/27/05.
  4. Mark Ritter, "Maybe there's some good in those 'canes," North County Times, October 2005, accessed 11/15/05.