Facts for Faith, Issue 3
- A Beginner’s—and Expert’s—Guide to the Big Bang: Sifting Facts from Fictions
- Big Bang - The Bible Taught It First!
- Biochemistry and the Bible: Collaborators in Design An Interview with Dr. Fuz Rana
- An Inquisitive Mind: An Interview with Marj Harman
- Jesus and the Gospels
- New Insight into the Ecology of the Cambrian Fauna: Evidence for Creation Mounts
- The Unreliability of Hominid Phylogenetic Analysis Challenges The Human Evolutionary Paradigm
- Yet Another Use for “Junk” DNA
- Failure of Molecular Clocks: Important Implications for the Christian Faith
- The Explosive Appearance of Skeletal Designs
- New Y Chromosome Studies Continue to Support a Recent Origin and Spread of Humanity
- Thinking About the Trinity: One What and Three Whos
by Hugh Ross
Big bang cosmology is an explosive topic. Heated reactions—and bitter resistance—have arisen from opposite directions in the last century but, ironically, for the same type of reasons: religious reasons. One group of big bang opponents includes those who understand the theory’s implications, and the other, those who misunderstand them.
People in the first group understand that the big bang denies the notion of an uncreated or self-existent universe. The big bang theory, based on the accumulated data of centuries, points to a supernatural beginning and a purposeful (hence personal), transcendent (beyond the boundaries of space, time, matter, and energy) Beginner. Those who reject the reality of God or the knowability of God would, of course, find such an idea repugnant, an affront to their philosophical worldview. Similarly, it would offend those who want to spell universe with a capital U, who have been trained to view the universe itself as ultimate reality and as the totality of all that is real. Again, their response is religious.
People in the second group hate the big bang because they mistakenly think it argues for rather than against a godless theory of origins. They associate “big bang” with blind chance. They see it as a random, chaotic, uncaused explosion when it actually represents exactly the opposite. They reject the date it gives for the beginning of the universe, thinking that to acknowledge a few billion years is to discredit the authority of their holy books, whether the Koran, the book of Mormon, or the Bible.1,2 Understandably, these people either predict the theory’s ultimate overthrow or choose to live with a contradiction at the core of their belief system.
Despite opposition from outspoken enemies, the fundamentals of the big bang model, which is actually a cluster of slightly differing models, stands secure. In fact, it stands more firmly than ever with the aid of its most potent and important allies: the facts of nature and the technological marvels that bring them to light, as well as the men and women who pursue and report those facts.3 The following pages offer a summary of the accumulated data supporting the big bang, giving special attention to eight of the most recent and significant confirmations.
A problematic term
The big bang is NOT a big “bang” as most lay people would comprehend the term. This expression conjures up images of bomb blasts or exploding dynamite. Such a “bang” would yield disorder and destruction. In truth, this “bang” represents an immensely powerful yet carefully planned and controlled release of matter, energy, space, and time within the strict confines of very carefully fine-tuned physical constants and laws which govern their behavior and interactions.4 The power and care this explosion reveals exceeds human potential for design by multiple orders of magnitude.
Why, then, would astronomers retain the term? The simplest answer is that nicknames, for better or for worse, tend to stick. In this case the term came not from proponents of the theory but rather, as one might guess, from a hostile opponent. British astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle coined the expression in the 1950s as an attempt to ridicule the big bang, the up-and-coming challenger to his “steady state” hypothesis. He objected to any theory that would place the origin, or Cause, of the universe outside the universe itself, hence, to his thinking, outside the realm of scientific inquiry.5
For whatever reasons, perhaps because of its simplicity and its catchy alliteration, the term stuck. No one found a more memorable, short-hand label for the “precisely controlled cosmic expansion from an infinitely or near infinitely compact, hot cosmic ‘seed,’ brought into existence by a Creator who lives beyond the cosmos.” The accurate but unwieldy gave way to the wieldy but misleading.
A multiplicity of models
The first attempts to describe the big bang universe, as many as a dozen, proved solid in the broad simple strokes but weak in the complex details. So, they have been replaced by more refined models. Scientists are used to this process of proposing and refining theoretical models. News reporters—even textbook writers—sometimes misunderstand, though, and inadvertently misrepresent what is happening.
Reports of the overthrow of the “standard big bang model” illustrate the point. That model, developed in the 1960s, identified matter as the one factor determining the rate at which the universe expands from its starting point. It also assumed that all matter in the universe is ordinary matter, the kind that interacts in familiar ways with gravity and radiation. Subsequent discoveries showed that the situation is much more complex. Matter is just one of the determiners of the expansion rate, and an extraordinary kind of matter (called “exotic” matter) not only exists but more strongly influences the development of the universe than does ordinary matter.
The reported demise of the “standard big bang” model was interpreted by some readers as the end of the big bang. On the contrary, the discoveries that contradicted the standard model gave rise to a more robust model, actually a set of models attempting to answer new questions. More than once, as one of these models has been replaced with a more refined variant, news articles heralded the overthrow of the big bang theory when they should have specified a big bang model.
Currently, cosmologists (those who study the origin and characteristics of the universe) are investigating at least three or four dozen newer variations on the big bang theme. Scientists expect still more to arise as technological advances make new data accessible. This proliferation of slightly variant big bang models actually speaks of the vitality and viability of the theory.
It makes sense that the first models proposed were simple and sketchy. The observations at that time, while adequate to support the fundamental principles of the big bang, were insufficient to explore and account for the details. As the evidences have become more numerous and more precise, astronomers have discovered additional details and subtleties, features previously beyond their capability to discern.
New details, of course, mean more accurate “reconstructions” of what actually occurred “in the beginning.” Each generation of newer, more detailed big bang models permits researchers to make more accurate predictions of what should be discovered with the help of new instruments and techniques.
As each wave of predictions proves true, researchers gain more certainty that they are on the right track, and they gain new material with which to construct more accurate and more intricate models. The testing of these models, in turn, gives rise to a new level of certainty and a new generation of predictions and advances. This process has been ongoing for many decades now, and its successes are documented not only in the technical journals but in newspaper headlines worldwide.
Overview of big bang evidences
Most textbooks currently in use at middle schools, high schools, and colleges describe only three or four evidences supporting big bang cosmology. The short list makes sense to a scientist, who sees no need to reiterate evidences for a roundish earth or for protons and electrons. But scientists who write textbooks may lack an appreciation for the clouds of doubt and confusion still hovering in the minds of non-scientists.
One purpose of this article is to help bridge the gap between the frontiers of science and popular awareness. This purpose, however, can be only partially realized in the scope of a magazine. Space does not permit an explanation or even an adequate description of each discovery supporting the big bang. It does permit two things, however. First, it allows a simple listing of thirty evidences (with one or two primary sources cited and a secondary source that gives an extensive list of other primary sources) demonstrating the breadth and depth of that evidence. Second, it allows for a more detailed description of the most powerful new findings that support a big bang creation event.
Summary List of Evidences for a Big Bang Creation Event
- Existence and temperature of the cosmic background radiation6
Ralph Alpher and Robert Herman calculated in 1948 that cooling from a big bang creation event would yield a faint cosmic background radiation with a current temperature of roughly 5° Kelvin (-455°F).7 In 1965 Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson detected a cosmic background radiation and determined that its temperature was about 3° Kelvin (-457°F).8
- Black body character of the cosmic background radiation9
Differences between the spectrum of the cosmic background radiation and the spectrum expected from a perfect radiator measured to be less than 0.03 percent over the entire range of observed wavelengths.10 The only possible explanation for such an extremely close fit is that the entire universe must have expanded from an infinitely or near infinitely hot and compact beginning.
- Cooling rate of the cosmic background radiation11
According to the big bang, the older and more expanded the universe becomes, the cooler its cosmic background radiation. Measurements of the cosmic background radiation at distances so great that we are looking back to when the universe was just a half, a quarter, or an eighth of its present age show temperature measures that are hotter than the present 2.726°K by exactly the amount that the big bang theory predicts.12 That is, astronomers actually witness the universe growing cooler and cooler through time.
- Temperature uniformity of the cosmic background radiation13
The temperature of the cosmic background radiation varies by no more than one part in ten thousand everywhere astronomers look from one direction in the heavens to another.14 Such high uniformity can be explained only if the background radiation arises from one extremely hot primordial creation event.
- Ratio of photons to baryons15
The ratio of photons to baryons (protons and neutrons) in the universe exceeds 100,000,000 to 1.16 This ratio means that the universe is so extremely entropic (efficient in radiating heat and light) it can only be explained as a rapid explosion from an infinitely or nearly infinitely hot, dense state.
- Temperature fluctuations in the cosmic background radiation17
For galaxies and galaxy clusters to form out of a big bang creation event, temperature fluctuations in maps of the cosmic background radiation should measure at a level of about one part in a hundred thousand. The predicted fluctuations were detected at the expected level.18
- Power spectrum of the temperature fluctuations in the cosmic background radiation19
For a big bang universe with a geometry suitable for the formation of stars and life supporting planets, the temperature fluctuations in the cosmic background radiation must peak at an angular resolution close to one degree with a few much smaller spikes at other resolutions. In other words, the power spectrum graph will look like a bell curve with a few sub-peaks to the side of the main peak. The Boomerang balloon experiment this past April confirmed this big bang prediction.20 (See section in this article on deuterium and lithium abundances for another confirmation of this discovery.)
- Cosmic expansion rate21
A big bang creation event implies a universal expansion of the universe from a beginning several billion years ago. The most careful measurements of the velocities of galaxies establish that such a cosmic expansion has been proceeding for the past 14.9 billion years,22 a cosmic age measure that is consistent with measurements made by other means.23 (Some of the other measurements are described in the paragraphs to follow.)
- Stable orbits of stars and planets24
Our universe allows stable orbits of planets about stars and of stars about the nuclei of galaxies. Such stable orbits are physically impossible unless the universe is comprised of three very large and rapidly expanding dimensions of space. (An explanation of this proof follows.)
- Existence of life and humans25
Life and humans require a stable star like our sun. However, if the universe cools down too slowly, galaxies trap radiation so effectively as to prevent any fragmentation into stars. If the universe cools too rapidly, no galaxies or stars can condense out of the cosmic gas. If the universe expands too slowly, the universe collapses before solar-type stars reach their stable burning phase. If it expands too rapidly, no galaxies or stars can condense from the general expansion.
- Abundance of helium in the universe26
(explained in the following paragraphs.)
- Abundance of deuterium (heavy hydrogen) in the universe27
(explained in the following paragraphs.)
- Abundance of lithium in the universe27
(explained in the following paragraphs.)
- Evidences for general relativity28
Recent measurements of the theory of general relativity affirm it as the most exhaustively tested and best proven principle in all of physics.29 The solution to the equations of general relativity demonstrate that the universe must be expanding from a beginning in the finite past.
- Space-time theorem of general relativity30
A mathematical theorem developed by Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose in 1970 establishes that if the universe contains mass, and if its dynamics are governed by general relativity, then time itself must be finite and must have been created when the universe was created.31 It proves there must exist a CAUSE responsible for bringing the universe into existence, a cause that exists and operates “transcendently,” outside and independent of matter, energy, and all cosmic space-time dimensions.
- Space energy density measurements32
Albert Einstein and Arthur Eddington sought to escape the big bang by altering the theory of relativity to include a cosmic space energy density term (a.k.a. the cosmological constant) and by assigning a particular value to that term. Recently, astronomers determined that indeed a cosmic space energy density term does exist.33 Its value, however, proves that Einstein’s and Eddington’s alternative models are incorrect. The measured value actually increases the evidence for the big bang, establishing that the universe will continue to expand at an ever-increasing rate.
- Ten-dimensional creation calculation34
In 1995, a team of scholars led by Andrew Strominger demonstrated that only in a universe framed in ten space-time dimensions, six of which stopped expanding when the universe was a ten millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second old, is it possible for gravity and quantum mechanics to coexist.35-37 Their demonstration also successfully confirmed both special and general relativity and solved a number of outstanding problems in both particle physics and black hole physics. This finding implies that the big bang and the laws of physics are valid all the way back to the creation event itself.
- Stellar ages38
According to the big bang theory, different types of stars form at different epochs. The colors and surface temperatures of stars tell astronomers how long the stars have been burning. These measured burning times are consistent with the big bang. They also are consistent with all other methods for measuring the time back to the cosmic creation event. (See this article for the latest measurements.)
- Galaxy ages39
According to the big bang theory, nearly all the galaxies in the universe formed early in its history, within about a four billion year window of time. Indeed, astronomers measure the galaxies to be as old as the model predicts.40
- Decrease in galaxy crowding41
The big bang predicts that galaxies spread farther and farther apart from one another as the universe expands. Hubble Space Telescope images show that the farther away in the cosmos one looks (and, thus, because of light’s finite velocity, the farther back in time) the more closely packed the galaxies are.42 In fact, looking back to when the universe was but a third of its present age, the Space Telescope images reveal galaxies so tightly packed together that they literally are ripping spiral arms away from one another.
- Photo album history of the universe43
Since the big bang predicts that nearly all the galaxies form at about the same time (see #18), and since galaxies change their appearance significantly as they age, images of portions of the universe at progressively greater and greater distances (and, because of light’s finite velocity, farther and farther back in time) can be expected to show dramatic changes in the appearance of the galaxies. Hubble Space Telescope images verify the predicted changes.44 (For more details see paragraphs to follow.)
- Ratio of ordinary matter to exotic matter45
In a big bang universe, galaxies and stars can develop as suitable life-support sites only if the cosmos exhibits a certain ratio of exotic matter (matter that does not interact well with radiation) to ordinary matter (matter that strongly interacts with radiation). That crucial ratio is roughly five or six to one. Recent measurements reveal such a ratio for the universe.46
- Abundance of beryllium and boron in elderly stars47
Long before the first stars form, during the first few minutes after it bursts into existence, the big bang fireball generates tiny amounts of boron and beryllium–that is if, and only if, the universe contains a significant amount of exotic matter. Astronomers have confirmed that primordial boron and beryllium exist in the amounts predicted by the big bang theory and by the measured amount of exotic matter.48
- Numbers of Population I, II, and III stars
(See paragraphs to follow.)
- Population, locations, and types of black holes and neutron stars.49
After many billions of years of star burning, a big bang universe with the right characteristics for life support produces a relatively small population of stellar mass black holes and a larger population of neutron stars. Large galaxies produce supermassive (exceeding a million solar masses) black holes in their central cores. Astronomers, in fact, observe the predicted populations, locations, and types of black holes and neutron stars.50
- Dispersion of star clusters and galaxy clusters51
The big bang predicts that as the universe expands, different types of star clusters and galaxy clusters will disperse at specific (and increasing) rates. It also predicts that the densest star clusters hold together, but the stars’ orbital velocities about the cluster’s center “evolves” toward a predictable randomized condition known as virialization. The virial times depend on the cluster mass and size and on the individual masses of the stars. Astronomers observe the dispersal rates and virial times predicted by the big bang.
- Number and type of space-time dimensions52
A big bang universe of the type so that a site suitable for the support of physical life will be possible must begin with ten rapidly expanding space-time dimensions. At about 10-43 seconds (about a ten millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second) after the creation event six of the ten dimensions must cease expanding while the other four continue to expand at a rapid rate. Several experiments and calculations confirm that we live in such a universe.
- Masses and flavors of neutrinos53
All currently viable big bang models require that the dominant form of matter in the universe be a form of exotic matter called “cold dark matter.” Astronomers and physicists already know that neutrinos are very plentiful in the universe and that they are “cold” and “dark.” Recent experiments establish that neutrinos oscillate (that is, transform) from one flavor or type to another (the three neutrino flavors are electron, muon, and tau).54 This oscillation implies that a neutrino particle must have a mass between a few billionths and a millionth of an electron mass. Such a range of masses for the neutrino satisfies the requirement for the viable big bang models.
- Populations and types of fundamental particles.55, 56
In the big bang the rapid cooling of the universe from a near infinitely high temperature and a near infinitely dense state will generate a zoo of different fundamental particles of predictable properties and predictable populations. Particle accelerator experiments which duplicate the temperature and density conditions of the early universe have verified all the types and populations of particles predicted that are within the energy limits of the particle accelerators.
- Cosmic density of protons and neutrons
(See paragraphs to follow.)
A big bang picture album
The simplest-to-grasp evidence in support of the big bang comes from pictures. With the help of various imaging devices, one can actually enjoy a kind of time-lapse photo of the big bang. The images show the universe in its various “growing up” stages, much as a time-lapse camera captures the opening of a flower, or as a photo album documents the development of a person from birth onward.
Such an album is made possible by light (or radiation) travel time. Observing a distant galaxy, for example, some 5 billion light-years distant is equivalent to seeing that galaxy 5 billion years ago, when the light now entering an earth-based telescope began its journey through space. In one sense, astronomers can only capture glimpses of the past, not of the present, as they peer out into space.
Thanks to the Keck and Hubble Space Telescopes, astronomers now have a photo history of the universe that covers nearly 14 billion years. It begins when the universe was only about half a billion years old and follows it to “middle age,” where it yet remains. The sequence of images [images not available online] presents highlights from this cosmic photo album. Photo (a) shows the universe at the equivalent of infancy, before galaxies exist; (b) depicts the “toddler” stage, when newly-formed galaxies are so tightly packed as to rip the spiral arms off one another; (c) shows the youthful universe, a time when most of the galaxies are still actively generating new stars and galaxy collisions are frequent; and (d) captures the universe’s entrance to middle age, a time when nearly all galaxies have ceased forming new stars and galaxy collisions are rare.
Figure X deserves special attention. It captures that moment in cosmic history when light first separated from darkness, before any stars or galaxies existed. It shows us the universe at just 300,000 years of age, only 0.002 percent of its current age.
These images testify that the universe is anything but static. It expanded from a tiny volume and changed according to a predictable pattern as it grew, a big bang pattern. A picture is still worth a thousand words, perhaps more.57
Helium abundance matches big bang prediction
The big bang theory says that most of the helium in the universe formed very soon after the creation event. According to the big bang, the universe was infinitely or nearly infinitely hot at the creation moment. As the cosmos expanded, it cooled, much like the combustion chamber in a piston engine.
By the time the universe was one millisecond old it had settled down into a sea of protons and neutrons. The only element in existence at that time was simple hydrogen, described by a single proton. For about 20 seconds, when the universe was a little less than four minutes old, it reached the right temperature for nuclear fusion to occur. At that point, protons and neutrons fused together to form elements heavier than simple hydrogen.
According to the theory, almost exactly one-fourth of the universe’s hydrogen, by mass, was converted into helium during that 20-second period. Except for tiny amounts of lithium, beryllium, boron, and deuterium (which is hydrogen with both a proton and a neutron in its nucleus), all other elements that exist in the universe were produced much later, along with a little extra helium, in the nuclear furnaces at the cores of stars.
One of the ways astronomers can test the big bang theory is to measure the amount of helium in objects that are so far away (and, hence, are being viewed so far back in time) that they predate significant stellar burning. A second way is to examine objects in which little stellar burning has ever occurred. That is, astronomers can find and make measurements on relatively nearby objects in which star formation shut down quickly, too quickly to contribute significantly to the total helium abundance.
In 1994 astronomers measured for the first time the abundance of helium in very distant intergalactic gas clouds.58 These measurements, recently confirmed by additional measurements,59 revealed the presence of helium in the quantity predicted by the big bang model.
In the last 1999 issue of the Astrophysical Journal, a team of American and Ukrainian astronomers published yet another proof for the hot big bang creation event.60 The six researchers used the Multiple Mirror and Keck telescopes to check the quantity of helium in two of the most heavy-element-deficient galaxies known (blue compact galaxies I Zwicky 18 and SBS 0335-052). They determined that helium comprised 0.2462 ± 0.0015 of the total mass of those galaxies. After subtracting the tiny amount of star-produced helium in the two galaxies, they derived a primordial helium abundance of 0.2452 ± 0.0015, consistent with the findings in distant, ancient objects. This value is so close to the big bang prediction that the team concluded it “strongly supports the standard big bang nucleosynthesis theory.”61
During the months since that publication was released, Canadian astronomers have refined the data of the American-Ukrainian team.62 Their correction (based on the elimination of data from hot-star-excited nebulae within the galaxies) yielded a primordial helium abundance 1.5 percent higher and 20 percent more accurate than the first set of figures. The new value is so very close to the theoretically expected value as to be indistinguishable.63
Deuterium and lithium abundances match big bang prediction
Whatever quantity of deuterium (heavy hydrogen) and lithium exists today was produced during the first four minutes of creation, the big bang theory tells us. Not all that deuterium and lithium remains, however, for stellar burning gobbles up those elements, rather than producing more. In seeking to measure the abundance of deuterium and lithium and to compare that amount with the amount predicted by the big bang model, astronomers focused again on extremely distant systems, also on nearer systems in which little stellar burning has occurred. With significant help from the Keck telescopes 64-66 and from the “Hubble Deep Field” image (a “picture” assembled from layers upon layers of Hubble Space Telescope exposures to the same part of the sky),67 five different teams produced measurements.68, 69 In their words, the deuterium and lithium abundances fit the big bang predictions “extremely well.” 70
Density of protons and neutrons
The big bang theory fails to produce the stars and planets necessary for life and the elements necessary for life unless the cosmic density of baryons (protons and neutrons) takes on a specific value. This value is about four or five percent of the mass density that would be necessary, by itself, to bring the expansion of the universe to an eventual halt, what astronomers refer to as the critical density. Therefore, an obvious test of the big bang would be to see if the baryon density is close to this 4-5 percent of the critical density.
Until recently, the determination of primordial helium, deuterium, or lithium abundances was the only reliable way to get a measure of the density of baryons in the universe. The best results came from the five teams mentioned in the section above. They determined that the cosmic baryon density is equal to 0.04 to 0.05 of the critical density.
During the last year astronomers have developed three new and independent methods for measuring the cosmic baryon density. The most spectacular and accurate of these three new methods comes from the Boomerang maps of the temperature fluctuations in the cosmic background radiation (see the last issue of Facts for Faith for details). From the North American test flight of the Boomerang high altitude balloon, the cosmic baryon density was measured at 0.05 of the critical density.71 The other two methods gave an average value of roughly 0.03.72-74 These independent confirmations of the cosmic baryon density deduced from primordial helium, deuterium, and lithium abundances give yet more evidence for a big bang creation event.
Cosmic expansion velocity matches big bang prediction
An obvious way to test the big bang is to affirm that the universe is indeed expanding from an infinitesimal volume and to measure the rate of its expansion from the beginning up to the present moment. While this task may seem simple in principle, in practice it is not. Measurements of adequate precision are enormously difficult to make. Only in the last few years have measurements as accurate (or nearly so) as the other big bang proofs become possible.
Five methods (some independent, some slightly dependent) for measuring the cosmic expansion rate have now been developed and applied (see Table 2). The average of the five yields a rate of 64 kilometers per second per megaparsec (a megaparsec = the distance light travels in 3.26 million years). Running the expansion backward at this rate implies that the universe is approximately 14.6 billion years old.
The newly discovered “energy density term” adds another half billion years, suggesting that the universe is about 15.1 billion years old.75, 76 This figure serves as a confirmation of the model because of its consistency with other age indicators, including the cosmic background radiation, the abundance of various radiometric elements,77 and the measured ages of the oldest stars (see below).
Table 1: Latest Measurements of the Cosmic Expansion Rate
Astronomers have developed and refined five measuring tools for determining the rate of expansion for the universe, or what they call the “Hubble constant.” A megaparsec = the distance light travels in 3.26 million years.
|Method||Hubble Constant Value|
|gravitational lensing||66 km/sec/megaparsec78-82|
|cepheid distances to galaxies||62 km/sec/megaparsec87-90|
|type Ia supernovae||61 km/sec/megaparsec91-94|
|geometric distance measures||71 km/sec/megaparsec95-98|
|average of measured values||64 km/sec/megaparsec|
|age calculation based on average of values||14.6 billion years|
|correction for energy density term||+0.5 billion years|
|corrected age calculation||15.1 billion years|
Star populations fit big bang scenario
Big bang theory proposes that three distinct generations of stars formed at certain intervals after the creation event. Astronomers creatively refer to these generations as Population III, Population II, and Population I stars. The numbering system seems reversed, since Population III stars are the oldest, but the latter were the last to be discovered and studied; hence, the confusing numbering system.
According to the big bang, Population III stars formed when the universe was barely a half billion years old. By that time, matter had condensed adequately for stars to begin coalescing. However, since the universe had expanded so little as yet, the average density of gases was much higher than today’s observed density. Thus, the earliest stars were mostly supergiant stars. Such stars burn up very quickly (astronomically speaking), in less than ten million years. They end with catastrophic explosions, dispersing their ashes throughout the cosmos.
Given the brief burning time and early formation of such stars, big bang theorists conclude that few, if any, Population III stars should still be observable. However, their remains should be. Population III stars leave a distinctive signature of elements in their scattered ashes. This signature is found in all the distant gas clouds of the universe.
Recently, there has emerged evidence that some of the rare low-mass Population III stars may have been found.99, 100 Their low mass means that they can burn long enough for astronomers to be able to find them today. They have been difficult to detect, though, because they absorb the ashes of the giant Pop IIIs, thus taking on a disguise. Recently, however, stellar physicists have developed tools for distinguishing Population III survivors from the younger Population II stars that form from the ashes of Population III supergiants.101, 102
The big bang theory makes three major predictions about Population II stars: 1) this group should be the largest of the star populations, given that it formed when galaxies were young and at their peak star-forming efficiency; 2) they should be more numerous in certain locations, such as globular clusters, where early star formation proceeds most efficiently, and 3) they should come in all sizes, all mass categories from low to high, not favoring one category over another. All three predictions are borne out by astronomers’ observations over the last few decades.
The third generation of stars, the Population I stars (including Earth’s sun), formed from the scattered ashes of the largest Population II stars. These ashes are easy to distinguish from Population III ashes because they are at least 50 percent richer in heavy elements (those heavier than helium). The gaseous nebulae (or gas clouds) scattered throughout the spiral arms of the Milky Way and gas streams the Milky Way galaxy steals from nearby dwarf galaxies are actually “ash heaps” of giant Population II stars.
The big bang theory says that star formation shut down for the most part shortly after the formation of Population II stars. Thus, most galaxies are devoid, or nearly devoid, of Population I stars. The big bang also says that in the few galaxies where Population I stars do form, the most intense period of star formation was the past few billion years, and the most intense regions of star formation are the densest areas, such as the nuclei and spiral arms. (Some also would have formed in what astronomers call “irregular” galaxies.) All these characteristics have proved true, confirmed by observations.
Does the big bang allow for Population IV stars to form in the future? Yes, it does. But, it predicts that this population should be tiny compared to the other three. Everywhere astronomers look in the universe, they see signs that star formation will soon shut down totally, even in those galaxies still active in forming stars. (“Soon” to an astronomer is not tomorrow or next year but a few billion years hence.) Astronomers anticipate, for example, that the Milky Way galaxy will experience a “brief” burst of star formation when it pulls the Large Magellanic Cloud (its companion galaxy) into its core region some four or five billion years from now. Already the universe is old enough to make such incidents rare.
Oldest stars tell their story
Since the big bang theory indicates when the Population II stars formed—the era when galaxies began to take shape, roughly .5 billion to 1.5 billion years after the creation event—astronomers can test the theory by determining the age of the oldest visible stars. By adding .5 to 1.5 billion years to that age, they can compare the sum with the creation dates suggested by other independent measures.
One difficulty of this seemingly simple test is that stars, like some people, sometimes hide their age well. Stars in dense clusters, however, can be more easily dated than others, and globular clusters appear to comprise the oldest of the Population II stars. Table 3 lists the most accurate dating of globular cluster stars in five different galaxies. It also includes the limit researchers recently placed on the oldest white dwarf stars in Earth’s galaxy.
Table 2: Latest Measurements of the Oldest Population II Stars
|Star Group||Measured Ages (billions of years)|
|average of all globular clusters in our galaxy||12.9 ± 1.5103|
|47 Tucanae (oldest globular cluster in our galaxy)||14.1 ± 1.0104|
|Large Magellanic Cloud globulars||same as for Milky Way105|
|globular cluster in WLM dwarf galaxy||14.8 ±0.06106|
|globular clusters in Fornax dwarf galaxy||same as for Milky Way107|
|average of all globulars in our galaxy||less than 14.0108|
|oldest white dwarfs in our galaxy||more than 12.6109|
|average of all globular clusters in M87 (a supergiant galaxy)||13.0110|
* average of all results = 13.5 billion years
The numbers indicate that globular clusters formed within a two- to three-billion-year time window, roughly consistent from galaxy to galaxy.111 If one adds to their ages the years prior to Population II star formation (1 billion ± 0.5 billion years), the derived age fits remarkably well all other methods for determining how long the universe has been expanding from the creation event.
Stability of stars and orbits fits big bang picture
Stable orbits and stable stars are possible only in a big bang universe. Their existence ranks among the most clear-cut proofs for the big bang. (Incidentally, life would be impossible unless planets orbit with stability, stars burn with stability, and stars orbit galaxy cores with stability.112, 113)
Such stability demands gravity, not just any force of gravity, but gravity operating according to the inverse square law. Gravity operating at that level demands three dimensions of space—the big bang universe.
In two dimensions of space, gravity would obey a different law (objects with mass would attract one another in proportion to the inverse of the distance separating them). In four space dimensions, gravity would obey a different law (massive bodies would attract one another in proportion to the inverse of the cube of the distance separating them).
Stability under the influence of gravity in turn demands that the three space dimensions be large (significantly unwound from their original tight curl). Otherwise galaxies would be so close together as to wreak havoc on stellar orbits, and stars would be so close together as to wreak havoc on planets’ orbits. When galaxies are too close together, galaxy collisions and close encounters catastrophically disturb stars’ orbits. Likewise, when stars are too close together, their mutual gravitational tugs catastrophically disturb the orbits of their planets.
The three dimensions of space must be expanding at a particular rate, as well. A universe that expands too slowly will produce only neutron stars and black holes. A universe that expands too rapidly will produce no stars at all and thus no planets and, of course, no stable orbits.
The simple fact is this: humans do observe that galaxies, stars, and planets exist, and that they exist with adequate stability to allow humans to exist and observe them. This fact, in itself, argues for the big bang, In fact, it argues for a specific subset of big bang models. Even this narrowing and refining of the original theory serves as evidence that the theory is correct.
Apologetics impact of big bang cosmology
Though the case for the big bang, i.e., creation event, rests on compelling, some might say overwhelming, evidence, the theory still has its critics. Some skepticism may be attributable to the communication gap between scientists and the rest of the world. Some of the evidences are so new that most people have yet to hear of them. Some of the evidences, including the older ones, are so technical that few people understand their significance. The need for better education and clearer communication remains. In fact, it motivates the publication of this article.
Communication and education gaps explain only some of the skepticism, however. Spiritual issues are also involved. The few astronomers who still oppose the big bang openly object not on scientific grounds but on personal, theological grounds.
The Fingerprint of God tells the story of astronomers’ early reaction to findings that affirmed a cosmic beginning, hence Beginner. Some openly stated their view of the big bang as “philosophically repugnant.” For decades they invented one cosmic hypothesis after another in a futile attempt to get around the glaring facts. When all their hypotheses failed the tests of observational checks, many of those astronomers conceded, perhaps reluctantly, the cosmic prize to the big bang.
Today, only a handful of astronomers still hold out against the big bang. Their resistance, however, is based not on what observations and experiments can test but rather on what observations and experiments can never test. Though their articles appear in science journals, they engage in metaphysics rather than in physics, in theology (more accurately, anti-theology) rather than science. The big bang supporting evidences clearly point beyond the “superior reasoning power” Einstein acknowledged or some ill-defined “intelligent Designer” gaining popularity today. The physical evidence points clearly and consistently to the God of the Bible.
General relativity theory, which gave rise to the big bang, stipulates that the universe had a beginning and specifically a “transcendent” beginning. The space-time theorem of general relativity states that matter, energy, and all the space-time dimensions associated with the universe began in finite time, and that the Cause of the universe brings all the matter, energy, and space-time dimensions of the universe into existence from a reality beyond matter, energy, space, and time. The extreme fine-tuning of the big bang parameters that are necessary for physical life to be possible in the universe exceeds by many orders of magnitude the design capabilities of human beings. The worldview significance of these conclusions cannot be avoided. No philosophical system or religious doctrines in the world fits them as does the Bible. It not only fits them, it anticipates them by several thousand years.
- Paul S. Taylor and Mark Van Bebber, “Fact Sheet on Hugh Norman Ross,” Progressive Creation Attack Pack (Florence, KY: Answers In Genesis, 1995): 1.
- Ken Ham, “What’s Wrong With ‘Progressive Creation?’” Progressive Creation Attack Pack (Florence, KY: Answers In Genesis, 1995): 1.
- Hugh Ross, “Flat-Out Confirmed: God Spread the Universe!” Facts for Faith, (Quarter 2 2000): 26-31.
- Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 2d ed. (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1995), 115-16.
- Fred Hoyle, “A New Model for the Expanding Universe,” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society108(1948): 372.
- Hugh Ross, The Fingerprint of God, 2d ed. (Orange, CA: Promise Publishing, 1991), 84-87.
- Ralph A. Alpher and Robert C. Herman, “Evolution of the Universe,” Nature162 (1948): 774-75.
- Arno A. Penzias and Robert W. Wilson, “A Measurement of Excess Antenna Temperature at 4080 Mc/s,” Astrophysical Journal142 (1965): 419-21.
- Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 2d ed., 22-24, 26-27.
- John C. Mather, et al., “Measurement of the Cosmic Microwave Background Spectrum by the COBE FIRAS Instrument,” Astrophysical Journal420 (1994): 439-44.
- Ross, 27-28.
- Antoinette Songaila et al., “Measurement of the Microwave Background Temperature at Redshift 1.776,” Nature 371 (1994): 43-45.
- Hugh Ross, The Fingerprint of God, 2d ed., 86-87.
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- Ross, 85-86.
- George F. Smoot, “Comments and Summary on the Cosmic Background Radiation,” Proceedings of the International Astronomical Union Symposium, no. 104. Early Evolution of the Universe and Its Present Structure, ed. G. O. Abell and G. Chincarini (Dordrecht-Holland, Boston: D. Reidel, 1983): 153-58.
- Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 2d ed., 19-26.
- S. R. D. Hancock, “Direct Observation of Structure in the Cosmic Background Radiation,” Nature367 (1994): 333-38.
- Hugh Ross, “Flat-Out Confirmed! The Flatter-Universe Discovery Affirms the Bible Three Ways,” Facts for Faith, (Quarter 2 2000): 26-31.
- P. DeBarnardis et al., “A Flat Universe from High-Resolution Maps of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation,” Nature494 (2000): 955-58.
- Hugh Ross, The Fingerprint of God, 2d ed., 79-84.
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- Lawrence M. Krauss, “The End of the Age Problem and the Case for a Cosmological Constant Revisited,” Astrophysical Journal 501 (1998): 461-66.
- Hugh Ross, Beyond the Cosmos, 2d ed. (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1999), 219.
- Hugh Ross, The Fingerprint of God, 2d ed., 124.
- Ross, 87.
- Ross, 87-88.
- Hugh Ross, Beyond the Cosmos, 2d ed., 29-33.
- P. Kaaret et al., “Strong-Field Gravity and X-Ray Observations of AU 1820-30,” Astrophysical Journal Letters520(1999): L37-L40.
- Ross, 28-29.
- Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose, “Singularities of Gravitational Collapse and Cosmology,” Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series A314 (1970): 529-48.
- Hugh Ross, “Flat-Out Confirmed!” 26-31.
- P. DeBarnardis et al., 955-58.
- Hugh Ross, Beyond the Cosmos, 2d ed., 34-45.
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- Curtis Callan, Jr. and Juan Maldacena, “D-Brane Approach to Black-Hole Quantum Mechanics,” Nuclear Physics B472(1996): 591-608.
- Hugh Ross, The Fingerprint of God, 2d ed., 90-93.
- Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 2d ed., 60.
- Donald Hamilton, “The Spectral Evolution of Galaxies. I. An Observational Approach,” Astrophysical Journal297(1985): 371-89.
- Hugh Ross, “Hubble Space Telescope Captures Infancy of Cosmos,” Facts & Faith 9, no. 2 (1995): 1-2.
- Faye Flam, “The Space Telescope Spies on Ancient Galaxy Menageries,” Science 266 (1994): 1806.
- Ross, 1-2.
- Faye Flam, 1806.
- Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 2d ed., 31-47.
- A. Melchiorri et al., “A Measurement of Ω from the North American Test Flight of Boomerang,” Astrophysical Journal Letters536 (2000): L63-L66.
- Ross, 38-40.
- Douglas K. Duncan, David L. Lambert, and Michael Lemke, “The Abundance of Boron in Three Halo Stars,” Astrophysical Journal401 (1992): 584-95.
- Hugh Ross, Beyond the Cosmos, 2d ed., 30-31.
- G. S. Bisnovatyi-Kogan, “At the Border of Eternity,” Science279 (1998): 1321.
- Hugh Ross, Creation and Time (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1994), 107-108.
- Hugh Ross, Beyond the Cosmos, 2d ed., 29-45.
- Hugh Ross, “Mass Mystery Nearly Solved,” Facts & Faith 11, no. 4 (1997): 6-7.
- Andrew Watson, “Case for Neutrino Mass Gathers Weight,” Science277 (1997): 30-31.
- Joseph Silk, The Big Bang, rev. and updated ed. (New York: W. H. Freeman, 1989), 109-67.
- James S. Trefil, The Moment of Creation: Big Bang Physics from Before the First Millisecond to the Present Universe (New York: Collier Books, 1983), 53-157.
- Hugh Ross, Journey Toward Creation video (Pasadena, CA: Reasons To Believe, 1998).
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- Yuri I. Izotov, Trinh X. Thuan, and Valentin A. Lipovetsky, “The Primordial Helium Abundance from a New Sample of Metal-Deficient Blue Compact Galaxies,” Astrophysical Journal435 (1994): 647-67.
- Yuri I. Izotov et al., “Helium Abundance in the Most Metal-Deficient Blue Compact Galaxies: I Zw 18 and SBS 0335-052,” Astrophysical Journal527 (1999): 757-77.
- Yuri I. Izotov et al., 776.
- D. R. Ballantyne, G. J. Ferland, and P. G. Martin, “The Primordial Helium Abundance: Toward Understanding and Removing the Cosmic Scatter in the dY/dZ Relation,” Astrophysical Journal536(2000): 773-77.
- D. R. Ballantyne, G. J. Ferland, and P. G. Martin, p. 777.
- Scott Burles, David Kirkman, and David Tytler, “Deuterium Toward Quasar Q0014+813,” Astrophysical Journal519 (1999): 18-21.
- David Kirkman et al., “QSO 0130-4021: A Third QSO Showing a Low Deuterium-To-Hydrogen Abundance Ratio,” Astrophysical Journal529 (2000): 655-60.
- Sergei A. Levshakov, Wilhelm H, Kegel, and Fumio Takahara, “The D/H Ratio at z = 3.57 Toward Q1937-1009,” Astrophysical Journal Letters499 (1998): L1-L4.
- E. Casuso and J. E. Beckman, “Deuterium, Lithium, and the Hubble Deep Field,” Astronomical Journal118 (1999): 1907-11.
- Sylvie Vauclair and Corinne Charbonnel, “Element Segregation in Low-Metallicity Stars and the Primordial Lithium Abundance,” Astrophysical Journal502 (1998): pages 372-77.
- D. A. Lubowich et al., “Deuterium in the Galactic Centre as a Result of Recent Infall of Low-Metallicity Gas,” Nature405 (2000): 1025-27.
- E. Casuso and J. E. Beckman, 1907.
- A. Melchiorri et al., “A Measurement of Ω from the North American Test Flight of Boomerang,” Astrophysical Journal Letters536 (2000): L63-L66.
- Aaron D. Lewis et al., “X-Ray Mass Estimates at z ~ 0.3 for the Canadian Network for Observational Cosmology Cluster Sample,” Astrophysical Journal517 (1999): 587-608.
- Bo Qin and Xiang-Ping Wu, “Baryon Distribution in Galaxy Clusters as a Result of Sedimentation of Helium Nuclei,” Astrophysical Journal Letters 529 (2000): L1-L4.
- M. Fukugita, C. J. Hogan, and P. J. E. Peebles, “The Cosmic Baryon Budget,” Astrophysical Journal503 (1998): 518-30.
- Hugh Ross, “Flat-Out Confirmed!” 28-29.
- P. DeBarnardis et al., 955-58.
- Hugh Ross, The Fingerprint of God, 2d ed., 89-90.
- D. B. Haarsma et al., “The Radio Wavelength Time Delay of Gravitational Lens 0957+561,” Astrophysical Journal510 (1999): 64-70.
- Kyu-Hyun Chae, “New Modeling of the Lensing Galaxy land Cluster of Q0957+561: Implications for the Global Value of the Hubble Constant,” Astrophysical Journal524 (1999): 582-90.
- C. D. Fassnacht et al., “A Determination of Ho with the Class Gravitational Lens B1608+656. I Time Delay Measurements with the VLA,” Astrophysical Journal527 (1999): 498-512.
- L. V. E. Koopmans and C. D. Fassnacht, “A Determination of Ho with the Class Gravitational Lens B1608+656. II. Mass Models and the Hubble Constant from Lensing,” Astrophysical Journal527 (1999): 513-24.
- Liliya L. R. Williams and Prasenjit Saha, “Pixelated Lenses and Ho from Time-Delay Quasars,” Astronomical Journal119(2000): 439-50.
- Masaru Watanabe, Takashi Ichikawa, and Sadanori Okamura, “An Unbiased Estimate of the Global Hubble Constant in the Region of Pisces-Perseus,” Astrophysical Journal 503 (1998): 503-53.
- Shoko Sakai et al., “The Hubble Space Telescope Key Project on the Extragalactic Distance Scale. XXIV. The Calibration of Tully-Fisher Relations and the Value of the Hubble Constant,” Astrophysical Journal529 (2000): 698-722.
- G. Theureau, Astronomy and Astrophysics331 (1998): 1.
- Gustav A. Tammann, International Astronomical Union Symposium No. 183, Cosmological Parameters and the Evolution of the Universe, ed. K. Sato (Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer, 1999), 31.
- Allan Sandage, “Bias Properties of Extragalactic Distance Indicators. VIII. Ho from Distance-Limited Luminosity Class and Morphological Type-Specific Luminosity Functions for Sb, Sbc, and Sc Galaxies Calibrated Using Cepheids,” Astrophysical Journal527(1999): 479-87.
- Jeremy R. Mould et al., “The Hubble Space Telescope Key Project on the Extragalactic Distance Scale. XXVIII. Combining the Constraints on the Hubble Constant,” Astrophysical Journal529 (2000): 786-94.
- Brad K. Gibson, Philip R. Maloney, and Shoko Sakai, “Has Blending Compromised Cepheid-Based Determinations of the Extragalactic Distance Scale?” Astrophysical Journal Letters530 (2000): L5-L8.
- Allan Sandage, R. A. Bell, and Michael J. Tripicco, “On the Sensitivity of the Cepheid Period-Luminosity Relation to Variations in Metallicity,” Astrophysical Journal522 (1999): 250-75.
- S. Perlmutter et al., “Measurements of Ω and L from 42 High-Redshift Supernovae,” Astrophysical Journal517 (1999): 565-86.
- Robert Tripp and David Branch, “Determination of the Hubble Constant Using a Two-Parameter Luminosity Correction for Type Ia Supernovae,” Astrophysical Journal525 (1999): 209-14.
- A. Saha et al., “Cepheid Calibration of the Peak Brightness of Type Ia Supernovae. IX. SN 1989B in NGC 3627,” Astrophysical Journal522 (1999): 802-38.
- Saurabh Jha et al., “The Type Ia Supernova 1998bu in M96 and the Hubble Constant,” Astrophysical Journal Supplement125 (1999): 73-.
- D. C. Homan and J. F. C. Wardle, “Direct Distance Measurements to Superluminal Radio Sources,” Astrophysical Journal535 (2000): 575-85.
- James Glanz, “The First Step to Heaven,” Science285 (1999): 1658-61.
- J. R. Hernstein et al., “A Geometric Distance to the Galaxy NGC 4258 from Orbital Motions in a Nuclear Gas Disk,” Nature400 (1999): 539-41.
- E. F. Guinan et al., “The Distance to the Large Magellanic Cloud from the Eclipsing Binary HV2274,” Astrophysical Journal Letters509 (1998): L21-L24.
- Masayuki Y. Fujimoto, Yasufumi Ikeda, and Icko Iben, Jr., “The Origin of Extremely Metal-Poor Carbon Stars and the Search for Population III,” Astrophysical Journal Letters529 (2000): L25.
- A. Weiss et al., “Evolution of Low-Mass Metal-Free Stars Including Effects of Diffusion and External Pollution,” Astrophysical Journal533 (2000): 413.
- Masayuki Y. Fujimoto, Yasufumi Ikeda, and Icko Iben, Jr., L25-L28.
- A. Weiss et al., 413-23.
- Eugenio Carretta et al., “Distances, Ages, and Epoch of Formation of Globular Clusters,” Astrophysical Journal533 (2000): 215-35.
- Brad K. Gibson et al., “The Spectroscopic Age of 47 Tucanae,” Astronomical Journal118 (1999): 1268-72.
- Jennifer A. Johnson et al., “Hubble Space Telescope Observations of the Oldest Star Clusters in the Large Magellanic Cloud,” Astrophysical Journal527 (1999): 199-218.
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- David S. Graff, Gregory Laughlin, and Katherine Freese, “MACHOs, White Dwarfs, and the Age of the Universe,” Astrophysical Journal499 (1998): 7-19.
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- B. P. Holden et al., “The Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope Optical PDCS Survey. II. Evolution in the Space Density of Clusters of Galaxies,” Astronomical Journal120 (2000): 23-40.
- Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 2d ed., 135-36, 138-45.
- Hugh Ross and Guillermo Gonzalez, “You Must Be Here,” Facts for Faith, (Quarter 1 2000): 36-41.
By Hugh Ross and John Rea
Most science textbooks that address cosmology credit Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson with the discovery that the universe arose from a hot big bang creation event. While it is true that they were the first (1965) to detect the radiation left over from the creation event,1 they were not the first scientists to recognize that the universe expanded from an extremely hot and compact state. In 1946 George Gamow calculated that nothing less than the universe expanding from a near infinitely hot condition could account for the present abundance of elements.2 In 1929 observations made by Edwin Hubble established that the velocities of galaxies result from a general expansion of the universe.3 Beginning in 1925 Abbé Georges Lemaître, who was both an astrophysicist and a Jesuit priest, was the first scientist to promote a big bang creation event.4
The first direct scientific evidence for a big bang universe dates back to 1916. That is when Albert Einstein noted that his field equations of general relativity predicted an expanding universe.5 Unwilling to accept the cosmic beginning implied by such expansion, Einstein altered his theory to conform with the common wisdom of his day, namely an eternally existing universe.6
All these scientists, however, were upstaged by 2500 years and more by Job, Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and other Bible authors. The Bible’s prophets and apostles stated explicitly and repeatedly the two most fundamental properties of the big bang, a transcendent cosmic beginning a finite time period ago and a universe undergoing a general, continual expansion. In Isaiah 42:5 both properties were declared, “This is what the Lord says—He who created the heavens and stretched them out.”
The Hebrew verb translated “created” in Isaiah 42:5 is bara’ which has as its primary definition “bringing into existence something new, something that did not exist before.”7 The proclamation that God created (bara’) the entirety of the heavens is stated seven times in the Old Testament. (Genesis 1:1; 2:3; 2:4; Psalm 148:5; Isaiah 40:26; 42:5; 45:18). This principle of transcendent creation is made more explicit by passages like Hebrews 11:3 which states that the universe that we humans can measure and detect was made out of that which we cannot measure or detect. Also, Isaiah 45:5-22; John 1:3; and Colossians 1:15-17 stipulate that God alone is the agent for the universe’s existence. Biblical claims that God predated the universe and was actively involved in causing certain effects before the existence of the universe is not only found in Colossians 1 but also in Proverbs 8:22-31; John 17:24; Ephesians 1:4; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2; and 1 Peter 1:20.
The characteristic of the universe stated more frequently than any other in the Bible is its being “stretched out.” Five different Bible authors pen such a statement in eleven different verses: Job 9:8; Psalm 104:2; Isaiah 40:22; 42:5; 44:24; 45:12; 48:13; 51:13; Jeremiah 10:12; 51:15; and Zechariah 12:1. Job 37:18 appears to be a twelfth verse. However, the word used for “heavens” or “skies” is shehaqîm which refers to the clouds of fine particles (of water or dust) that are located in Earth’s atmosphere,8 not the shamayim, the heavens of the astronomical universe.9 Three of the eleven verses, Job 9:8; Isaiah 44:24; and 45:12 make the point that God alone was responsible for the cosmic stretching.
What is particularly interesting about the eleven verses is that different Hebrew verb forms are used to describe the cosmic stretching. Seven verses, Job 9:8; Psalm 104:2; Isaiah 40:22; 42:5; 44:24; 51:13; and Zechariah 12:1 employ the Qal active participle form of the verb natah. This form literally means “the stretcher out of them” (the heavens) and implies continual or ongoing stretching. Four verses, Isaiah 45:12; 48:13; and Jeremiah 10:12; 51:15 use the Qal perfect form. This form literally means that the stretching of the heavens was completed or finished some time ago.
That the Bible really does claim that the stretching out of the heavens is both “finished” and “ongoing” is made all the more evident in Isaiah 40:22. There we find two different verbs used in two different forms. In the first of the final two parallel poetic lines, “stretches out” is the verb natah in the Qal active participle form. In the second (final) line the verb “spreads them out” (NASB, NIV, NKJV) is mathah (used only this one time in the Old Testament) in the waw consecutive plus Qal imperfect form, so that literally we might translate it “and he has spread them out . . .” The participles in lines one and three of Isaiah 40:22 characterize our sovereign God by His actions in all times, sitting enthroned above the earth and stretching out the heavens, constantly exercising his creative power in His ongoing providential work. This characterization is continued with reference to the past by means of waw consecutive with the imperfect, the conversive form indicating God’s completed act of spreading out the heavens. That is, this one verse literally states that God is both continuing to stretch out the heavens and has stretched them out.
This simultaneously finished and ongoing aspect of cosmic stretching is identical to the big bang concept of cosmic expansion. According to the big bang, at the creation event all the physics (specifically, the laws, constants, and equations of physics) are instantly created, designed, and finished so as to guarantee an ongoing, continual expansion of the universe at exactly the right rates with respect to time so that physical life will be possible.
This biblical claim for simultaneously finished and ongoing acts of creation, incidentally, is not limited to just the universe’s expansion. The same claim, for example, is made for God’s laying Earth’s foundations (Isaiah 51:3; Zechariah 12:1). This is consistent with the geophysical discovery that certain long-lived radiometric elements were placed into the earth’s crust a little more than four billion years ago in just the right quantities so as to guarantee the continual building of continents.
Finally, the Bible indirectly argues for a big bang universe by stating that the laws of thermodynamics, gravity, and electromagnetism have universally operated throughout the universe since the cosmic creation event itself. In Romans 8 we are told that the entire creation has been subjected to the law of decay (the second law of thermodynamics). This law in the context of an expanding universe establishes that the cosmos was much hotter in the past. In Genesis 1 and in many places throughout Job, Psalms, and Proverbs we are informed that stars have existed since the early times of creation. As explained in two Reasons To Believe books,10 even the slightest changes in either the laws of gravity or electromagnetism would make stars impossible. As already noted in the accompanying article, gravity, electromagnetism, and thermodynamics yield stable orbits of planets around stars and of electrons around the nuclei of atoms only if they operate in a universe described by three very large rapidly expanding dimensions of space.
- Arno A. Penzias and Robert W. Wilson, “A Measurement of Excess Antenna Temperature at 4080 Mc/s,” Astrophysical Journal142 (1965): 419-21.
- George Gamow, “Expanding Universe and the Origin of the Elements,” Physical Review70 (1946): 572-73.
- Edwin Hubble, “A Relation Between Distance and Radial Velocity Among Extra-Galactic Nebulae,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 15 (1929): 168-73.
- Georges Lemaître, “A Homogeneous Universe of Constant Mass and Increasing Radius Accounting for the Radial Velocity of Extra-Galactic Nebulae,” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society91 (1931): 483-90. The original paper appears in French in Annales de la Societé Scientifique de Bruxelles, Tome XLVII, Serie A, Premiere Partie(April, 1927): 49.
- Albert Einstein, “Die Grundlage der allgemeinen Relativitätstheorie,” Annalen der Physik49 (1916): 769-822. The English translation is in The Principle of Relativity by H. A. Lorentz, A. Einstein, H. Minkowski, and H. Weyl with notes by A. Sommerfeld and translated by W. Perrett and G. B. Jeffrey (London: Methuen and Co., 1923), 109-64.
- Albert Einstein, “Kosmologische Betrachtungen zur allgemeinen Relativitätstheorie,” Sitzungsberichte der Königlich Preussichen Akademie der Wissenschaften(1917), Feb. 8, 142-52. The English translation is in The Principle of Relativity, 175-88.
- R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament1 (Chicago: Moody, 1980), 127.
- Harris, Archer, and Waltke, vol. 2, 916.
- Harris, Archer, and Waltke, 935.
- Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 2d ed. (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1995), 115-16; Hugh Ross, The Fingerprint of God, 2d ed. (Orange, CA: Promise Publishing, 1991), 84-87.
By Joe Aguirre
Fazale (Fuz) Rana is vice president for science apologetics at Reasons To Believe, a regular guest on RTB’s weekly television and radio programs, and a contributing editor to Facts for Faith. Fuz earned his Ph.D. in Chemistry from Ohio University. He was a Presidential Scholar, elected to two honor societies and twice winner of the Donald Clippinger Research Award. He co-wrote a chapter on antimicrobial peptides for the book Biological and Synthetic Membranes. Fuz worked for seven years on product development for Procter & Gamble before joining Reasons To Believe. He holds one patent, has published over 15 articles in various scientific journals, and has made more than 20 presentations at scientific meetings worldwide. He is working on two books, one on human origins and another on the origin of life. We interrupted him for a while with the hope that this quick glimpse provides an appreciation for his background and expertise as a scientist and for his integrity as a Christian scholar.
FfF: Fuz, let’s talk about your background first of all. Where did you grow up?
Fuz: I was born in Ames, Iowa, but my family moved to West Virginia when I was about four years old. At that time my father accepted a faculty position at West Virginia Institute of Technology. So I grew up in West Virginia and attended West Virginia State College.
You mentioned your father. Can you talk about his background a little bit?
My father was born in India and was a Muslim. He wasn’t a strict adherent to Islam, but rather followed Islam in his own sort of way. He didn’t believe in “organized religion;” so we never went to mosque with him, and we never really went with him as a family to meet with other Muslims. He prayed every day, read from the Koran, and carried a prayer book with him. Even so, we did not really receive any type of religious training when we were growing up. He earned his Ph.D. in Nuclear Physics from the University of Saskatchewan at Saskatoon, Canada, and then came to the United States in the ‘50s to work at General Dynamics. He was involved in governmental work pertaining to nuclear weapon development, and later he taught at North Dakota State University, Iowa State University, Michigan Institute of Technology, and West Virginia Institute of Technology. He died in 1997.
How about your mother?
My mom has a master’s degree in education and a B.S. in Math, and she taught for many years. She was not involved in any church at the time she met my father, but my brother and I did receive moral instruction and guidance from my mother, and we grew up in a loving home. My mom has recently made a profession of faith in Christ and has been baptized.
Was there any type of inter-faith discussion going on between your mother and father?
No. They apparently agreed to disagree, with respect to religion. My mom’s religious background didn’t seem important to her as we were growing up. My father was probably the more religious of the two. He was more expressive about his religion, at least. So my primary exposure to religion was to Islam.
In fact, we had a pretty negative view of Christianity in our home.
Was education important in your home?
You better believe it! Expectations ran high with regard to academics. Anything short of an “A” was considered failure in our home.
What got you interested in science?
I think, initially, it was my parents encouraging my brother and me in that direction. They expected that we would enter some type of career involving medicine or science. So when I went to undergraduate school, I enrolled in a pre-med program and chose a chemistry major. I felt that if I didn’t get into medical school with a degree in chemistry I could probably still get a good job. As I began taking courses, I fell in love with chemistry and specifically with biochemistry.
Where did that lead you?
After getting a B.S. in chemistry from West Virginia State College, I went to graduate school at Ohio University and earned a Ph.D. in chemistry with a major emphasis in biochemistry and a minor emphasis in physical chemistry. Then I took a postdoctoral position at the University of Virginia doing molecular biophysics. A year later, I did postdoctoral work in bioanalytical chemistry at the University of Georgia. From there I went to Procter & Gamble and worked as an analytical chemist.
How did you come to faith in Christ?
As I was growing up, I always had some belief in God, but God wasn’t important to me.
As I went off to my undergraduate training, I became highly indoctrinated in the evolutionary paradigm. The professors that I admired most were staunch evolutionists and anti-creationists. In fact, I can remember some of the faculty members at West Virginia State College, in the biology department, working very hard to combat young earth creationism, which at the time was beginning to infiltrate the educational system–both at a collegiate level and a high school level. Those were men and women I looked up to. I bought into their perception of Christianity.
Then what happened?
At Ohio University I was taking advanced courses in biochemistry, and I really began to develop a strong appreciation for the chemistry that happens inside living systems. Though it wasn’t really part of my course work, I was so gung-ho about biochemistry that I would do additional reading on my own. I was hungry to learn anything I could and began developing an interest in the different origin of life scenarios.
As I read about them I reached the conclusion very quickly that what I’d seen as an origin of life scenario, such as “chemical Darwinism” or chemical evolution, simply couldn’t account for the nature of the chemistry that exists inside living systems. At that point I embraced the idea that there had to be a Creator who was responsible for life and for the chemistry inside living systems.
Intuitively, I recognized the irreducible complexity that biochemist Michael Behe articulates in his book, Darwin’s Black Box.
How did this lead you to the God of the Bible?
I was beginning to develop universalistic ideas, that all the different religions led to the same truth, that God revealed Himself to us in different ways. Then, I was challenged to read the Bible by a pastor, Johnny Withrow, who ultimately officiated at my wedding. As Amy and I were meeting with him and making wedding plans, he challenged me to read the Bible by appealing to my pride as a scientist. His point was that if one is really a scientist then he should be looking for truth no matter where he finds it. As a 23-year-old, I read the Bible for the first time in my life, in a serious way. After reading the gospel of Matthew, I was convinced that Jesus was who Christians claimed Him to be. I was also convinced of my sin, and I prayed to receive Christ as my Lord and Savior.
Your comments are interesting, particularly because one of the criticisms of Christianity is that it’s a religion that appeals to those that need a “crutch.” You, however, came to faith in Christ as a scientist looking for truth and challenged to pursue truth. Please comment.
The view held in my home was that Christians were uneducated, unintelligent, and gullible. When one looks around, however, one sees that many people who are extremely intelligent and well-educated are part of the Christian faith. The idea that people hold to atheism because of their education or because of their superior intelligence is a false.
In fact, Nature, about three or four years ago published a survey in which scientists had been polled regarding their belief in a personal God. Forty percent of the scientists who responded to the survey expressed belief in a personal God. That doesn’t mean, necessarily, the God of the bible, but it does mean that roughly 40% of scientists embrace some kind of theism.
Current culture says that science and religion are separate domains of knowledge. What do you believe about the relationship of science and Christianity?
I think that science and Christianity are fully integrated with one another. It’s very clear, from Scripture, that God has revealed Himself to us in a number of ways. One is through the words that we have in the Bible–God’s revelation to Moses, the Prophets, the Psalmists, and the Apostles. We also have the revelation of Jesus Christ Himself through His human nature and His presence on Earth. Paul teaches us, too, that God has revealed Himself through His creation; through the words that He’s written on our hearts; through our consciences; through a moral code that’s inherent in all of us; through His providence in our lives; and through His providence throughout history.
God also reveals Himself through the history of the earth, because we can see origins of life and design in the universe. I also think that God is ultimately responsible for the laws of nature. And since the laws of nature inform historical science, the two areas of science and faith are fully overlapped and fully integrated.
When I read through Genesis 1 as a young Christian, I was amazed at the agreement between the order in which Genesis describes the appearance of different animals on the surface of the earth and what the fossil record tells us about the different animals that show up at the different time frames in the earth’s history.
How did you arrive at RTB as a science apologist?
As I became more and more interested in a relationship between science and the Christian faith, I began to realize the power in using this approach to reach people for Christ. I became more and more motivated to do things along those lines. Probably the thing that catalyzed my involvement with RTB was the death of my father. I realized, then, that life was serious business and that I had an obligation to do whatever I could to reach people for Christ with the gifts and talents that God gave me. So, I can remember praying about it and really seeking God’s direction. I had read some of Hugh Ross’s books and was impressed with his scientific scholarship and his honest treatment of Scripture. I then contacted RTB and began serving the ministry as a volunteer.
What were you doing professionally at that time?
I was working as a research scientist for Procter and Gamble.
What happened next?
I heard that the ministry wanted to bring scientists on board, so, through discussions with Hugh Ross and the RTB board and the generous support of RTB donors and very precious friends in Cincinnati who raised the necessary funds, I was able to come aboard in June of 1999.
What do you hope to accomplish here at RTB?
At least four things, among others:
- I hope to communicate that science is not an enemy of the Christian faith, but rather the greatest ally that the faith has in this day and age, and a very potent way to reach people for Christ. I hope to strengthen the faith of Christians and provide them with materials that help them in their own personal outreach.
- I want to share the gospel with people who are nonbelievers and have an intellectual barrier to faith. I want to defend the faith from a scientific perspective as well. I’d like to create opportunities for other scientists who have a desire to become involved in ministry and want to share their reasons for belief in Christ. It’s exciting to see scientists step up to the plate and write for RTB, speak for RTB, help RTB develop new arguments, or critique RTB’s arguments.
- Since I have a strong interest in the origin of life and the origin of humanity, I’d like to participate in book projects addressing these topics from a Christian and scientific perspective.
- I’d like to extend the work of Michael Behe and others who are part of the intelligent design movement. I think Behe did a wonderful job, taking the first step towards demonstrating design in biological systems. I think even more arguments can be evoked. I think the best way to argue for design is from a “weight-of-evidence” approach. It’s not just irreducible complexity, but there are many other characteristics that we can point to. I’d really like to develop these ideas and use them in combination with irreducible complexity.
As a biochemist and origin of life researcher, what is the most compelling evidence for the Christian Faith that you find from your discipline?
I think the origin of life problem, right now, from a naturalistic perspective, is the most potent argument for an Intelligent Designer, the biblical creator. From a biochemical standpoint, life appeared rapidly on the surface of the earth, was morphologically simple and yet chemically complex. Moreover, life originated under hostile conditions. The earth was experiencing asteroidal impacts that would have wiped out life on the surface of the earth. Yet, life originated under these conditions.
Furthermore, evidence shows that the earth could not have supported the prebiotic chemistry necessary to form a prebiotic soup. In conjunction with this we have the whole information problem. From a naturalistic perspective, there is no way to account for the origin of information in biological systems, given the time frames involved.
Also, we see other evidence for design. We see the opportunity now to revitalize the watchmaker argument. We have profound evidence for systems that show analogy to man-made systems from a molecular level inside the cell. I think what’s convincing as well is that we can’t engineer these systems any better in the lab than nature does. What we see in nature are highly intricate chemical systems that we simply can’t duplicate in the lab.
Again, the weight of evidence argues for a creator and an Intelligent Designer.
Let’s talk about your family.
I’ve been married to Amy for 14 years. She is also a scientist with a master’s degree in chemistry with an emphasis in molecular biology. We went to graduate school together. Our labs were adjoining labs, so you might say we have “good chemistry” between us.
How about your children?
We have four girls and a boy. Our oldest daughter, Amanda, is 11, Whitney is 9, Mackenzie is 8, Jose is 7, and Olga is 6.
The last two names sound a little different from the first three. Would you tell us the story?
Amy and I loved our three daughters. I really thought our family was complete, but Amy had a desire to adopt more children. At first I was opposed to the idea. But as I became more and more involved in apologetics, my mind began to change. One day when I was playing around with scientific ways I could argue against the practice of abortion, I realized that it doesn’t matter what type of intellectual argument I can level, if I really value the sanctity of life, the most potent argument is how I live my life. I then told my wife I was ready to look into adoption. She was first shocked, and then pleasantly surprised.
Three years ago missionaries and youth from our church in Cincinnati who had planted a church in Monterrey, Mexico, told us of their work in the orphanages there. We learned of siblings that were going to be separated unless they were adopted. We immediately began the process of trying to adopt them. There were times during the process that I felt like part of my family was missing. We would have dinner and it would be difficult because I’d realize, “Hey, what about our other two kids? What are they having tonight for dinner? Are they taken care of tonight?” We desperately wanted to have them with us for Christmas. It was August when we decided to adopt them, so God was gracious enough to allow them to be with us for our first Christmas as a family of seven.
How did your three daughters respond to this change?
They were excited from the beginning! When we learned of Jose and Olga, we sat down with our three girls and asked them what they would think about adopting two kids. They were thrilled and excited about having the opportunity to have another little sister and a little brother. So they were full partners in the process the entire time. Today they play, laugh, and fight as if they had always been brother and sisters.
By Allison Oster
Marj Harman is not apologetic about her desire to help those searching for answers. “It is a pleasure to help other Christians find answers to Bible or science questions that have troubled them for years,” says Harman. “I derive encouragement and satisfaction from sharing what I have learned about God through His creation and from seeing others understand that the universe bears tremendous testimony to God’s reality and love.”
Serving as a volunteer in various capacities since 1987, hotline apologist and member of the Reasons to Believe (RTB) Speakers Bureau, Harman helps others answer the questions she was once too intimidated to ask. Her long history with RTB has afforded her the opportunity to fill a gap for others that long went unfilled for her.
Raised in a Christian home first in Tennessee, then in Denver, Colorado, Harman started asking questions when she embraced her faith at nine years old. Many of her questions centered on discrepancies between the Bible as she understood it and the science she was taught at school. People around her considered those kinds of questions threatening; so she stopped asking. “I was not willing to give up God,” says Harman, reflecting on her past, “So I just avoided the questions and science.”
Through her formative years Harman continued to pursue her educational goals while she filed away her many unanswered questions. She received a bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of Colorado, and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Arizona. A breakthrough finally occurred when she heard Dr. Walter Martin on “The Bible Answer Man” radio program. “Dr. Martin was the first person I ever heard who could answer the questions that I’d had for years,” recalls Harman. She learned that Dr. Martin was teaching courses on apologetics at Simon Greenleaf University, a Christian graduate school in Southern California, so she began taking classes there.
Harman’s yearning for truth was rewarded. With the help and encouragement of Dr. Martin, Harman continued her apologetics training, gaining a greater appreciation for the faith and envisioning one day helping others with similar questions or doubts. Her fear of science began to fade and was replaced by an interest in learning more about the relationship between science and faith. Then one day she heard Dr. Hugh Ross speak on the radio. “It was as if this new world opened up,” she said. “I was excited to be able to look at science and not feel threatened by it.”
Harman contacted Dr. Ross, absorbed many of his materials, and then joined RTB as a volunteer along with her husband, Mike, just as the ministry was getting off the ground. Two years after joining RTB, the Apologists Hotline was instituted, and Harman became one of the first volunteer apologists available to answer questions on science and the Bible. With a love for research and for people, she found the hotline to be a great place to assist others with questions about their faith. After many years of perceived importunity, she was excited about this opportunity to share what she had learned.
In 1993 Harman became a member of the RTB Speakers Bureau. As a member of this group of apologists, she travels and gives lectures on several science and apologetics issues. She has lectured more than 50 times on a variety of topics, including “The Heavens Declare the Glory of God” and “Genesis 1 and 2: Myth or History?” She also speaks on quantum mechanics, the subject of her master’s thesis at Simon Greenleaf University, where she graduated with a Master of Arts in Christian apologetics in 1999.
Harman had long been interested in physics and math, and then later, quantum mechanics. Her interest in this specialty (see sidebar) began when she read a magazine article relating quantum mechanics to faith. After hearing a theologian say that quantum mechanics would become the greatest challenge to the Christian faith, if it proved true, she was determined to find the truth for herself. She began to dig into quantum mechanics with vigor, taking math and physics courses to better understand the topic and writing research papers. The knowledge she gained was beneficial in a number of ways, including the work she did with another apologist, Erica Carlson, to create a video, “Quantum Apologetics,” for RTB in 1998.
Along with her other duties as a volunteer, Harman coordinates the scheduling of hotline apologists for the weekly RTB Radio program, coordinates the round table for the apologists, and provides some editorial support for Facts for Faith as well. It would be fair to say that she is an indispensable asset to the ministry, and to those affected by it. Her cheerful attitude, her integrity, her expertise, and her Christian character are highly valued.
Harman’s eagerness for learning and research has not only enriched her life, but also the lives of those she teaches. Everything she has gained from her education and interactions with others has brought about a deeper understanding of and trust in God. She finds tremendous fulfillment in the relationships she builds through speaking and through the hotline, relishing the chance to help others as she recalls her own experience as a young person with nobody to answer the tough questions.
“When people have questions that hinder their relationship with God, I’ve always encouraged them to keep seeking the answers, not to give up, because there are answers,” advises Harman. “Even if we cannot find an answer to every question, at least we can get enough answers to be confident in our faith.”
A Brief Description of Quantum Physics Classical physics expresses general rules to predict the behavior of a physical system when it interacts with its environment. For instance, how a baseball arcs after a bat exerts a force on it, or how to predict the path of a rocket sent into space. Quantum mechanics deals with the behavior of atomic and subatomic phenomena. This includes the behavior of light waves or the behavior of the electrons in an atom. “My interest began when I heard Shirley MacLaine declare she could call herself god because quantum physicists were proving the observer determines reality,” says Harman. “Then I read of a theologian who thought quantum physics was ‘the greatest contemporary threat to Christianity’ which might be able to ‘shatter his faith.’ I was certain something in their understanding of modern physics was incorrect and felt it was important to provide an answer.”
By Dennis Ingolfsland
The question, “Who do people say the son of man is?” (Matt. 16:13), while originally posed by Jesus to the disciples, is still the subject of much debate today.
Most evangelical scholars are remarkably agreed in their views about Jesus; however, non-evangelical “scholars” differ widely. Some of the latter say Jesus was a non-religious Jewish Cynic. Some say he was a Jewish holy man who was not much different from the holy men of other religions. Some say he was a social reformer who fought against the oppressive social structures of his day. Others see Jesus as a religious reformer who condemned the religious corruption of the temple system. Still others have seen Jesus as a political revolutionary who sought to overthrow Roman rule in Palestine.
These varying appraisals of Jesus, presented widely to the public by way of books, articles, debates, workshops, video teleconferences, and even TV programs, raise at least two questions. First, how is it that scholars, reading the same Gospels, can come up with such widely diverse views of Jesus? Second, does it really matter?
Let’s look at the second question first. Suppose an apologist tries to talk to a woman about Jesus and she says, “Don’t you know that modern scholarship has proven that Jesus was an itinerant Cynic sage who wasn’t even interested in religion?” The apologist opens his Bible and tries to show that the Gospels do not support such a view, only to be informed that modern scholarship has demonstrated that the Gospels are a collection of oral stories that were changed over decades of telling and re-telling until they were finally written down long after the disciples of Jesus had died. The apologist protests that Matthew and John were eyewitnesses of Jesus, only to be informed that the Gospels are really anonymous and that the names Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were added later by a scribe to increase the credibility of the books.
If the apologist doesn’t know how to answer objections like these he may resort to, “Well, I believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God. If the Bible says it, I believe it and that settles it.” If the person to whom the apologist is witnessing is polite, she may respond with, “Well, I’m glad your religion works for you” while thinking, “How incredibly ignorant these fundamentalists are.”
If one is “to be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15 NASB), he or she needs to understand and be able to counter modern non-evangelical views of Jesus. This article will (1) provide a very broad generalization of how non-evangelicals view the Gospels and the story of Jesus, and (2) critique this view point by point.
A Non-evangelical view of Jesus and the Gospels
The non-evangelical view of Jesus and the Gospels holds that those who saw or heard Jesus naturally told stories about him. These witnesses passed on bits and pieces of what Jesus had said and done to their friends, family, and others. Down through the decades these stories were changed in the process of retelling. Everyone knows of the game in which someone tells something to a person at the head of a line who then repeats it to the next one in the line and so on. By the time the story reaches the last person it has changed completely. This is how it was with the Jesus stories, or so the non-evangelical theory goes.
According to this theory, early Christians often used the Jesus stories to address problems in their churches. For example, if there was a problem with adultery in the church someone might recall a story about how Jesus excused a woman who was charged with adultery. As they retold the story, these early Christians added and changed parts of it to better address the needs of their particular congregation. Non-evangelical scholars sometimes refer to these early churches as “creative communities” because of the creative ways in which they adapted, changed, and created Jesus stories to make them more relevant to their own “situation in life.”
These scholars say that about A.D. 70 an anonymous author we have come to know as Mark—a name added by a later scribe just to add credibility to the Gospel— collected some of these stories. The stories attributed to Mark had already been expanded and elaborated—in fact, some were nothing more than pious fictions! Since the eyewitnesses of Jesus were dead by this time, there was no one with firsthand knowledge of Jesus who could say, “Wait a minute, it didn’t really happen that way!”
Those who hold the non-evangelical theory maintain that Mark didn’t really care much about what Jesus said or did anyway. Mark was just a man who wanted to communicate a theological message, so he collected, arranged, modified, and yes, maybe even created some of the stories recorded in his Gospel. By the ‘80s or ‘90s A.D., Mark’s Gospel had come to the attention of two other anonymous authors we have come to know as Matthew and Luke. These authors decided—quite independently—to use Mark as the basis for their own Gospels. They copied Mark, sometimes word for word, adding stories here and changing stories there. For example, these scholars say that both Matthew and Luke added birth stories and a considerable body of Jesus’ teachings that are not in Mark. However, since the birth stories in Matthew and Luke are quite different from each other, and since the added teachings of Jesus are grouped together in Matthew but scattered throughout Luke, most of these scholars do not think Matthew and Luke used each other’s Gospels as sources.
This creates a problem, however, because Matthew and Luke are sometimes word for word identical to each other. How is this possible if they never saw each other’s Gospel? Non-evangelical scholars answer this question by theorizing that Matthew and Luke must have used another source besides Mark. They call this hypothetical source Quelle (German for source), often abbreviated as Q.
According to most non-evangelical scholars, therefore, Matthew and Luke used several sources for their Gospels including Mark, Q, and other sources which had been modified, changed, or created to meet the needs of their “creative communities.” Since all these writers were more interested in communicating a theological message than they were in historical facts about Jesus, they added and changed the Jesus stories even more in order to make their point and to address the problems and needs of their own churches.
Non-evangelical scholars generally hold that the Gospels have been so elaborated, changed, and fictionalized that they contain relatively little historical information about Jesus. These scholars believe that their job is to peel away the decades of “encrusted tradition,” much like one might peel an onion, in order to come to the small core of truth about Jesus.
The problem is that non-evangelical scholars who are convinced, for example, that Jesus never thought of himself as the Messiah will dismiss evidence to the contrary as part of that “encrusted tradition.” These scholars, thinking Jesus was a non-religious Jewish Cynic, will dismiss any evidence to the contrary as part of that “encrusted tradition.” In the end, it is hard to keep from wondering if many of these scholars did not “find” the Jesus they were looking for in the first place.
Evaluation of the Theory
In summary, the theory outlined above—we will call it the “critical theory” for lack of a better term—holds that the Gospels contain decades of “encrusted tradition” that must be sifted through in an attempt to discover the kernel of truth about the historical Jesus. While this theory may sound convincing, it is seriously flawed.
No Check on Distortions?
The critical theory assumes that early Jesus stories were told and retold by people who didn’t have firsthand knowledge of Jesus and had no way to check on whether the stories were true. Such a view ignores the evidence that these early Jesus stories were not only passed on from person to person, but also by the disciples and other eyewitnesses of Jesus.
In order to counter the argument that the original disciples and other eyewitnesses of Jesus would have been able to correct distortions in the Jesus stories, some of the more radical critical theorists have asserted that Jesus’ original disciples didn’t care much about him after his death and quickly disbanded. The evidence, however, does not support this argument.
First, regardless of whether the critic believes the Bible is inspired, even the most radical critics agree that Paul wrote Galatians sometime between A.D. 49 and 56. In Galatians 2:9 Paul makes it clear that, far from losing interest in Jesus, there was still a church in Jerusalem in the late 40’s A.D., and that Peter, James, and John were leading it.
Second, even the most radical skeptics agree that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians about A.D. 55. In 1 Corinthians 9:5 Paul implies that by A.D. 55, Peter, the Lord’s brothers, and the other disciples were still in ministry just as Paul was.
Third, the idea that the disciples of Jesus continued to preach and teach about Jesus after his death finds strong support in the book of Acts. Although scholars of ancient Greco-Roman history have authenticated the historical reliability of the book of Acts, some critics continue to deny its reliability. There is a way around this impasse, however. The critics accept a principle known as multiple independent attestation. This principle asserts that if information about an event or saying is attested in two or more ancient independent sources, then that information is more likely to be historically reliable.
According to the book of Acts, Jesus’ disciples were the main teachers in the church at Jerusalem after Jesus’ death. This is supported independently by Paul in Galatians 2:9. Also, according to Acts, the Jerusalem church was still in existence under the leadership of James, the half brother of Jesus, as late as A.D. 58 when Paul was arrested. The church’s existence at this time is substantiated by Romans 15:25-32, and even the most severe critics agree that Paul wrote Romans in about A.D. 57.
Not only did the Jerusalem church continue to exist under the leadership of the apostles, but members of the Jerusalem church maintained contact with other churches as well. According to Acts, Peter traveled to Caesarea and elsewhere, Philip preached in Samaria, Barnabas preached in Antioch and Cyprus, and Paul, who had been in contact with leaders in Jerusalem, preached in Ephesus, Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, and Corinth, among other places.
The notion that early believers and churches had interaction with each other as Acts contends, is supported independently by numerous strands of evidence. For example, Paul writes that Peter traveled from Jerusalem to Antioch, Phoebe traveled from Cenchrea to Rome, Timothy traveled from Ephesus to Corinth, Onesimus traveled to Colosse, a whole delegation of people traveled from Jerusalem to Antioch, and Paul himself journeyed to numerous cities. In fact, the entire New Testament as well as extrabiblical letters from Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp and others testify to the fact that early Christian churches did not exist in isolation from each other.
Several summary points may be drawn here: 1) The evidence shows that the apostles continued to preach about Jesus in the decades after his death. 2) The Jerusalem church under the leadership of the apostles continued to be influential in the decades after Jesus’ death. 3) The churches did not exist in isolation from each other. 4) The evidence, therefore, does not support the assumption that no one cared about Jesus or that no one was available who could verify the accuracy of early Jesus stories.
It is also important to note that ancient writers who wrote about the Gospels do not provide evidence in support of the critical theory. There seemed to be no dispute among early church leaders that Mark wrote down accurately the information he got from Peter, that Matthew and John were written by the disciples of Jesus, and that Luke was written by the physician who followed Paul. And far from being the product of decades of “encrusted tradition,” the book of Luke actually claims that among its sources were eyewitnesses of Jesus. Critics, of course, bend over backwards to discredit these claims—largely, one suspects, to keep the critical theory intact.
Most scholars believe that Mark, the first Gospel, was written between A.D. 70 and A.D. 100—40 to 70 years after Jesus’ death. Many non-evangelical scholars assume that the eyewitnesses of Jesus would have died by this time and that the Gospels, therefore, were written too late to provide good historical information about Jesus. This is simply an inaccurate assumption. We know of many people in the ancient world who lived to old age. For example, Cicero, Livy, Augustus, Tiberius, Seneca, Plutarch, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Josephus were all said to have lived beyond their sixtieth birthday. Juvenal and Epictetus apparently lived into their 70’s, and Polycarp even lived into his 80’s.
Regarding the assumption that the Gospels were written too late to provide accurate historical information, the critics are often inconsistent. For example, they rely on Jewish historian Josephus to provide them with important information about the historical, social and religious climate during Jesus’ life, knowing full well that Josephus wrote from A.D. 70-100—the same dates they assign to the Gospels! Furthermore, Roman historians think nothing of using Tacitus, Suetonius, or Dio Cassius to reconstruct Roman history, but these writers were often further removed in time from the events they wrote about than the Gospel writers were from Jesus! Historians do not disregard these sources simply because they were written 40 or more years after the fact. Incidentally, good reason exists to believe that Matthew, Mark, and Luke were all written less than 40 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, but that will have to be pursued in a separate article.
Ever since the early 20th century, critical scholars have followed German New Testament scholar Rudolf Bultmann in asserting that the Gospels were theologies, not biographies, and that the Gospel writers were not particularly interested in biographical facts about Jesus. According to the critics, the Gospel writers were actually more interested in solving the problems in their own churches by creating or embellishing the Jesus stories they included in their Gospels.
This assumption is contrary to the evidence. First, recent computer analyses comparing numerous ancient biographies have confirmed that the Gospels do, in fact, fit the genre of ancient bios or biography. And while ancient biographies were often written to make a point, they were not fictions. Writers of ancient biographies did not ignore historical facts.
Second, while it is true that the Gospel writers were writing to make a theological point, it is a logical fallacy to assume that they were therefore not concerned with the historical facts. If their “facts” were not true, the point they were making would be moot. Suppose, for example that one were to write a story to make the point that John F. Kennedy was the Son of God. To demonstrate this point, one could write about his claims, his miracles, his atoning death and his resurrection. The problem is, no one has ever claimed that JFK did miracles, saw himself as the Son of God, or rose from the dead. If the facts were not true, the point would be moot.
In the case of Jesus, people disagreed about how to interpret his miracles—whether they were from God or from Satan, and people disagreed about what happened to his body—whether it was stolen or he rose from the dead. People also disagreed about Jesus’ death—whether it was an atonement for sin or just the death of a blasphemer. But the facts did not seem to be in dispute.
Third, the evidence does not support the idea that churches created Jesus stories to deal with their problems. For example, one of the most serious issues in the ancient church was whether circumcision was essential to salvation. If the early churches were so creative, one would think that they would have created stories about Jesus saying that Gentiles did not have to be circumcised. There are no such stories in the Gospels. Numerous other examples exist. Paul addressed disputes regarding the suing of other Christians, eating meat offered to idols, women and head coverings, as well as prophecies and speaking in tongues. If the churches were so creative about initiating or embellishing stories about Jesus to solve their problems, we would expect to find sayings of Jesus in the Gospels that addressed these issues. But such is not the case.
The critical theory assumes a high degree of unreliability in ancient people’s memory as stories were passed from person to person. This, however, does not take seriously the fact that memory was a primary method of learning in the ancient world. The memory of ancient people was undoubtedly better cultivated than it is in today’s western world. It is very possible, even probable, that stories about Jesus were taught to new converts and that these were memorized and passed on to others with a high degree of reliability. If significant distortion ever crept in to the stories, the members of the Jerusalem church, the apostles, eyewitnesses, and traveling missionaries would have helped to control errors. In fact, it is only in the second century after the apostles and eyewitnesses were dead, that we begin to see the fanciful distortions and fictions found in the apocryphal Gospels.
According to the critical theory, the Gospels are the result of decades of “encrusted tradition” that must be peeled away to get to the small core of historical fact. In the quest for the historical Jesus, anything in the Gospels that doesn’t fit the quester’s view of Jesus is often rejected as part of this “encrusted tradition.” The result is a wide variety of views about Jesus. However, the idea that the Gospels are the result of decades of “encrusted tradition” actually flies in the face of the evidence. There are many reasons to believe that the Gospels contain reliable accounts of Jesus’ ministry and that they are based either directly or indirectly on eyewitness testimony.
. See for example, Colin J. Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1990); The Book of Acts in its Ancient Literary Setting, ed. by Bruce W. Winter and Andrew Clark (1993); The Book of Acts in its Greco-Roman Setting, ed. by David W.J. Gill and Conrad Gempf (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994); Brian Rapske, The Book of Acts and Paul in Roman Custody (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994); The Book of Acts in its Palestinian Setting, ed. by Richard Bauckham (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996); The Book of Acts in its Theological Setting, ed. by I. Howard Marshall and David Peterson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000); A.N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992).
. The Historical Jesus by John Dominic Crossan (San Francisco : Harper Collins, 1991) is a good example. Crossan argues that the most reliable information about Jesus comes from AD 60 or earlier, which conveniently excludes even the Gospel of Mark. But Crossan provides extensive historical, social, and religious background to Jesus’ life using Josephus who writes about the same time that Crossan says the Gospels were written!
By Fuz Rana, Ph.D.
A recent report by one of the world’s leading paleontologists, Richard Fortey, provides compelling evidence that chemoautotrophic symbiosis, a complex ecological relationship between sulfur-oxidizing bacteria and advanced, multicellular marine animals, first appeared close to the time of the Cambrian Explosion.1 This discovery adds to the growing weight of evidence for the supernatural introduction of complex animal life on earth.
The Cambrian “Explosion” is a dramatic event in life’s history taking place around 540 million years ago. Over the course of perhaps less than 2-3 million years, nearly every animal phylum (over 70) ever to exist on earth appeared. Since that time no new animal phyla have been introduced.2,3 Phyla are the categories in the biological classification hierarchy that refer to an organism’s body plan, or architectural design.
In 1986, Simon Conway Morris identified an additional feature of the Cambrian Explosion that has remained troubling for the naturalistic paradigm; namely, that the ecology of the Cambrian fauna resembled that of a modern marine ecology. It includes identifiable predator-prey relationships.4,5 This finding runs counter to what would be expected if the Cambrian “Explosion” were the result of natural processes. Instead of observing a haphazard, loosely-woven ecology, as predicted by the evolutionary paradigm, the Cambrian fauna appear suddenly in the fossil record as a tight-knit ecological community, consistent with a Creation Model for the origin of complex multicellular animals. The new discovery by Richard Fortey of the Natural History Museum in London adds additional support for a fine-tuned, modern Cambrian ecology.
Chemoautotrophic symbiosis is a complex interdependence between advanced marine animals and sulfur-oxidizing bacteria. These bacteria use hydrogen sulfide and other sulfur compounds as an energy source and often employ carbon dioxide as their sole carbon source, converting it into organic nutrients. Sulfur-oxidizing bacteria are found in environments that are low in oxygen and rich in hydrogen sulfide.
A number of multicellular, complex animals also exist in this toxic low oxygen, high sulfur environment through their interactions with sulfur-oxidizing bacteria. These animals feed on the bacteria directly or have modified body-and mouth-parts that allow the cultivation of the bacteria. Also, many of these animals have brood pouches to sequester their young from the toxic milieu until they can establish a symbiotic relationship with the sulfur-oxidizing bacteria.
Based on an understanding of modern-day chemoautotrophic symbiosis, Richard Fortey was able to recognize this type of relationship in the fossil record of Olenids (a family of trilobites) as far back as 505 million years ago, just after the Cambrian “Explosion.”6 These trilobite fossils share morphological features with modern arthropods that rely on chemoautotrophic symbioses and are recovered from deposits low in oxygen and high in sulfide content.
The appearance of this type of complex interrelationship shortly after the Cambrian event is surprising to evolutionists. Substantial anatomical changes (modified mouthparts, gills, body surfaces, reproductive anatomy) must take place all at once for the organism to survive in this toxic environment. Natural processes do not allow for the sudden and highly orchestrated changes necessary for an organism to transition into an environment that demands complex symbiotic relationships for survival. From an evolutionary perspective, this type of transition must happen over exceedingly long periods of time. Reasons to Believe’s Creation Model readily accommodates the discovery of chemoautotrophic symbiosis as far back as 505 million years ago.
- Richard Fortey, “Olenid Trilobites: The Oldest Known Chemoautotrophic Symbionts?” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 97 (2000): 6574-78.
- Fazale R. Rana and Hugh Ross, “The Cambrian ‘Explosion’ and Why It Means So Much for Christians” (An Interview with Dr. Paul Chien), Facts for Faith (Quarter 2, 2000): 15-17.
- Fazale R. Rana, “Cambrian Flash,” Connections2, no. 1 (2000): 3.
- S. Conway Morris, “The Community Structure of the Middle Cambrian Phyllopod Bed (Burgess Shale),” Paleontology 29 (1986): 423-67.
- S. J. Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (New York: W. W. Norton, 1989), 222-24.
- Fortey, 6574-78.
By Fuz Rana, Ph.D.
Recent work by two researchers from University College London (UCL) and George Washington University (GW) calls into serious question the capability of paleoanthropologists to detect and establish the evolutionary relationships assumed to exist among bipedal primates, or hominids.1
Evolutionary or phylogenetic relationships for the hominids are determined by comparing anatomical features of specimens found in the fossil record with those of extant species.
For the hominids, the available fossils in most cases are partial crania, partial jaw bones, isolated teeth, and infrequently, partial upper and lower limbs.2,3 Rarely do paleoanthropologists find a complete cranium, let alone a nearly complete skeleton. And only a few of the hominid species in the fossil record are known from an abundance of specimens. Typically a hominid species is defined by just a few fossilized bone fragments.4 Many times the hominid remains have been crushed, shattered and damaged prior to fossilization or have become deformed as a result of geological processes. This only serves to compound the difficulty of paleoanthropologists’ work.
Given the nature of the hominid fossil record, it is not surprising that most evolutionary biologists recognize that the best they can hope for are crude working phylogenies.5 (A phylogeny is believed to be the evolutionary pathway for an organism or group of organisms.) This becomes apparent when one examines textbooks and treatises on human evolution. The large number of proposed phylogenies shows that paleoanthropologists are far from a consensus on the pathway to human evolution.6, 7
The situation has recently worsened for those attempting to construct hominid phylogenetic relationships. Scientists from UCL and GW indicate, based on their findings, that evolutionary phylogenies postulated for human origins are hopelessly uncertain.8 These two paleoanthropologists compared phylogenies constructed from gene and protein sequences with those constructed from cranial and dental features for two currently existing groups of primates, the hominoids (gorillas, chimpanzees, and humans) and the papionins (baboons, mangabeys, and macaques).
In both cases, the molecular phylogenies differed significantly from those derived using cranial and dental characteristics. Since evolutionary biologists consider molecular phylogenies inherently more robust, the authors of the study are forced to conclude that craniodental characteristics cannot be used as reliable indicators of primate evolutionary relationships (including those of extinct hominids). As the researchers from UCL and GW put it, “Without a reliable phylogeny, little confidence can be placed in the hypotheses of ancestry…”9
In light of these results, the assertion that human evolution is a fact becomes scientifically untenable. What seems apparent is that evolutionary biologists have chosen to interpret their data exclusively within an evolutionary paradigm. From this framework, they then declare that their data supports human evolution. To demonstrate that humans evolved by natural processes, there must be rigorous evidence of clearly established evolutionary relationships with obvious transitions in the fossil record. This study shows that such determinations may never be possible, given that cranial and dental remains are the primary fossils available to paleoanthropologists.
Equally disconcerting for the evolutionary paradigm is the lack of congruence between molecular and morphological phylogenies. Truth demands internal consistency. The failure to establish consistency for molecular and morphological phylogenies calls into question the veracity of the evolutionary paradigm.
New discoveries in paleoanthropology increasingly undermine the plausibility of evolution as an explanation for human origins.
- Mark Collard and Bernard Wood, “How Reliable Are Human Phylogenetic Hypotheses?” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 97 (2000): 5003-6.
- Roger Lewin, Principles of Human Evolution (Malden, MA: Blackwell Science, 1998), 117-18.
- S. Jones, R. Martin, and D. Pilbeam, "The Primate Fossil Record," The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Evolution, ed.S. Jones, R. Martin, and D. Pilbeam, (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 197-98.
- Fuz Rana, “Up (and Away) from the Apes,” Connections 1, no. 4 (2000): 3-4.
- Lewin, 296-307.
- Lewin, 306.
- Bernard Wood, “Evolution of Australopithecines” in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Evolution, ed. S. Jones, R. Martin, and D. Pilbeam, (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 240.
- Collard and Wood, 5003-6.
- Collard and Wood, 5003.
By Fuz Rana, Ph.D.
A team of scientists from Case Western Reserve (CWRU) School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio, has developed convincing circumstantial evidence for yet another function for so-called “junk” DNA.1,2 Critical to this discovery was the sequence data recently made available by the Human Genome Project.
Researchers have used the term “junk” DNA to refer to the non-coding DNA found in the genomes (an organism’s DNA content) that presumably has no function. Many scientists have long held that “junk” DNA results from random biochemical events. According to these scientists, “junk” DNA has persisted in the genomes of organisms (including humans) from generation to generation due solely to its physical attachment to the coding of functional DNA.3
Some scientists have regarded “junk” DNA as evidence against Intelligent Design. “Junk” DNA is viewed as an example of an imperfection in nature. This argument against Design has become more prevalent, amid the current fanfare associated with the Human Genome Project.
A number of important functions have been identified for so-called “junk” DNA in the last five years.4 Even with these findings, one class of “junk” DNA remains problematic from a Design standpoint. That class is called LINE (long interspersed nuclear element) DNA.
The recent work by the CWRU scientists effectively addresses this concern by identifying a functional role for LINEs in X chromosome inactivation.5 X chromosome inactivation occurs in healthy females as a way to compensate for duplicate genes found on the X chromosomes.6 (Recall that females have two X chromosomes, whereas males have an X and Y chromosome). The inactivation of one set of X chromosomal genes ensures proper level of gene expression for individuals with more than one X chromosome.
Scientists are beginning to understand the molecular mechanism of X chromosome inactivation.7 Inactivation begins at the inactivation center, which contains the Xist gene, and then spreads along the X chromosome. The Xist gene on the inactive X chromosome expresses messenger RNA. Messenger RNA is a molecule that is similar in structure to DNA. Messenger RNA contains a copy of the information found in DNA that is used to direct the synthesis of proteins. Messenger RNA does this by migrating from the nucleus (which houses the DNA) to ribosomes found in the cytoplasm. It is at the ribosomes that messenger RNA directs protein synthesis. The Xist RNA never leaves the nucleus. Rather, it binds to and coats the entire length of the inactive X chromosome, with the heaviest coating occurring at the X-inactivation center. In contrast, the Xist gene is “turned-off” on the active X chromosome.
The work of the CWRU team strongly implicates LINEs as the binding site for Xist RNA. Data from the Human Genome Project shows that the X chromosome contains a significant enrichment of LINE sequences compared to other chromosomes. The greatest concentration of LINEs is at the inactivation center. Moreover, sites that escape X chromosome inactivation lack LINE sequences. The recognition by the CWRU team that LINE DNA functions in X chromosome inactivation adds to the growing evidence that the genome is the product of a Designer.
Another finding by the CWRU researchers that is surprising and further supports the notion that LINE DNA is the product of Design is what appears to be the “sudden” appearances of LINE DNA in placental mammals. Based on their analysis (assuming an evolutionary perspective), the CWRU scientists were forced to recognize that at the time that placental mammals “separated” from marsupial mammals, LINE DNA appeared in placental mammals. This LINE DNA has persisted largely unchanged. This result makes little sense from an evolutionary perspective because one would expect the LINE DNA to accumulate gradually in the genome over long periods of time. The sudden appearance of LINE DNA that essentially persists unchanged and has a clear function is expected for a Design scenario.
The only characteristic of LINE DNA that could be used to argue against Design is its similarity to retroviral DNA. A retrovirus is an RNA virus that is able to incorporate its DNA into the DNA of the infected host organism. Once the retroviral DNA becomes incorporated into the host DNA it can become inactivated through mutational events. It is believed that LINE DNA is inactive retroviral DNA that can self-propagate through the genome once incorporated. However, in 1989, a worker classifying LINE DNA in humans offered up an interesting role for LINEs that addresses this concern.9 This researcher suggested that the similarity of retroviral DNA and LINE DNA may represent an anti-retroviral mechanism, noting that LINE DNA becomes expressed at high levels when retroviral infection occurs. This being the case, the RNA produced from the LINE DNA will interfere with the retrovirus life cycle, inhibiting its spread beyond the infected cell. That is, the structural similarity between retroviruses and LINE DNA argues not for common ancestry and descent with modification at a molecular level but rather for purpose and function.
There is still much to learn about genome structure. However, the more we learn about genomes, the more we recognize the diverse functional importance of “junk” DNA. At the same time, we uncover more evidence for Design.
- Jeffrey A. Bailey et al., “Molecular Evidence for a Relationship Between LINE-1 Elements and X Chromosome Inactivation: The Lyon Repeat Hypothesis,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 97 (2000): 6634-39.
- Mary F. Lyon, “LINE-1 Elements and X Chromosome Inactivation: A Function for ‘Junk’ DNA?” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 97 (2000): 6248-49.
- Wen-Hsiung Li, Molecular Evolution (Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, Inc. Publishers, 1997), 395-99.
- Fazale R. Rana, “Junk DNA Not So Junky,” Connections 2, no. 1 (2000): 2.
- Bailey, et al., 6634-39.
- Edith Heard, Philippe Clerc, and Philip Avner, “XChromosome Inactivation in Mammals,” Annual Review of Genetics 31 (1997): 571-610.
- Lyon, 6248-49.
- Alan G. Atherly, Jack R. Girton, and John F. McDonald, The Science of Genetics (Fort Worth, TX: Saunders College Publishing, 2000), 597-608.
- Jerzy Jurka, “Subfamily Structure and Evolution of the Human L1 Family of Repetitive Sequences,” Journal of Molecular Evolution 29 (1989): 496-503.
By Fuz Rana, Ph.D.
According to the biological evolutionary paradigm, molecular evolution parallels organic evolution. In other words, as the evolutionary changes proceed at the anatomical level (via the process of descent with modification from a common ancestor), molecular changes occur in the amino acid and nucleotide sequences of proteins and genes, respectively.1 These changes result from mutational events, the model says. Groups of organisms that have recently diverged from a common ancestor will have greater similarity in protein and gene sequences than groups of organisms that have diverged from the common ancestor in the more distant past.
If the mutational rate can be estimated and is approximately constant over time, then the time of divergence from the common ancestor can be determined from sequence differences. The mutational rate, or molecular clock, is estimated by comparing sequence differences for organisms with well-known times of origination (based on the fossil record).2 Once calibrated, the molecular clock can then be applied to estimate the time of origination for organisms with a poorly understood fossil record.
While straightforward in principle, application of molecular clock analysis is fraught with complications.3, 4 For example, nuclear and mitochondrial genes mutate at different rates as do different genes/proteins within an organism. Moreover, the same gene/protein in different taxa (or groups) mutates at different rates.
Evolutionary biologists commonly use molecular clock analysis to estimate the timing of evolutionary events. Molecular clock analysis frequently yields results that disagree with the fossil record. One recent example that has implications for the biblical Creation Model is the dating of the origin of metazoons (complex animals). Based on the fossil record, essentially all animal phyla ever to exist throughout the earth’s history appeared suddenly and simultaneously within a narrow window of time (quite likely less than 3 million years) approximately 540 million years ago.5 This event, known as the Cambrian Explosion, creates a serious challenge to the evolutionary paradigm. In an attempt to escape the problem of the Cambrian Explosion, evolutionists have suggested that the Cambrian event is an artifact of an incomplete fossil record. To buttress this claim, evolutionary biologists have employed molecular clock analysis to argue that the divergence of animal phyla occurred as far back as 1.2 billion years ago.6 This would diffuse the explosive nature of the Cambrian event, giving the origin of animal phyla time to occur gradually over the course of 600 million years.
However, these molecular clock analyses have not gone uncontested.7 Recent work designed to evaluate the accuracy of the molecular clock technique, work done by two workers from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UI at C), decisively refutes the reliability of molecular clocks.8
In this study, the two biologists examined the accuracy of four molecular clocks operating within the order Perrisodactyla. This order includes the families Equidae (horses and zebras), tapiradae (tapirs), and Rhinoceritidae (rhinoceros). The Perrisodactyla fossil record is abundant and has well-defined origin dates. Based on the fossil record, the two researchers from UI at C defined two calibration points, at 3 million years ago and 50 million years ago, for two different genes yielding four molecular clocks. Unfortunately, all four molecular clocks produced disparate results, none of which agreed with the fossil record.
The failure of molecular clock analysis for such a cleanly-defined experimental system has two important implications for Christian apologetics:
- The molecular clock technique is not valid. This means that the results challenging the completeness of the metazoon fossil record and the reality of the Cambrian Explosion are highly suspect. This helps preserve the Cambrian Explosion as a phenomenon that runs counter to naturalistic evolutionary models and is consistent with a Creation Model.
- At least one of the assumptions undergirding molecular clock analysis must be faulty. The two assumptions are these: a) molecular clocks exist; and b) natural process evolution is a fact. Evidence pointing to the latter continues to mount.
- Monroe W. Strickberger, Evolution, 3d. ed. (Sundbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett, 2000), 256-95.
- Strickberger, 283-86.
- Evelyn Strauss, “Can Mitochondrial Clocks Keep Time?” Science283 (1999): 1435-38.
- Jane E. Norman and Mary V. Ashley, “Phylogenetics of Perissodactyla and Tests of the Molecular Clock,” Journal of Molecular Evolution50 (2000): 11-21.
- Fazale R. Rana, “Cambrian Flash,” Connections 2, no. 1 (2000): 3.
- M. de L. Brooke, “How Old Are Animals?” Trends in Ecology and Evolution 14 (1999): 211-12.
- Francisco Jose Ayala, Andrey Rzhetsky and Francisco J. Ayala, “Origin of the Metazoan Phyla: Molecular Clocks Confirm Paleontological Estimates,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA95 (1998): 606-11.
- Norman and Ashley, 11-21.
By Fuz Rana, Ph.D.
A team of scientists from Franklin & Marshall College (in Pennsylvania), the University of Chicago, and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City has recently reported a new measure of the dramatic biological innovations that took place during the Cambrian Explosion.1
Based on fossils found in southern China and in the Burgess Shale deposits of the Canadian Rockies, biologists know that nearly all the animal phyla (more than 70) known to exist throughout the earth’s history appeared essentially at once about 540 million years ago.2 (Phyla are the categories in the biological classification hierarchy that refer to an organism’s body plan, or architectural make-up.)
This event, known as the Cambrian “Explosion”, occurred over an extremely narrow window of geological time (~5-10 million years based on western scientific literature and less than 3 million years based on Chinese scientific literature).3 Since then, arguably no new animal phyla have appeared. In fact, about 40 animal phyla have disappeared since that time.
Along with the “sudden” appearance of animal phyla, the Cambrian period was the first time that animals with skeletons showed up in the earth’s history.4 A range of features define a skeleton.5 A skeleton may be 1) internal or external; 2) rigid or flexible; 3) formed with one, two or multiple elements; 4) comprised of rods, plates and solid three-dimensional parts; 5) grown by accretion, molting, or remodeling; and 6) composed of different chemical materials such as silica, calcium carbonate, calcium phosphate and chitin.
Based on these and other characteristics, the above team of researchers constructed a “skeletal space,” a mathematical space that defines all possible skeletal designs. From this skeletal space, 182 possible skeletal designs were identified. Interestingly, of these 182 possibilities, 146 appeared during the Cambrian Explosion (based on analyses of 104 fossil genre recovered from the Burgess Shale Cambrian site). That is, over 80% of all the possible skeletal designs appear suddenly in the fossil record—during a period of less than 15 million years. Land animals and vertebrates, which fill the remaining skeletal space, are underrepresented in the Burgess Shale fauna. Thus, researchers consider the skeletal designs that do show up during the Cambrian Explosion essentially maximal in number.
The Cambrian Explosion has long been an enigma for biology.6 The more we learn about the introduction of complex animals on earth, the more puzzling the Cambrian event becomes for evolutionary biologists. The explosive appearance of the nearly all possible skeletal designs in the Cambrian fauna defies a natural process explanation. Yet, this is exactly what one would expect to see in the fossil record if the God of the Bible were responsible for the creation of animal life on earth.
- R.D.K. Thomas, Rebecca M. Shearman, and Graham W. Stewart, “Evolutionary Exploitation of Design Options by the First Animals with Hard Skeletons,” Science 288 (2000): 1239-42.
- Fazale R. Rana and Hugh Ross, “The Cambrian ‘Explosion’ and Why It Means So Much for Christians,” (An Interview with Dr. Paul Chien), Facts for Faith (Quarter 2, 2000): 15-17.
- Fazale R. Rana, “Cambrian Flash,” Connections2, no. 1 (2000): 3.
- Richard Cowen, History of Life, 3d ed. (Malden, MA: Blackwell Science, 2000): 60-64.
- Thomas, Shearman, and Stewart, 1239.
- Simon Conway Morris, “The Cambrian ‘Explosion’: Slow-Fuse or Megatonnage?” Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences USA 97 (2000): 4426-29.
By Fuz Rana, Ph.D.
Two related studies recently reported by an international team from Stanford University, University of California at Berkeley, and Oxford University add to the growing weight of evidence supporting a recent origin of humanity that is in line with the biblical date. 1,2
Numerous Y chromosome sequence studies have already demonstrated a recent origin of humanity.3 This technique assumes a common ancestor for all human males and that the DNA sequence differences in the Y chromosome result from mutations. Knowing the mutation rate allows an estimate of the time when humanity originated. Y chromosome analysis is a particularly “clean” technique since: 1) long stretches of the Y chromosome do not recombine; 2) the Y chromosome displays single-parent inheritance; and 3) it is thought that the Y chromosome undergoes relatively rapid mutational change. In spite of these strengths, this technique is still in its “infancy” with much room to become more robust.
Enter the two new studies. The research teams identified new sequence variations in the Y chromosome. This finding allowed them to expand the region of the Y chromosome available for defining human origins.4 With a larger sample size and longer sequence along the Y chromosome available for analysis, the two teams measured humanity’s origin to occur around 50,000 years ago. Moreover, they noted what appears to be a rapid and substantial growth in the number of human sub-populations (based on Y chromosome “types”) and a significant population expansion around 28,000 years ago consistent with Genesis 10 and 11.
It is exciting that as the Y chromosomal methodologies become more sound, they reflect consistency with the results of earlier studies and with the biblical account of humanity’s origin and spread around the world.
- Peidong Shen, et al., “Population Genetic Implications from Sequence Variation in Four Y Chromomosome Genes,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 97 (2000): 7354-59.
- Russell Thomson, et al., “Recent Common Ancestry of Human Y Chromosomes: Evidence From DNA Sequence Data,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 97 (2000): 7360-65.
- Hugh Ross, The Genesis Question: Scientific Advances and the Accuracy of Genesis (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1998), 111-12.
- Shen, et al., 7354-59.
by Kenneth Richard Samples
Christians should use their reasoning to further reflect upon God’s revealed truths. The ancient church father Augustine called this process “faith seeking understanding.”
The doctrine of the Trinity is an essential Christian doctrine that allows the creature to peer ever so slightly into the window of God’s infinite nature and personhood. The Trinity may also be the most distinctive of all Christian teachings, setting Christianity apart from all other religions, including other monotheistic religions (such as Judaism and Islam). Because the Christian vision of God is unique, mysterious, and inscrutable to the finite mind, it is often misunderstood and misrepresented. This article will briefly explore what historic Christianity teaches concerning the Trinity by summarizing the doctrine’s most salient points, and by responding to some critical questions concerning its origin, intelligibility, coherence, and importance.
The Historic Christian Doctrine of the Trinity
The Athanasian Creed, the longest and most philosophical of the ancient ecumenical creeds, enunciates the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity in the following manner:
That we worship one God in trinity and the trinity in unity, neither blending their persons nor dividing their essence. For the person of the Father is a distinct person, the person of the Son is another, and that of the Holy Spirit still another. But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal….
Thus the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God. Yet there are not three gods; there is but one God.
Thus the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, the Holy Spirit is Lord. Yet there are not three lords; there is but one Lord.
Just as Christian truth compels us to confess each person individually as both God and Lord, so catholic religion forbids us to say that there are three gods or lords….1
The word “trinity” means “tri-unity” (three in one), thus conveying the revealed truth that there is plurality within the unity of God’s nature (one God in three persons). The doctrine of the Trinity should properly be understood within the broader context of the Christian theistic view of God.2 The God unveiled in the Bible and later expressed in the historic creeds and confessions of Christendom is the one sovereign and majestic Lord. Historic Christianity thus affirms belief in one infinitely perfect, eternal, and personal (or superpersonal) God, the transcendent Creator and sovereign Sustainer of the universe. This one God is Triune, existing eternally and simultaneously as three distinct and distinguishable persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All three persons in the Godhead, or Divine Being, share equally and completely the one divine nature, and are therefore the same God, coequal in attributes, nature, and glory.
God has revealed Himself as one in essence or substance (being), but three in subsistence (personhood). In terms of what God is (essence), God is one; in terms of who God is (subsistence), God is three. Philosophically speaking, God is therefore “one What” and “three Whos.” To put it in the negative, it is not three different gods (tritheism), for that would divide the essence. Rather it is only one God (monotheism). And it is not one single solitary person (monarchianism, modalism), for that would blend or confound the persons. Rather it is three distinct and distinguishable persons (triune).
Ten Essential Points about the Trinity
The following ten points convey essential information about the Trinity, and will help one think through the most important elements concerning the doctrine.3
1. There exists only one God (one divine essence or being). Trinitarianism is a unique type of monotheism, and the underlying truth of monotheism is grounded in the Old and New Testament Scriptures. Orthodox Trinitarianism therefore rejects polytheism in general and tritheism in particular for they divide the divine essence.
2. The three persons of the Godhead are each fully divine, all sharing equally and fully the one divine essence (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit). The deity of these three persons is also grounded in the Old and New Testament Scriptures.
3. The three persons of the Trinity should not be understood as three “parts” of God. Each person is fully divine and equally possesses all of God’s being.
4. The term “person” in reference to the Trinity should not be understood to refer to a separate entity or being, for this would divide the divine essence.
5. Unlike all finite creatures, God possesses plurality of personhood within His one infinite being. This is one example of the theological principle known as the Creator-creature distinction.
6. The members of the Trinity are qualitatively equal in attributes, nature, and glory. While Scripture reveals a subordination among the divine persons in terms of position or role (e.g., the Son submits to the Father, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and Son), there exists absolutely no subordination (inferiority) of essence or nature. The persons are therefore equal in being, but subordinate only in role or position.
7. The members of the Trinity are both eternally and simultaneously distinct as three persons. In other words, the Godhead has forever been, is now, and will forever subsist as three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. None of the persons came into being or became divine at a given moment in time. Orthodox Trinitarianism therefore rejects all forms of Arianism (that makes the Son a creature and often denies the Holy Spirit’s personality and deity).
8. The three members of the Godhead are distinct persons and can be distinguished from each other (e.g., the Father is not the Son, the Father is not the Holy Spirit, and the Son is not the Holy Spirit). Orthodox Trinitarianism therefore rejects all forms of modalism (that blends or confounds the persons by defining them as mere modes of existence).
9. God’s “oneness” and “threeness” are in different respects. In other words, the way in which God is one (essence) is different from the way God is three (subsistence). Christian theologians and philosophers through the centuries have argued that it is crucial to distinguish between God’s essence on one hand, and God’s subsistence on the other.
10.The way in which God is one does not violate the way in which God is three, and vice versa.
With these essential points in mind, let us now consider four important questions about the doctrine of the Trinity.
Four Critical Questions About The Trinity
1. Since the word “Trinity” doesn’t appear anywhere in the Bible, did the early church simply invent the doctrine out of thin air?
Linguistically, the term “trinity” comes from the Latin “trinitas.” This term was used by the church father Tertullian (c. A.D. 160-230) who wrote about “a trinity of one divinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” While it is true that the formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity progressively developed in church history, that doesn’t mean that the church invented the doctrine without reference to the Bible. Some are troubled that the word “trinity” doesn’t appear anywhere in the Bible. But while the term is not contained in the Bible, this in no way invalidates it as a biblical doctrine. First of all, many important terms are not contained in the Bible. For example, the word “Bible” is not contained in the Bible. But while the actual word “trinity” doesn’t appear in the Bible, the doctrine is clearly revealed in Scripture. The following is a brief summary of the biblical basis for the doctrine of the Trinity. There are literally hundreds of passages that can be marshaled to support the Trinity doctrine.4
The biblical doctrine of the Trinity can be expressed in five propositions:
a) There is one, and only one, God (Deut. 4:35, 39; 6:4; Isa. 43:10; 44:6-8; 2 Tim. 2:5; James 2:19).
b) The person of the Father is God (Col. 1:2-3; 2 Pet. 1:17).
c) The person of the Son is God (John 1:1; 5:17; 8:58; 10:30; 20:28; Phil. 2:6; Col. 2:9; Tit. 2:13; Heb. 1:8; 2 Pet.1:1).
d) The person of the Holy Spirit is God (Gen. 1:2; John 14:26; Acts 5:3-4; 13:2,4; 28:25; Rom. 8:11; Eph. 4:30).
e) The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinguishable persons: (Matt. 28:19; Luke 3:22; John 15:26; 16:13-15; 2 Cor. 13:14).
The logical inference from these five biblical propositions is as follows. If there is only one God, and the three distinguishable persons are all called God, then the three persons must be the one God. The doctrine of the Trinity was not invented out of thin air by the church at the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325) or at any other time. What really happened was that the fathers of the church saw the doctrine of the Trinity as a necessary inference from Scripture. The doctrine developed in the early church because of the overwhelming scriptural evidence supporting both the deity of Jesus Christ and the deity of the Holy Spirit. Evangelical theologian Alister E. McGrath explains:
The doctrine of the Trinity can be regarded as the outcome of a process of sustained and critical reflection on the pattern of divine activity revealed in Scripture, and continued in Christian experience. This is not to say that Scripture contains a doctrine of the Trinity; rather, Scripture bears witness to a God who demands to be understood in a Trinitarian manner…. Historically, it is possible to argue that the doctrine of the Trinity is closely linked with the development of the doctrine of the divinity of Christ.…The starting point for Christian reflections on the Trinity is, as we have seen, the New Testament witness to the presence and activity of God in Christ and through the Spirit.5
While no formal or dogmatic statement appears in the Bible concerning the Trinity, the truths that produce the doctrine find their origin uniquely in the pages of Holy Scripture. The language and context of the four following passages give clear indication that the apostles were well aware that their traditional Jewish monotheism had to be qualified to include the reality of three divine persons.
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit …” (Matt. 28:19, NIV)
“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (2 Cor. 13:14, NIV)
“As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’” (Matt. 3:16-17, NIV)
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to God’s elect … chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood.” (1 Pet. 1:1-2, NIV)
These passages place the Son and the Holy Spirit on an equal level with the Father, and are open to explicit Trinitarian interpretation.
2. Isn’t the Trinity a mysterious, unintelligible doctrine, and therefore an absurdity?
As creatures, human beings will never, not even in the next world, know and understand God as God understands Himself. And while the Trinity doctrine is to some degree mysterious and ultimately incomprehensible to the finite mind, that doesn’t mean that we can’t speak of the doctrine in a meaningful way, or that it is an absurdity. The Trinity is certainly meaningful and understandable as a teaching, but it simply cannot be fully fathomed by human beings. While we will never fully comprehend the Trinity, our imperfect analogies do provide some meaningful insight into the nature of God. And certainly our reasoned and careful inferences drawn from Scripture about God are meaningful and understandable, even though they are not ultimately comprehensive. Christian theologian and apologist Robert M. Bowman, Jr. provides a helpful clarification:
To say that the Trinity cannot be understood likewise is imprecise, or at least open to misinterpretation. Trinitarian theologians do not mean to imply that the Trinity is unintelligible nonsense. Rather, the point they are making is that the Trinity cannot be fully fathomed, or comprehended, by the finite mind of a man. There is a difference between gaining a basically correct understanding of something and having a complete, comprehensive, all-embracing, perfect understanding of it. The way many other theologians would express this difference is to say that the Trinity can be understood, or “apprehended,” but not “comprehended.”6
The difficulty that human beings have in encountering the Trinity doctrine is that God is in certain respects different from anything in the created order. For example, the teaching that one being subsists as three distinct persons is completely counter to all human experience. This is, of course, the difficulty with human analogies of the Trinity -- God is in some respects wholly other. However, the question is whether human beings will accept God as He actually reveals Himself to be, mystery included, or only settle for a being they think they can fully comprehend. Of course if the human mind can comprehend God, can he be much of a God? As C.S. Lewis points out, some concepts of God are easier than others: “If Christianity was something we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it isn’t. We can’t compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We’re dealing with fact. Of course anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about!”7
3. Isn’t the Trinity a logical contradiction?
The law of non-contradiction, the foundational principle for all logical thinking, asserts that two contradictory statements cannot both be true at the same time and in the same respect (A cannot equal A and non-A). This law can take a metaphysical cast indicating what is or is not: “Nothing can both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect.” This same law can also take an epistemological cast, indicating what is true or false: “A statement cannot be both true and false at the same time and in the same respect.”8 A contradiction in logic reflects a very specific relationship. Two statements are contradictory if they negate or deny each other. Contradictory statements have opposite truth value: exactly one statement is true; the other statement is false.
Skeptics often claim the Trinity is a contradiction in two ways. Some critics of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity assert that it violates the law of non-contradiction on the ground that the doctrine claims that God is one and not one, and that God is three and not three. This criticism is a straw man argument, however, for orthodox Trinitarianism does not assert that God is one and not one, three and not three. Rather the Trinity doctrine asserts that the way God is one (essence), He is not three. And the way that God is three (subsistence), He is not one. Trinitarians assert that one must distinguish God’s essence on one hand and God’s subsistence on the other. God is one in a different respect than the way He is three, and three in a different respect than the way He is one. Thus the Trinity is not a formal contradiction.
Other critics claim that the formulation of the Trinity does indeed involve a contradiction. They argue the following: Since the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and since the Father is not the Son, the Father is not the Holy Spirit and the Son is not the Holy Spirit; then the result is that each person is simultaneously God and not God. This is, they reason, a violation of the law of non-contradiction.
This evaluation of the Trinitarian formulation is equally a straw man argument, for again it fails to recognize the essence/subsistence distinction. The members of the Trinity all share equally the one divine nature and are thus the one God. However, the relational distinctions in the Godhead (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) do not in any way subtract from each individual person’s possession of the divine nature. Thus the three persons are distinct from each other, but they nevertheless remain fully and equally God. How one Being can simultaneously be three persons is an unfathomable mystery, but it is not a formal contradiction.
This logical tension may be alleviated if one recognizes what is known as the “predication/identity distinction.”9 To say that “Jesus Christ is God” is to predicate the divine nature to Jesus Christ which is an attribute of being that He shares equally and fully with the Father and the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, to say “Jesus Christ is God the Son” is to make an identity claim; namely, that the person of Jesus of Nazareth is the same (identical) person as God the Son, the second person of the Trinity. It is not contradictory to attribute deity to all three members of the Trinity (predication), while simultaneously asserting that they possess distinct personal identities: Father, Son, Holy Spirit (identity). Often misunderstandings can be cleared up if Christians take great care in formulating and articulating the Trinity doctrine.
Critics may question the essence/subsistence distinction, but if they are going to critique the historic doctrine of the Trinity, they must take this critical distinction into account. Christians throughout the centuries have affirmed that the Trinity may range above reason, but never against reason. As Christian theologian Geoffrey Bromiley asserts: “Rationalist objections to the Trinity break down in the fact that they insist on interpreting the Creator in terms of the creature…”10
4. Why is the doctrine of the Trinity important?
As stated earlier, the Trinity doctrine is crucially important because it reveals What and Who God is (one God in three persons). This allows Christians, though in an obviously limited way, to view the inner working of God’s nature and personhood. This doctrine allows God’s people, as the Athanasian Creed declares, to “worship one God in trinity and the trinity in unity…” Christians assert that to fail to worship the Triune God is to fail to worship God.
Furthermore, the Trinity doctrine brings together in a coherent manner the great truths about God’s historical/redemptive actions in and through the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For example, the Father sends the Son into the world to offer a propitiary sacrifice on the cross that will both appease the Father’s just wrath against sin and extend the Father’s love and mercy by allowing repentant sinners to escape divine judgment. The Incarnate Son (the second person of the Trinity) is able to provide this atonement because He is both God and man (in this case “two Whats” and “one Who”). The God-man conquers death, sin, and hell through His glorious resurrection from the dead. The Holy Spirit (another Comforter) is directly responsible for the believer’s new birth in Christ through regeneration and for the life journey of sanctification. The entire plan of redemption is made possible by the three divine members of the Trinity. Thus salvation from first to last is directly connected to the doctrine of the Trinity.
Finally, as the greatest of the church fathers, St. Augustine (A.D. 354-430), explained in his monumental work De Trinitate (On The Trinity), only a God who has plurality within unity can adequately account for God being love and for the use of His divine mind. For if God is a single solitary being, then before the creation He has no one to love, and He cannot distinguish between the knower and the known (a requisite of self knowledge).11
Christians have grown to cherish the doctrine of the Trinity that sets their religion apart from all others. Through the centuries they have worshiped one God in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity. The last stanza of Reginald Heber’s hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” (1826) exemplifies this worship:
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth and sky and sea;
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty!
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!12
1. Athanasian Creed, in Ecumenical Creeds and Reformed Confessions (Grand Rapids: CRC Publications, 1988), 9-10.
2. For a discussion of the attributes of God see John Jefferson Davis, Handbook of Basic Bible Texts (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 23-39; Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 29-81.
3. These points were influenced by Robert M. Bowman, Jr., Why You Should Believe in the Trinity (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989); Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 321-42; Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985), s.v. “trinitas,” 306-10; Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 226-61.
4. See Bowman, Why You Should Believe in the Trinity, 50-51, 91-110, 114-20, 124-34.
5. Alister E. McGrath, An Introduction to Christianity (Cambridge, Mass: Blackwell, 1997), 193-94.
6. Bowman, Why You Should Believe in the Trinity, 16-17.
7. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1952), 145.
8. For a clear and insightful discussion of the formal laws of logic, see Ronald H. Nash, The Word of God and the Mind of Man (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 103-12; and Ed L. Miller, Questions That Matter, 4th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996), 32-33.
9. See Thomas D. Senor’s helpful discussion of this philosophical distinction in Michael J. Murray ed., Reason for the Hope Within (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 239-40.
10. Walter A. Elwell, ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), s.v. “Trinity,” 1112.
11. Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), s.v. “Trinity,” 736.
12. Psalter Hymnal, Centennial Edition (Grand Rapids: CRC Publication, 1959), hymn #318, 375.
Glossary of Terms
Arianism: The heretical view that Christ’s nature or essence is inferior to the Father; that Christ is a created being. A denial of the full and unqualified deity of Christ and of the Holy Spirit.
catholic: When written in lower case, it is a reference to the universal or orthodox Christian church.
essence: The necessary characteristics that make a thing what it is. In terms of God, the full nature or substance of what God is.
modalism: The heretical view that there is only one divine person who merely appears in three different forms or modes; a denial that the three members of the Trinity are distinct and distinguishable persons.
monarchianism: The view that so stressed the unity of God as to exclude God’s plurality (as three distinct persons).
monotheism: The view that there is one, and only one, God (affirmed in Trinitarianism).
ontology: The study of being.
polytheism: The view that there is more than one, or many, gods.
Straw man fallacy: An informal fallacy in which the arguer distorts or misrepresents his opponent’s argument and then attacks the distorted argument.
subsistence: From the Latin “subsistentia,” with respect to the Trinity an individual instance of a given essence.
Trinitarianism: The orthodox doctrine that God is one in essence but three in subsistence: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
tritheism: The view that there are three separate gods.