Reasons to Believe

Facts for Faith, Issue 4

Articles


Repeatable Evolution or Repeated Creation?

By Fazale Rana

Any casual observer of nature recognizes that many creatures bear some resemblance to one another. Many species of frogs, lizards, fish, and other animals and plants from different parts of the world appear to be nearly identical. This similarity has been the pattern throughout life’s history. Recent biological studies have shed light on the nature of this physical resemblance and carry significant apologetic implications. Many species that look identical are, in fact, genetically different, and therefore unrelated. In accounting for these unexpected differences, evolutionary biologists have proffered inadequate explanations. This article will discuss a few of the many recent discoveries that continue to buttress the case for a biblical creator while continuing to erode the foundation for the evolutionary paradigm. 

According to evolutionary theory, organisms that possess identical morphologies (forms or structures) must share a common ancestry. Evolutionary biologists, therefore, have employed morphological systematics––the study of the relationships among organisms according to physical characteristics––when classifying species, and thus have concluded that similar groups share common ancestry. However, with the advent and widespread application of molecular systematics, in which DNA sequences are used instead of morphologies to determine biological relationships, science now is beginning to identify an increasing number of challenges to the evolutionary classification. Biologists are uncovering numerous examples of organisms that cluster together morphologically (structurally), and yet are genetically distinct. Frogs, lizards, or herbs that appear to be identical are actually different at the genetic level. An evolutionary interpretation of this data, then, demands that the morphologically identical organisms must have evolved independently of one another in a “repeatable” fashion.

The Contingent Nature of the Evolutionary Process

The evolutionary paradigm cannot accommodate “repeatable” evolution. When evolutionists observe a tree frog ideally suited for its environment, they assert that natural selection––environmental, predatory, and competitive pressures repeatedly operating on random inheritable variations for long periods of time––has led to this relationship. Chance governs the evolutionary process at its most fundamental level. Because of this, it is expected that repeated evolutionary events will result in dramatically different outcomes.  The concept of Historical Contingency embodies this idea and is the theme of Stephen J. Gould’s Wonderful Life:

 “…No finale can be specified at the start, none would ever occur a second time in the same way, because any pathway proceeds through thousands of improbable stages. Alter any early event, ever so slightly, and without apparent importance at the time, and evolution cascades into a radically different channel.”1

Gould’s metaphor of “replaying life’s tape” asserts that if one were to push the rewind button, erase life’s history, and let the tape run again, the results would be completely different.2 The very essence of the evolutionary process renders evolutionary outcomes as nonreproducible (or nonrepeatable). Therefore, “repeatable” evolution is inconsistent with the mechanism available to bring about biological change.

A Test for Evolution, A Test for Creation

The idea of Historical Contingency suggests that one powerful way to discriminate between the “appearance of design” that results from the evolutionary process and Intelligent Design is to determine if contingency is operating in the biological realm.3  If life is exclusively the result of evolutionary processes, then biologists should expect to see few, if any, cases in which evolution has “repeated” itself. This is simply not the case. During the last six years numerous examples of “repeatable” evolution have come to light as molecular data has been increasingly used in biological systematics. These findings demonstrate that the evolutionary paradigm fails the test of contingency. The discovery of morphologically identical, yet genetically unrelated organisms does, however, offer powerful support for biblical creation. These examples of “repeatable” evolution include anolis lizards, ranid frogs, cichlids, sticklebacks, mangabeys, river dolphins, and Pericallis, an island plant.

Anolis Lizards

 Anolis lizard species found on the islands of the Greater Antilles (Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico) are perfectly adapted to fit into six distinctive ecological niches.4  A species that is perfectly suited for a particular ecological niche is termed an ecomorph. Two examples of Anolis lizard ecomorphs found on the Greater Antilles are small lizards with short legs that live on fragile twigs, and large lizards with large toe pads that occupy the crowns of trees. Morphological analysis of the Anolis lizards that populate the Greater Antilles reveals objectively recognizable groups of ecomorphs.5  Based on their morphological features (or close resemblance), members of the same ecomorph grouping from the different islands were found to be more closely related to one another than lizards from the same island.

Given the contingent nature of the evolutionary process, therefore, it would be expected that each ecomorph evolved a single time from an ancestral species. Each ecomorph produced by a single evolutionary sequence of events would have then dispersed among the islands of the Greater Antilles. However, when this model was tested by comparing mitochondrial DNA sequences of the different Anolis species, it was discovered that lizards in the same ecomorph class were not related to one another.6  This study concluded that it would have taken at least 17-19 separate evolutionary pathways to produce all the Anolis ecomorphs, if natural process evolution was the explanatory agent. Commenting on this work, biologists P.H. Harvey and L. Partridge, state, “It seems that as the tape of life has been replayed in separate islands, there has been a remarkable amount of convergent evolution.”7

Ranid Frogs

Ranidfrogs–– comprised of over 1000 species––are common throughout the world. These frogs have adapted to a wide range of lifestyles and habitats.  Two of the Ranid subfamilies, Rhacophorinae (tree frogs) and Tomopterninal (burrowing frogs) are found both in Madagascar and on the Indian sub-continent of Asia.  They are nearly indistinguishable in their morphological, physiological and developmental characteristics and form two groups of ecomorphs.

Frogs, specifically, and amphibians, in general, cannot migrate through salty environments. Therefore, it has long been held, from an evolutionary standpoint, that the tree frogs and burrowing frogs evolved prior to the separation of the Madagascar-Seychelles-Indian tectonic plate from Gondwanaland (the earth’s one land mass prior to tectonic separation). It is believed that this tectonic plate drifted away from Gondwanaland about 130 million years ago, separated to form Madagascar, and finally attached onto Eurasia to form the Indian sub-continent. Some tree and burrowing frogs were passively carried along and became isolated from one another.

Nuclear and mitochondrial DNA analyses of Madagascar and Indian Ranid frogs demonstrate, however, that the evolutionary explanation is untenable.8  DNA sequence analysis clusters these ecomorphs based on geography not morphological features.  In other words, from an evolutionary perspective, burrowing frogs and tree frogs in Madagascar and India must have evolved independently. This same study has also identified examples of “repeated” evolution for Ranid ecomorphs located in Sri Lanka and India.9 Even more amazing, researchers conclude from the DNA sequence analysis that the larval characteristics of several Madagascar and Indian ecomorphs are also identical. This means that the complex developmental pathways and larval lifestyles must have evolved independently on several occasions to produce the same result––if the data is viewed from an evolutionary perspective.10

Cichlids

Cichlids––freshwater fish that are widely diverse in form, color and habits––are scattered throughout the Southern Hemisphere. 11 Numerous examples of cichlid ecomorphs have been recognized in lakes Victoria, Malawi and Tanganyika of East Africa. An evolutionary explanation would postulate that each of the ecomorphs evolved a single time and then was independently isolated in each lake after water levels subsided, causing a single lake to split into three geographically separated lakes.12

Sequence analysis of mitochondrial DNA, however, indicates that the ecomorphs found in the three East African lakes must have evolved independently, multiple times, assuming an evolutionary explanation.13, 14, 15, 16, 17 Also, researchers have noted the independent emergence of ecomorphs for cichlids in two lakes in Cameroon.18  Even more striking is the recent recognition that multiple independent origins occurred for ecomorphs within different regions of a single lake, Tanganyika.19  That is, from an evolutionary perspective, some cichlid species in Lake Tanganyika are viewed as separate, morphologically indistinguishable species that “evolved” in exactly the same way multiple times.

Like the cichlids, scientists believe the sticklebacks species found in British Columbia evolved several times independently to produce the same ecomorphs. The same two stickleback species, bulky benthic (bottom-dwelling) feeders and streamline open-water feeders, live in isolated lakes near the Pacific coast of British Columbia. The standard evolutionary explanation maintains that these two species evolved from one marine stickleback species, became trapped and isolated in the lakes after sea levels changed, and then independently populated the lakes.20 Mitochondrial DNA analysis provides results contrary to the most plausible evolutionary explanations.21 These results indicate that the stickleback species from the same lake have a greater degree of genetic similarity than do morphologically identical species from different lakes. From an evolutionary viewpoint, therefore, stickleback ecomorphs in the isolated lakes must be the product of “reproducible” evolutionary events.

A recent breeding experiment affirms the previous conclusion.22  In a laboratory environment, researchers discovered that corresponding ecomorphs from different lakes attempt to interbreed with one another, while eschewing the different ecomorphs that share their lakes. This result is interesting in light of the biological definition of a species.  Biologically, a species is considered to be an interbreeding population of individuals. The willingness of the same ecomorphs from different lakes to interbreed points to just how profound the similarity is among the stickleback ecomorphs––both morphologically and behaviorally. 

Mangabeys

Mangabeys are large Old World monkeys found in Africa. Morphological similarity has traditionally led biologists to place all the mangabey species into a single genus, Cercocebus. Baboons, drills, mandrills, and geladas are closely related to mangabeys. Earlier molecular studies and mitochondrial DNA sequence analysis challenged the morphologically based classification that places mangabeys into a single group.23,  24 These studies indicated that the single mangabey genus should have been separated into two groups, and that the nearly identical mangabey morphologies must have evolved independently two times. Recent nuclear DNA analyses have confirmed that mangabey morphology “evolved” on two separate occasions, when viewed from the evolutionary paradigm.25

These results not only support two morphologically indistinguishable genera, Cercocebus and Lophocebus, but also indicate that the strong morphological similarities of drills, mandrills and baboons must have evolved independently as well. Nuclear DNA sequence analysis aligns drills and mandrills with the mangabey genus, Cercocebus, and baboons and geladas with the mangabey genus, Lophocebus.26 Inspired by the results of the molecular studies, two biologists have recently recognized subtle morphological differences in dental features and in the arm and leg bones of the Cercocebus and Lophocebus mangabeys.27  However, these skeletal and dental differences are so slight that without the supporting DNA sequence data it is questionable if these differences would have been recognized at all, let alone accepted as significant.

River Dolphins

Unlike other marine mammals (whales, porpoises, and dolphins), river dolphins live in freshwater, river environments. There are four extant river dolphin species. Three of these species live exclusively in freshwater and one (the La Plata dolphin) lives both in estuaries and coastal waters. The freshwater dolphins inhabit the Ganges and Brahmaptura Rivers of India, the Yangtze River of China, and the Amazon River.

River dolphins share similar and characteristic morphologies. The most commonplace view among biologists is that the river dolphins emerged from a single evolutionary pathway. Mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequence analysis now demonstrates otherwise.28 In other words, if the DNA sequence data is interpreted within an evolutionary context, the four river dolphin species must have evolved the same characteristic features independently and repeatedly.

Pericallis

Pericallis, a genus of plants related to sunflowers, are found in the Macaronesian archipelago (Azores, Canary Islands, Cape Verde, Madeira and Selvagens) off the west coast of Africa.29  Of the Pericallis species found in the Macaronesian islands, six are woody and nine are herbaceous. This is not surprising, since many island plants are woody variants of mainland herbs or soft-bodied plants.

The most reasonable evolutionary explanation for the origin of Pericallis woodiness is that it evolved on the mainland and found its way to the Macaronesian islands. However, nuclear DNA sequence analysis betrays this explanation by revealing no genetic similarity. When examined employing evolutionary assumptions, therefore, the data indicates that Pericallis woodiness musthave evolved on at least two separate occasions.30

Evolutionary Attempts to Account for Repeatable Evolution

In isolation, each case of “repeatable” evolution can be viewed as an oddity and poses no real threat to the “truth” of biological evolution. However, the many cases of “repeatable” evolution––in which entire organisms seem to evolve independently and reproducibly––simply doesn’t follow, given the nature of the mechanism available to drive the evolutionary process, chance. Biologists who embrace methodological naturalism––the notion that only natural explanations can be used to account for phenomena in the physical and material world––do indeed regard the occurrences of “repeatable” evolution as unexpected and remarkable. However, their philosophical predisposition does not allow them to be open to the possibility that a Creator is responsible for the repeated occurrences of ecomorphs found in nature.  These morphologically indistinguishable, yet genetically distinct ecomorphs can be properly considered as one of the many fingerprints that the Creator has left on His creation. In fact, if a single Creator was responsible for life, one could anticipate seeing repeated examples of the same blueprint throughout the biological realm. One would expect that a single Creator would reuse successful designs over and over again.

Given the examples cited previously, evolutionary biologists cannot seem to account for “repeatable” evolution. One attempt at explaining this phenomenon is to attribute “special” capability to the forces of natural selection.31 Since organisms are perfectly suited for their ecological milieu, and therefore more likely to survive to reproductive age, it is thought that the forces of natural selection––competitive, predatory, and environmental influences––repeatedly “channel” the evolutionary process down the same pathway to produce the same organisms. This explanation for recurrent evolution neglects the fact that selective forces are nothing more than a blind filter. Natural selection can only operate on traits made available by random changes in the population’s genetic makeup. It is not likely that these changes would be repeatable, given the complexity of genomes, nor that they would occur in the same historical sequence.

Additionally, it is unlikely that the factors that made up an organism’s ecology would be identical throughout time. Changes to the ecological environment in Madagascar, for example, would not be identical to the changes in the ecological environment in India. The components of natural selection are influenced by chance and by history. Therefore, natural selection would not be expected to guide separate evolutionary sequences and then produce morphological traits in an organism that somehow remarkably converge.

One well-known experiment with bacteria has led evolutionary biologists to conclude that natural selection can direct the convergence of features in the evolutionary process.33 These experiments demonstrated that bacterial populations subjected to identical environments achieved similar fitness (a measure of the ability of an organism to survive) regardless of chance, mutational events, and history. However, the conclusion drawn from these experiments does not support such a directive role for natural selection for two reasons.

First, fitness is different from morphological characteristics. Fitness describes the capability to survive independent of the organism’s features. It is not surprising that natural selection converges on optimal fitness in mathematical modeling or when characterizing the response of bacteria to environmental stress. Yet, it does not follow that convergence to optimal fitness explains the improbable convergence of morphological features. Second, what is true for bacterial communities (single cell organisms that are morphologically nondescript, comprised of large population sizes, and short generation times) is not necessarily true for the advanced multi-cellular organisms that have been shown to display “repeatable” evolution.33 The population and reproductive characteristics of these advanced, complex organisms preclude their capability to evolve.

Another attempt to account for “repeatable” evolution within the evolutionary paradigm is based on inherent biological and developmental constraints.34  The idea is that these constraints only allow certain variations to occur in the evolutionary process.  When evolution occurs, then, it can only produce a limited number of ecomorphs, therefore the same ecomorphs result repeatedly. This explanation falls short. Developmental and inherent biological constraints would have no “knowledge” of the environmental, predatory, or competitive pressures facing the organism. Therefore, one would not expect there to be ecomorphs. In the face of this explanation one must ask, “Why do we see organisms that are perfectly suited to their ecological niche?” The universal occurrence of perfect adaptation is inconsistent with any limitations on biological variation.

Conclusion

Prior to the influence of Charles Darwin (Origin of Species was first published in 1859) scientists viewed the nature of the similarities among organisms as due to the variation of a fundamental design or archetype.35 This “blueprint” for life was acknowledged as having come directly from the mind of God. Organisms classified within a particular grouping were viewed as variations of the design provided by the Creator.

When the tide began to shift toward Darwinian evolution, however, biologists came to understand the relationships among organisms as reflecting descent with modification from a common ancestor. The ancestral species that gave rise to a group of related organisms replaced the archetype, and natural selection operating on random biological variation replaced the creative hand of God.

As both evolutionists and creationists seek to account for the features found in the biological realms, different predictions flow consequentially from these explanations. Chance and a historical sequence of events control biological evolution, at its essence. One would expect therefore, few, if any, instances in which the evolutionary process would repeat itself. On the other hand, if a single Creator were responsible for life on earth, one would expect to see recurrent design throughout nature.

The widespread availability of molecular systematics now allows scientists to test these two interpretations of nature. As molecular systematics is used increasingly to characterize the relationship among organisms––both living and extinct––numerous examples of morphologically identical and genetically distinct groups are being uncovered. The widespread occurrence of repeatable evolution cannot be accommodated within the evolutionary paradigm. Any attempt to account for this phenomenon from a naturalistic standpoint violates the very nature of the evolutionary process or has implications that are inconsistent with what biologists observe in nature.

The evolutionary paradigm fails in the face of the discovery of “repeatable” evolution while biblical creation gains support from this phenomenon. What is interpreted as “repeatable” evolution––morphologically indistinct and genetically unique organisms––is what one would expect if a single Creator has generated life throughout earth’s history. As time goes on, scientists expect to see more examples of “repeatable” evolution. Each new discovery of this phenomenon weakens the evolutionary paradigm and strengthens the case for creation. 

References:

  1. Stephen J. Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 1989), 51.
  2. Gould, 48.
  3. John Cafferky,  Evolution’s Hand: Searching for the Creator in Contemporary Science (Toronto, Canada: East End Books, 1997,) 66-69.
  4. Jonathan B. Losos and Kevin de Querioz, “Darwin’s Lizards,” Natural History, December /January, (1997/1998): 34-37.
  5. Jonathan B. Losos, et al., “Contingency and Determinism in Replicated Adaptive Radiations of Island Lizards,” Science 279 (1998): 2115-2118.
  6. Losos, et al., 2115-2118.
  7. Paul H. Harvey and Linda Partridge, “Different Routes to Similar Ends,” Nature 392 (1998): 552-553.
  8. Frankly Bossuyt and Michel C. Milinkovitch, “Convergent Adaptive Radiations in Madagascar and Asian Ranid Frogs Reveal Co-Variation Between Larval and Adult Frogs,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 97 (2000): 6585-6590.
  9. Bossuyt and Milinkovitch, 6585-6590.
  10. Bossuyt and Milinkovitch, 6585-6590.
  11. Melanie L.J. Stiassny and Axel Meyer, “Cichlids of the Rift Lakes,” Scientific American, February (1999): 64-69.
  12. Erik Verhegen et. al., “Mitochondrial Phylogeography of Rock-Dwelling Cichlid Fishes Reveals Evolutionary Influence of Historical Lake Level Fluctuations of Lake Tanganyika, Africa,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B 351 (1996): 797-805.
  13. Stiassny and Meyer, 64-69.
  14. Verheyen et al., 797-805. 
  15. Axel Meyer et. al., “Monophyletic Origin of Lake Victoria Cichlid Fishes Suggested by Mitochondrial DNA Sequences,” Nature 347 (1990): 550-553.
  16. John C. Arise, “Flocks of African Fishes,” Nature 347 (1990): 512-513.
  17. Axel Meyer, “Phylogenetic Relationships and Evolutionary Processes in East African Cichlid Fishes,” Trends in Ecology and Evolution 8 (1993): 279-284.
  18. Ulrich K. Schliewen, et. al., “Sympatric Speciation Suggested by Monophyly of Crater Lake Cichlids,” Nature 368 (1994): 629-632.
  19. Lukos Ruber et. al., “Replicated Evolution of Trophic Specializations in an Endemic Cichlid Fish Lineage from Lake Tanganyika,” Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences, USA 96 (1999): 10230-10235.
  20. Elizabeth Pennisi, “Nature Steers a Predictable Course,” Science 287 (2000): 207-208.
  21. Eric B. Taylor and J.D. McPhail, “Evolutionary History of an Adaptive Radiation in Species Pairs of Threespine Sticklebacks (Gasterosteus): Insights from Mitochondrial DNA,” Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 66 (1999): 271-291.
  22. Howard D. Randle, et. al., “Natural Selection and Parallel Speciation in Sympatric Sticklebacks,” Science 287 (2000): 306-308.
  23. John E. Cronin and Vincent M. Sarich, “Molecular Evidence for Dual Origins of Mangabeys Among Old World Monkeys,” Nature 260 (1976): 700-702.
  24. Todd R. Disotell, et. al., “Mitochondrial DNA Phylogeny of the Old World Monkey Tribe Papionini,” Molecular Biology and Evolution 9 (1992): 1-13.
  25. Eugene E. Harris and Todd R. Disotell, “Nuclear Gene Trees and the Phylogenetic Relationships of Mangabeys (Primates: Papionini),” Molecular Biology and Evolution 15 (1998): 892-900.
  26. Harris and Disotell, 892-900.
  27. John G. Heagle and W. Scott McGraw, “Skeletal and Dental Morphology Supports Diphyletic Origins of Baboons and Mandrills,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 96 (1999): 1157-1161.
  28. Insa Cassens et. al., “Independent Adaptation to Riverine Habitats Allowed Survival of Ancient Cetacean Lineages,” Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, USA 97 (2000): 11343-11347.
  29. Kathryn S. Brown, “Why Woodiness?,” Natural History, December/January (1999/2000): 74-77.
  30. Jose L. Panero, et. al., “Molecular Evidence for Multiple Origins of Woodiness and a New World Biogeographic Connection of the Macroneasian Island Endemic Pericallis (Asteraceae: Senecimeae)” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 96 (1999): 13886-13891.
  31. Losos, et. al., 2115-2118.
  32. Michael Travisano et. al. “Experimental Test of the Roles of Adaptation, Chance and History in Evolution,” Science 276 (1995): 87-90.
  33. Hugh Ross, “How Speciation “Rules” Rule Out Darwinism,” Facts for Faith 1, no. 2 (2000): 56-57.
  34. David B. Wake, “Homoplasy: The Result of Natural Selection, or Evidence of Design Limitations?,” American Naturalist 138 (1991): 543-567.
  35. Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (Bethesda, MD: Adler & Adler, 1985,) 93-117.


Bob Stewart: Soldier, Astronaut, and Compelling Apologist

By Elaine Ervin

General Robert L. Stewart, a decorated Army combat pilot, test pilot, and former astronaut, has flown 38 types of airplanes and helicopters. Born in Washington D.C. and raised in Alabama, he received his bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Southern Mississippi, and a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington. He served his country in Vietnam, where he flew UH1-B gunships and saw comrades fall in battle. He earned numerous medals, including two Purple Hearts, four Distinguished Flying Crosses, a Bronze Star, and a Meritorious Service Medal. After the war he flew cutting-edge, experimental aircraft and completed Army aviation programs that prepared him for selection as a NASA astronaut. He flew on the shuttles Challenger and Atlantis, and was one of two men who first walked in space without a tether. A member of Reasons To Believe’s Speakers Bureau, General Stewart has blended his scientific and military training with a calling to ministry by making apologetics presentations throughout the world.

FfF: You’ve lived an exciting and dangerous life. What was it like to fly armed helicopters in Vietnam?

General Stewart: In Vietnam it got to where I feared the words, "Sir, you've got to see this," because one time I had a crack in the pitch change horn (the linkage which controls the main rotor). That pitch change horn should never have held together, but it did. If I had ever lost that pitch change horn, I would have lost control of the vehicle, and we would have all died. Another time the 42-degree gearbox was shot out. The gears should have seized but didn't.

Having been in constant danger, did you think about life and death?

Before I became a Christian death was something that I wanted to avoid, but I didn't fear it. Now I know that if I had been killed in Vietnam, or had I been killed in an accident as a test pilot, then I would have had to spend an eternity away from God.

Did this realization bring you to faith in Christ?

No. That realization came afterward. During the war I was determined that I would not be a "foxhole Christian." I was at such a point in my life that I said that this is not going to drive me to believe something just to take out a "fire insurance policy" on my own soul. My conversion came years later.

Tell us about it.

One day my daughter was bitten by a squirrel that she had been feeding by hand. Squirrels have been known to carry rabies, of course, so my wife [Mary] and I immediately consulted the NASA doctors. We were told that the chances of contracting rabies were remote so we opted not to treat her. On the morning I had to leave Houston for Denver to train for an aspect of my first space flight, my daughter awoke with a high fever and a very sore throat––two possible symptoms for rabies! As I flew to Denver, I couldn’t get it out of my head that I might have killed my daughter. When I got to Denver and checked into my motel, I was distraught with fear because it wasn’t my life at risk but that of my daughter. I said my first real prayer: “God, if you are really there, I don’t know why you want my daughter now, but please don’t take her that way.” I called home to find that Jenny [my daughter] was fine, the fever had broken, and the sore throat was gone. I then got down on my knees and said, “Thank you, Lord, now what will you have me do?” I realized that all those times I should have been dead [in Vietnam], it was He who was with me even though I refused to acknowledge Him.

People are fascinated with the many aspects of space travel. Describe some of the sensations of the launch.

You are enveloped in a noise and vibration far beyond your training, as over seven million pounds of thrust hurl you off the pad. Astronauts are trained to know the character of the event but cannot be trained to its true magnitude. It is a noise that is felt more than heard¾a sharp, staccato noise that hammers directly at the core of your being! Once in space, your second impression is “Boy, are we going fast.” In an airliner you travel at 500 mph, 40,000 feet above ground, and it hardly seems like you’re moving. In a shuttle, however, at speeds over 17,000 mph, you know you are smoking along!

You’re one of very few people who has seen the earth from the unique perspective of space. Can you describe it for us?

Your first view of the home planet is breathtaking. Maybe that’s how God intended it to be viewed. You see the lovely azure of the Atlantic overlaid by the pristine white of swirling clouds, and here comes the green of Africa, the whole floating in a velvety black universe. The colors come alive, and the visible detail is far beyond that which can be brought back on film or tape. It is truly an experience that borders on indescribable.

After having spent some time in space, what does it feel like to be back home?

The thing that you notice right away is the oppressive feeling of gravity. On one of my flights, we landed on a Saturday. I got up Sunday morning to go to Sunday school and almost couldn't walk because I was stumbling over my feet. I found that the way that I got to the floor was completely different. In space, I actually had to pull myself to the floor, using one set of muscles, whereas on Earth you relax muscles and gravity pulls you down. There is a little bit of muscular weakness but not any worse than if you got sick for a week and had to stay in bed.

How did you become involved with Reasons To Believe?

I had been teaching a Sunday school class here at High View Baptist Church in Woodland Park [Colorado], and the class had decided that they wanted to study Genesis. So I began research into Genesis with scientific as well as religious publications. One of the books that I came across was Dr. Ross' The Creator and the Cosmos. The more I read [of Dr. Ross’ books], the more fascinated I became. The books became a part of my class. Then, I went to the Web site where I learned about RTB’s apologetics course. I applied, and the rest, as they say, is history.

What do you hope to communicate as a Christian apologist?

The message I hope to get across is that you don’t have to give up your intellect to be a Christian. I am afraid that the church in the past has evangelized only the third world. It seems that the poor and the poorly educated have received priority in church evangelism because they are the easy problem. It gets harder to reach a person for Christ when that person is highly educated and sure of the primacy of science in this world. Reasons to Believe is the first organization I know of that attempts to tell those people that there is no conflict between religion and science. They both use their own peculiar language to communicate the same eternal truths: that this universe was brought into existence out of nothingness; that it is especially fine-tuned for the existence of life on this rare, if not unique planet; and that God did it.

How do you approach this challenge?

I try to learn as much as I can about the Scriptures and about science so that I can communicate at whatever level is required to advance the good news of Jesus Christ. I learned from [the apostle] Paul that you have to approach people where they are if communication is to take place. When I began to teach Genesis in my Sunday school class, I led off with a primer on relativity so my class could see the historical and logical background of this theory and lose their fear of it. This was necessary because I intended to talk about the creation event in terms of the big bang, and I wanted my class to understand that this was not just something physicists thought up in a vacuum. I wanted to approach the existence of human beings on this planet from the standpoint of their unique relationship to the Creator and back that up with some modern numerical biology statistics concerning the probabilities of life existing at all from random processes.

I hope to continue to challenge the person who is scientifically oriented with the idea that life would be prohibitively unlikely unless it were created by God. I also hope to reassure those not conversant with modern science that the truth of the Scriptures is still intact and even stronger as a result of real, objective science.

In my life I have made a remarkable transition from a person whose faith was in science to the exclusion of religion, to being a person who holds the Scriptures to be truth with science just catching up after 4000 years.


God’s Plan for Humanity—Paradise Restored or Paradise Replaced? 

By Hugh Ross and Mick Ukleja

Christians argue and divide over many issues, from core issues such as the doctrine of free will to peripheral issues such as the age of the Earth. Ironically, some of the least weighty questions draw the most vigorous public debate while the more important ones receive less attention. One of these ignored controversies has significant implications for worldview, a question that either lumps Christianity with other theistic and deistic religions or sets it distinctly apart.

The many-faceted question is this: What is the Creator’s ultimate plan for humanity? Is it a grand scale restoration of the Garden of Eden, i.e., a terrestrial paradise, or is it an entirely “new” creation beyond the confines of the universe? What is the “heaven” awaiting those who receive His offer of eternal salvation?

A consideration of the big picture, a look at what God’s Word says in answer to this set of questions, can shed invaluable light on the subject of creation and focus attention on the issues that matter most. How one thinks about the future helps shape his or her response to current and past events.

The book of Revelation offers the best starting place for such an inquiry. In fact, its final chapters may be the best place for a person to begin reading Scripture. Rather than killing suspense, this end-first reading of the story quells fear and gives birth to a lively, healthy hope. And hope, according to Romans 5:3-5 and 1 John 3:3, carries us through the difficulties of our sin-marred existence and keeps us going through God’s purification process.

Redemption’s story culminates in this triumphant shout: “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:3-4).

In what context does redeemed humanity enjoy the glories of face-to-face fellowship with God? Is it here on this planet, in this universe? Again, Scripture gives the answer. Revelation 21 identifies our destination as the “new heaven and new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. . . .”  The King of Kings declares, “I am making everything new!” Most of the chapter is devoted to a mind-boggling description of the Holy City, the New Jerusalem. Its magnificent features not only stretch the limits of human imagination but also reveal that familiar physical laws exist no more.

In this passage God gives a preview of the fulfillment of Romans 8:22-23. The whole “groaning” creation—its time and space, matter and energy, and “we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit”—receives deliverance from “bondage to decay.” This is the moment of our “adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”

Humanity’s deliverance from death and decay is the focal point of the passage; however, the reference does encompass the entire physical universe, to which space, time, matter, and energy belong. The passage would seem to suggest, then, that the deliverance applies even to the physical laws, which began in effect at the cosmic creation event. They are, thus, finite and the One who created them brings them to an end as soon as their purpose is fulfilled. 

To say that the universe and its thermodynamic laws are eternal is to contradict both Scripture and the record of nature. To say that Adam and Eve’s sin introduced those laws is to overlook three biblical doctrines. First, rebellion against God’s authority, i. e., “sin,” existed prior to Adam’s rebellion in Eden. The Bible does not record exactly when Satan sinned, but that event certainly predates his invasion of Eden. It could have occurred before Earth was formed. Job 38:7 says that the angels, of whom Lucifer was one, were witnesses to God’s laying the foundations of the earth.

Second, God decided to allow Satan’s entrance to Eden. The doctrine of God’s omnipotence and omniscience leads to the conclusion that He had a plan for using Adam and Eve’s tragic rebellion, with all its horrific effects, to bring about a greater and better future than even the wonders of Eden could afford.

Third, whatever the timing of Satan’s rebellion, God created the universe knowing that Satan would be the first to sin. Consequently, the universe He designed would be a universe perfectly suited to bring about the glorious victory He planned. In other words, He made a universe governed by the second law of thermodynamics (and other laws) wherein humans would be tested by Satan but with the possibility of being permanently rescued from Satan’s grasp by God’s conquering love and grace.

The precipitating event, the time marker, for the climactic “adoption” event is described in the final paragraphs of Revelation 20. Satan and his henchmen have been sent to their inescapable doom, and their captives stand before God’s judgment seat to receive the penalty, which they insist on paying, for their pseudo autonomy. In other words, God’s conquest of evil, which was “finished” on Calvary’s cross, has at this point been fully carried out. This is in part an answer to the question, if there is an all-loving God then why does evil exist? The answer is that evil is in the process of being defeated, and humankind has the privilege of partnering with God in that battle to conquer evil. The result is that one day all that which is evil––everything that is irredeemable––will be quarantined in a place called “Hell.” The result is that the new creation will be eternally secure. Temptation’s source can no longer come into contact with the creatures God made for His own eternal delight.

One can reasonably infer that God’s plan and purpose for the creation, as described in Genesis 1 and amplified elsewhere in Scripture, has been accomplished. That plan involves the conquest of evil, which was introduced not at the time of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin but rather when Lucifer rebelled. Sin and its consequences came to humanity when the first humans gave in to the serpent’s temptation. And those consequences were, and still are, devastating.

The biblical worldview we propose says that Adam and Eve’s fall into sin radically changed the human race, impacting the entire planet. It did not, however, change all the physical laws of the cosmos. Genesis 2 explicitly states that Adam worked physically and ate earthly food before he sinned. Such work—including the digestion process—implies that gravity and thermodynamics, for example, were in effect before the fall, as they are today. The existence of stars, including the sun, also implies the operation of thermodynamic laws.1

Work and the possibility of physical pain did not come as part of the curse God pronounced at the time of Adam and Eve’s sin. God designed productive work to be satisfying, enjoyable.2 He gave Adam and Eve a job before they committed any sin.3 Sin, however, destroyed both the productivity and joy of their work. This destruction still makes work frustrating and painful.

Physical pain is a necessary partner to physical pleasure. Such pain also warns of impending danger. The capacity for pain, then, cannot be considered a bad thing. The introduction of sin means that we all experience more pain than would otherwise be necessary. Furthermore, it introduces an entirely new and more excruciating kind of pain—spiritual and emotional pain. When a woman suffers to give birth to a child, her greatest pain comes from the heart-rending awareness that this little person, to whom her heart is inextricably attached, must experience the awful effects of sin, both within and without.4 Such pain completely overshadows the physical pain of childbearing.

The end of that pain, the enactment of God’s judgment against it at the Great White Throne, comes with the end of the physical universe as we know it. Revelation is not the only portion of Scripture in which this point is made. The Psalmist declares:

In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing you will change them
and they will be discarded.5

Isaiah says that “all the stars of the heavens will be dissolved,”6 that “the heavens will vanish like smoke,”7 that God “will create new heavens and a new earth,”8 and that “the former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.”9 Jesus proclaims that “heaven and earth will pass away.”10 The author of the book of Hebrews quotes directly from the Psalm above.11 Peter explains:

Long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed. . . . By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. . . . The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire. . . . Everything will be destroyed in this way. . . . That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with His promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.12

When Christ takes His seat to judge Earth’s rebels, the earth and the sky “flee” from His presence.13 Obviously this seat exists beyond the confines of “the heavens and the earth” mentioned in Genesis 1:1. Living beings, angels and humans, remain alive in place beyond the “very good” Earth. Some go to the place of “second death,”14 and some remain in the glorious presence of God. At this point, God has no more use for this planet and cosmos.

Just how new is the new creation? It is more than just a remake or renovation of the old creation. It is completely and radically new. The laws of gravity, electromagnetism, and thermodynamics are gone. The text directly claims that everything associated with the second law of thermodynamics (decay, death, pain, etc.) never again exists.15 Gravity as we know it no longer exists. (Gravity does not allow a structure of the dimensions ascribed to the New Jerusalem. Gravity would force it into a spherical shape.)16 Electromagnetism as we know it no longer exists, for light in an electromagnetic environment coexists with darkness and shadows. The new creation will be filled with “light” without any darkness or shadows and without such entities as the sun, stars, and light bulbs as sources of illumination.17 

What can be said, then, of Old Testament verses that seem to suggest the Earth and universe last forever? The interpretation we proffer must account for the following passages:

He set them [the sun, moon, stars, highest heavens and waters above the skies] forever and ever. (Psalm 148:6)

I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. (Ecclesiastes 3:14)

[Those] who lead many to righteousness [will shine] like the stars for ever and ever. (Daniel 12:3)

[God’s] work has been finished since the creation of the world. (Hebrews 4:3)

The Hebrew word translated as “forever” in Psalm 148:6 (also in Ecclesiastes 3:14, and Daniel 12:3) is olam. In Psalm 148:6 and Daniel 12:3, the Hebrew word ‘ad is included in the phrase as well. These words carry slightly different meanings in different contexts (unlike the Greek word for “forever”), and one of their literal meanings is a “long continuance into the future.”18 In the light of the rest of Scripture, that meaning seems to apply here.

Many Bible scholars view Ecclesiastes 3:14 and Hebrews 4:3 as declarations of God’s sovereign, immutable plan for humanity. In other words, God’s has determined what He will do and nothing can change that. As for Daniel 12:3, the shining “forever” seems in the context of the larger passage to describe “those who lead many to righteousness.”

Better Than Eden19

One argument for a completely and radically new creation comes from 1 Corinthians 2:9. In this passage Paul explains that no human can “conceive or imagine what God has prepared for those who love Him.” Imagining or visualizing phenomena within the laws of physics and space-time dimensions of our universe certainly is possible. We can picture, at least in a limited way, what Eden, or a renewed earth might be like if we could go there, but we humans simply cannot picture life in a realm beyond the dimensions and physical laws of our universe.

God has promised to His believers a reward far beyond what anyone, no matter how spiritual or imaginative, can conceive. Moreover, the doctrine of heaven is one of the chief distinctions between Christianity and other belief systems. Many cults, for example, promise an Earth-bound (or planet-bound) paradise replete with physical pleasures, including sexual pleasure; Christianity promises deliverance from earthly paradise, no matter how magnificently restored its condition. In one sense, any earthly paradise may be compared with Egypt in Moses’ time. It was a land of splendor and plenty but also a land of slavery.

Slavery of one kind or another is inherently associated with the laws of thermodynamics. If we eliminate the law of entropy, for example, we have not eliminated all decay in the universe. As people age, they observe that certain body parts begin to lose the battle with gravity. Skin breaks down under long-term exposure to electromagnetic radiation.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of Eden’s slavery has to do with time. Our original parents were confined, as we humans still are, to a single time dimension. Time’s forward march can be neither stopped nor reversed. This time line limits each one of us to just a few close relationships in our lifetime. In fact, the deepest level of intimacy possible in this creation, inside or outside Eden, can be experienced with only one fellow human at a time. For this reason God gave us marriage, monogamous marriage.

Jesus tells His followers that in the new creation there will be no marriage and, evidently, no sexual relationships or nuclear families.20 The relationship all believers will enjoy with Christ and with each other is likened to a marriage. Jesus often refers to believers in the new creation with singular nouns and pronouns.21 We are, He says, His bride, and we all will be one as He and the Father (and of course the Holy Spirit) are one. The oneness of the Godhead implies that the Father, Son, and Spirit are in continuous communication and fellowship with one another. For us to experience a comparable kind of oneness we, too, must be in continuous communication and fellowship with one another and with Him. Somehow, the new creation will allow us to communicate and relate intimately with billions of others all at once and always in perfect harmony.

Given this new capacity for knowing and being known, for loving and being loved, our need and desire for marriage and family are more than fully met. According to God’s promise, we will continuously enjoy something superior to the pleasures of the very best earthly relationships, including marriage, with all fellow believers simultaneously. Whatever responsibilities He assigns to us will be fulfilled with complete and unhindered joy. Just as this universe was designed for the purpose of Redemption, the new creation is designed for Reward.22 In fact, even our limited comprehension of the place He is preparing for us gives new meaning to that word.

References:

  1. Job 38:33.
  2. Ecclesiastes 3:13.
  3. Genesis 1:28.
  4. Genesis 3:16.
  5. Psalm 102:25-26.
  6. Isaiah 34:4.
  7. Isaiah 51:6.
  8. Isaiah 66:22.
  9. Isaiah 65:17.
  10. Matthew 24:35.
  11. Hebrews 1:10-12.
  12. 2 Peter 3:5-13.
  13. Revelation 20:11.
  14. Revelation 20:14.
  15. Revelation 21:4.
  16. Revelation 21:16-17.
  17. Revelation 21:23, 22:4.
  18. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, v. 2 (Chicago: Moody Press, 1981), 673.
  19. See Hugh Ross, chapter 17 in Beyond the Cosmos, 2nd ed. (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1999).
  20. Matthew 22:29-30; Luke 20:34-35.
  21. John 17:11, Romans 12:5, 15:5-6, Revelation 21:9-27.
  22. Matthew 5:12, 16:27; Luke 6:23, 35; 1 Corinthians 3:14; Ephesians 6:8; Colossians 3:24; Hebrews 11:26; Revelation 22:12.

Spanish Version


Convergence: Evidence for a Single Creator

By Fazale (Fuz) R. Rana, Ph.D.

Closely related to the phenomenon of repeatable evolution is convergence. Convergence refers to the widespread tendency in nature of unrelated organisms to possess nearly identical anatomical and physiological characteristics.1 The wings of birds and bats is one textbook example of convergence.  Birds and bats are unrelated organisms, with birds belonging to the class Aves and bats to the class Mammalia.  Though superficially similar, the wing structures of birds and bats are fundamentally different.  Another common example of convergence¾one in which the fundamental structural differences are not so obvious¾is the remarkable anatomical similarity shared by the modern placental wolf and the extinct Tasmanian wolf.2

Both the creation and evolutionary paradigms offer an explanation for convergence. Creationists view convergence as the intelligent activity of a single Creator who employs a common set of solutions to address a common set of problems facing unrelated organisms in their quest for survival. Evolutionists assert that convergence results when unrelated organisms encounter nearly identical selection forces (environmental, competitive, and predatory pressures). Natural selection then channels the random variations believed to be responsible for evolutionary change along similar pathways to produce similar features in unrelated organisms.3

Since both the creation and evolutionary frameworks attempt to explain biological convergence, an analysis of this feature of nature can be used to evaluate the two paradigms. When critically assessed, the evolutionary paradigm is found to be woefully inadequate when accounting for all the facets of biological convergence.  On the other hand, biological convergence is readily explained by an origins model that evokes a single Creator.

One of the challenges that convergence creates for the evolutionary paradigm is the frequency with which it occurs throughout life’s history. Convergence is a common characteristic of life. This commonness makes little sense in light of evolutionary theory. If evolution is indeed responsible for the diversity of life, one would expect convergence to be extremely rare.  The mechanism that drives the evolutionary process consists of a large number of unpredictable, chance events that occur one after another. Given this mechanism and the complexity and fine-tuning of biological systems, it seems improbable that disparate evolutionary pathways would ever lead to the same biological feature.4

Two remarkable examples of complex biological features recently recognized as being convergent are bat echolocation (the ability of an organism to orient itself based on perceiving reflections of sound it emits) and parrot, songbird, and hummingbird forebrain structure.  A recent DNA sequence analysis has just confirmed two earlier studies that, from an evolutionary perspective, requires echolocation in bats to have evolved independently in two separate groups (microchiroptera and megachiroptera).5, 6, 7  This study, along with previous analyses also indicate that the strikingly similar limb structures of bats and flying lemurs used for flying, likewise, must have evolved independently, when the data is interpreted from an evolutionary perspective.

Another recent study, employing behavioral differences in gene expression in brain tissue, has demonstrated that the brain structure of hummingbirds, songbirds, and parrots responsible for vocal learning (the ability to “learn” vocalizations by imitation rather than by instinct) is essentially identical.8, 9  This is surprising, since these three birds are unrelated to one another. That is, the seven distinct structures in the forebrain of these three groups of birds that are responsible for vocal learning are convergent. From an evolutionary perspective, these structures must have evolved independently of one another on three separate occasions.

It is difficult to accept, even when biased towards naturalism, that the complex structures involved in bat echolocation, bat and lemur flight, and bird vocal learning could have emerged strictly through random events. However, the remarkable convergence just described would be expected if a single Creator was responsible for creating bats, lemurs, parrots, songbirds, and hummingbirds.

Even more challenging for the evolutionist are the cases in which convergence occurs in organisms from radically different environments. Under these circumstances, the forces that comprise natural selection must be different by definition.  The classic example of this type of convergence is found in the eye structure of the cephalopods (nautili, cuttlefish, squids, and octopods).10  Their similarity to vertebrate eyes is remarkable from an evolutionary perspective, given that 1) mollusks, which include cephalopods, are classified as a member of a fundamentally different group (lophotrochozoan) than vertebrates (deuterostomes)11; and 2) the selective forces that would have shaped the formation of both the cephalopod eye and vertebrate eye must have been quite different. Evolution would have required an aquatic environment for the cephalopods and a primarily terrestrial environment for the vertebrates.

An even more remarkable example of convergence occurring in aquatic and terrestrial environments can be seen in the sandlance (fish) and chameleon (reptile), respectively.  Recent experiments have uncovered an extraordinary similarity in the visual systems and behavior for these two creatures.12, 13, 14, 15  Both the chameleon and the sandlance move their eyes independent of one another in a jerky manner, rather than in concert. While one eye is in motion the other eye is motionless.  Moreover, both animals use the cornea of the eye to focus on objects.  All other reptiles and fish use the lens of the eye to focus images on the retina. The chameleon and sandlance both rely on a specialized muscle (the cornealis muscle) to adjust the focusing of the cornea. The chameleon determines depth perception using a single eye. Scientists believe the sandlance also determines depth perception in this manner. Both the sandlance and the chameleon have skin coverings over their eyes to prevent them from being conspicuous to both predators and prey.  The feeding behavior of both animals is also the same. The trajectory that the chameleon tongue takes when attacking its prey is the same as that taken by the sandlance when it lunges for its prey. (The sandlance buries itself in sand beds with its eyes above the surface of the sand and waits for tiny crustaceans to pass by.)

The words of the team of researchers who were among the first to discover this convergence are compelling: “When faced with a beautifully coordinated optical system such as this, it is a challenge to provide an explanation for the convergence of so many different finely-tuned mechanisms.”16

These examples highlight the difficulty that convergence creates for the evolutionary paradigm. No known evolutionary mechanism can account for the nature of biological convergence. Convergence has been far too common throughout life’s history, has involved exceedingly complex structures, and has occurred in situations in which the forces of natural selection have been vastly different.  Biological convergence is an important component in the argument that life, throughout earth’s history, is a result of the supernatural activity of a Creator.

References:

  1. Monroe W. Strickberger, Evolution, 3d ed., (Sunberg, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 2000), 632; 637.
  2. Mark Ridley, Evolution, 2d ed. (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Science, 1996), 470-72.
  3. Strickberger, 632; 637.
  4. Kurt Wise, “The Origin of Life’s Major Groups,” in The Creation Hypothesis: Scientific Evidence for an Intelligent Designer, J.P. Moreland, ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 212-15.
  5. Emma C. Teeling et al., “Molecular Evidence Regarding the Origin of Echolocation and Flight in Bats,” Nature 403 (2000): 188-92.
  6. Dorothy E. Pumo et al., “Complete Mitochondrial Genome of a Neotropical Fruit Bat, Artibues Jamaicensis, and a New Hypothesis of the Relationships of Bats to Other Eutherian Mammals,” Journal of Molecular Evolution 47 (1998): 709-17.
  7. James M. Hutcheon et al., “Base Compositional Biases and the Bat Problem III. The Question of Microchiropteran Monophyly,” Philosophical Transaction of the Royal Society of LondonB 353 (1998): 607-17.
  8. Erich D. Jarvis et al., “Behaviorally Driven Gene Expression Reveals Song Nuclei in Hummingbird Brain,” Nature 406 (2000): 628-32.
  9. Annette Heist, “Singing in the Brain,” Natural History, October (2000): 14-16.
  10. Robert D. Barnes, Invertebrate Zoology, 3d ed., (Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Sanders Company, 1974), 424-27.
  11. Anna Marie A. Aquinaldo and James A. Lake, “Evolution of Multicellular Animals,” American Zoologist 38 (1998): 878-87.
  12. Mandyam V. Srinivasan, “When One Eye Is Better Than Two,” Nature 399 (1999): 305-07.
  13. J.D. Pettigrew and S.P. Collin, “Terrestrial Optics in an Aquatic Eye: The Sandlance, Limnichthytes fasciatus (Creediidae, Teleostei),” Journal of Comparative Physiology A 177 (1995): 397-408.
  14. John D. Pettigrew et al., “Convergence of Specialised Behavior, Eye Movements and Visual Optics in the Sandlance (Teleostei) and Chameleon (Reptilia),” Current Biology 9 (1999): R286-88.
  15. Kerstin A. Fritsches and Justin Marshall, “A New Category of Eye Movements in a Small Fish,” Current Biology 9 (1999): R272-73.
  16. Pettigrew and Collin, 407.


The Measurability of the Universe––a Record of the Creator’s Design

By Guillermo Gonzalez

If the universe were not measurable, scientific study would be impossible. Astronomy, biology, chemistry, cosmology, geology, physics, and the other disciplines of science would be no less quixotic than alchemy or astrology. Science would not—could not—shed much light in the cosmic darkness. 

Most scientists take the measurability of the physical realm completely for granted: It is measurable because scientists have found ways to measure it. Scientists (myself included) may take pride in our ability to make measurements––especially those measurements requiring ingenuity, persistence, and skill––but why take the universe’s measurability for granted? Is there any deep significance to the measurability of the universe? The answer springs from the very foundations of science, from the philosophical assumptions  (chiefly drawn from the Judeo-Christian Scriptures1) on which scientific endeavor rests. These assumptions include, among others, the existence of a theory-independent external world, the existence of order in the external world, the reality of truth, the validity and reliability of the laws of logic and mathematics, the basic reliability of sense perception, and the adequacy of the human mind to comprehend the universe.2  The Judeo-Christian vision of reality predicts a unique correspondence between the physical universe and the human mind.

By identifying the aspects of measurability humans cannot influence or control, one can determine (at least roughly) whether or not the measurability of the universe requires supernatural fine-tuning, and if so, to what degree. This study begins with a look at the nearby cosmos and from there moves outward in space, backward in time.

The Measurability of the Earth

One of the characteristics that makes Earth such an ideal “recording device” is its built-in set of time markers––cyclical rhythms on time scales of days, months, seasons, years, centuries, periods, eras, and eons. Humanity could have found itself in a far less measurable place. The Moon, for example, does not have active weather, seasons, or tectonics, and therefore offers few time markers. The Moon looks ancient, yet ageless. Jupiter and the other gas giants have active weather, but they lack any solid surface on which to record their rhythms and events. The thin crust of the Earth provides not only a safe and comfortable place for living creatures of all kinds, but it also serves as the planet’s information storage space. The deep, hot interior of the planet, the atmosphere, and the oceans are all too fluid to preserve much of the past.

Earth’s cycles provide the steady beat of time markers, with other, more subtle, fluctuations superimposed. Because of seasonal changes in weather and plant life in a given locale, growth and deposition phenomena leave easily distinguishable (and measurable) features. Growth rings in trees not only yield information on the rain and temperature for a given season, but they also provide a unique tool for measuring the carbon-14 content of the atmosphere, which is modulated, in turn, by the sunspot cycle. Research on tree rings gives astronomers information about solar variations on a wide range of time scales, from decades to millennia.

Snow deposits in Greenland and Antarctica have created a four hundred-thousand-year record of the composition of Earth’s atmosphere. 3 Ancient air bubbles trapped within these deposits allow us to measure the concentration of carbon dioxide and other gases in past eras. The snow deposits give us a measure of ancient dust levels, which are indicative of large volcanic eruptions or very dry conditions. They also enable us to measure the ratios of three oxygen isotopes, which indicate the mean global temperature in past epochs. According to a very recent study, nitrate spikes in Antarctic ice deposits may help us trace supernova events (gigantic star explosions) of the past thousand years.

Certain features of the ocean floor allow us an even longer-range view, hundreds of millions of years back into Earth’s history. At the mid-ocean ridges (“spreading centers”), new sea floor is produced when molten rock upwells from the hot mantle below. When the molten rock solidifies it records the state of the earth’s magnetic field at that time. By studying these sea-floor records at varying distances from the spreading centers, oceanographers can “read” the history of fluctuations in Earth’s magnetic field. A phenomenon so subtle as to be unnoticeable in everyday life is reliably recorded and preserved for later discovery and deciphering.

Ancient “tidalites” (tidal sediment layers) and coral, mollusk, and stromatolite growth layers record the lunar and solar tidal cycles, giving us unique data on the length of terrestrial days and lunar months in ancient times. Such data tell us that 500 million years ago, a day was about 20 hours long and a month was about 27.5 (present-epoch) days.4

Meteorites that have hit the earth provide another treasure trove of data (preserved for billions of years) waiting to be unlocked. Many meteorites come from the asteroid belt, where collisions between asteroids send shards hurtling throughout the inner solar system (planets from Mars inward) and occasionally to the earth. Fragments falling on the ice fields of Antarctica are the best preserved ones, and their dark appearance makes them easy to distinguish against the uniform blue-white background. Today, a meteorite’s individual grains, each measuring less than a millimeter in width, can be separately analyzed. These grains yield invaluable clues to the sources of short-lived (now extinct) “radionuclides” present in the gas-and-dust cloud from which our sun and solar system formed. They also give us clues to the timing of certain key events in the formation of neighboring planets.

Even more amazing is the discovery that meteorites carry what appear to be individual interstellar dust grains, each from a different star that existed before the Sun. These dust particles give us rare and important data on the chemical history of the Milky Way. It appears that as part of God’s grand design of the cosmos, He has provided a method of collecting, preserving, and delivering to our doorstep tiny bits of distant (both in the spatial and temporal sense) stars. What more could an astronomer ask for?

On a less grand scale, small bits of the moon and Mars have been blasted to the earth by large impacts. The most famous of these is the Martian meteorite, ALH 84001 that stirred much media attention a few years ago. The Moon probably contains a rich reserve of unaltered planet shards from the early history of the solar system. One might think of the Moon as the earth’s attic, where ancient artifacts are stored and forgotten, perhaps to be retrieved one day.

The Measurability of the Sun

Total eclipses of the Sun as seen from the surface of the earth may be described as both “useful” and “exceptional.”5 Apart from the deep awe they inspire in every people group from remote tribes to astrophysicists, these eclipses allow us to study the Sun’s corona, test general relativity, and calculate the slowdown of the earth’s rotation. They are exceptional in that they are nearly “perfect;” that is, the earth and Moon are similar in size, the solar and lunar profiles on the sky are nearly perfect circles, and the Sun appears to be larger when it is viewed from Earth than when it is viewed from any other planet with moons. The likelihood of finding this combination of features is remote. Of the roughly 65 natural satellites (moons) in the solar system, none even comes close to producing such clear and spectacular eclipses.

What’s more, humans live at a special time with respect to the observability of total solar eclipses. Since the Moon is spiraling away from Earth and the Sun is swelling due to its changing internal structure, such eclipses are possible only for a relatively brief time span. They will continue only for about 250 million years. That may seem like a long time, but it constitutes only approximately 5% of Earth’s history.

The Sun’s radiation conveys a wealth of information. By observing its spectrum, researchers learn about the Sun’s composition, surface temperature, and surface gravity. This “readable” spectrum is not unique to the Sun, but the Sun’s spectrum is nearly optimal in terms of measurability and the number (and abundances) of chemical elements it reveals.

This optimal quality of the Sun’s measurability derives from characteristics other than its proximity to Earth and the large number of photons arriving at Earth-based instruments. In comparison to the spectra of other stars with similar “signal-to-noise ratio” (data quality), the Sun’s spectrum contains more extractable information. The Sun’s particular surface temperature and its relatively low luminosity allow for the extraction of more information. The remarkable convergence of these just-right characteristics maximizes its readability.

The Astronomical Realm

The light sent to Earth from sources outside the solar system contains a wealth of information about stars, nebulae, galaxies, and even the intervening matter. Using various techniques and instruments, astronomers have used that light to map out most of the Milky Way disk, clearly delineating its spiral arm structure.

The measurement of the three-dimensional space motions of stars in the Milky Way is possible only because stars can be treated as if they were mathematical points. This feature allows astronomers to measure the relative positions of stars very precisely, and it means that stars can be used as simple probes of the Milky Way’s gravitational field. If stars were larger and the distances between them smaller––like nebulae, for example––then the mathematics would be much more complex. Stars’ positions and other features would be far less measurable, because their light would be spread over a larger volume of space. Also, if the Milky Way contained fewer stars, it would yield fewer and more obscure clues about its history and structure.

Astronomers have discovered that certain light sources are particularly useful as “standard candles” (see sidebar). Examples of standard candles are Cepheid and RR Lyrae variable stars. The pulsation period of a Cepheid variable is related to its intrinsic luminosity in a simple way. By measuring the period and mean apparent brightness of a particular Cepheid variable star, one can easily calculate its distance. Because of the simplicity and consistency with which these objects operate, they provide invaluable reference points, or units of measure. Astronomers rely on this important data to reveal some of the fundamental constants of the universe.

The cosmic microwave background radiation, first detected in 1965, has enabled cosmologists to extract information on enormous size- and time-scales. With the launch of the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite in 1989, astronomers were able to make measurements precise enough to confirm several predictions of the Big Bang theory (a theory consistent with the Bible) and effectively kill both the Steady State hypothesis and the oscillating universe hypothesis. Atheistic cosmologists as a way to avoid a beginning for the universe had favored these hypotheses. Two upcoming space missions, the NASA Microwave Anisotropy Probe (MAP) and the European Space Agency (ESA) Planck Surveyor, promise orders of magnitude improvement over the measurements the pioneering COBE satellite recorded. The background radiation is sufficiently intense that we can measure it precisely with modern instruments, but not so strong that it is unaffected by processes shortly following its creation. Therefore, we can learn about certain parameters of the universe at very early times, constrain some aspects of fundamental physics, and garner a glimpse at early large-scale structure and formation.

As the universe ages, the background radiation will become less measurable. First, the continued expansion of space-time will cause it to become less intense and more redshifted. Second, as stars continue to form in the Milky Way, they will contribute to greater foreground contamination, resulting in greater difficulty in measuring the ever-fading background.

Teleological Implications

In terms of its mass, the Sun is among the top 10% most massive stars in the solar neighborhood. 6 Aside from obvious questions of habitability, what if humans were attempting to scan the skies from a planet orbiting one of the less massive stars, one of those among the 90% majority? What would they be able to detect and measure? The most fundamental ruler in their astronomical “tool chest” would be less effective. It is the method called stellar parallax. Earth’s inhabitants can use the changing position of the earth in its orbit around the Sun to detect the apparent reflex motion of nearby stars relative to distant background stars. By this method they can measure the distance from the earth to those nearer stars.

M dwarfs are the most common type of star in the Milky Way. The habitable zone comprises the place around a star where liquid water can exist on the surface of a terrestrial-like planet continuously. The estimated diameter of the habitable zone around an M dwarf is only about 10% that of the zone around the Sun, the zone in which Earth resides. Therefore, for a planet orbiting an M dwarf, the effectiveness of the stellar parallax method would be severely diminished. In fact, astronomers on such a planet would be able to observe only one-thousandth the volume of space Earth-bound astronomers can observe. The distances to many rare types of stars, such as O and B stars, and Cepheid and RR Lyrae variables, would remain a mystery, and information they provide would be inaccessible. Clearly, M dwarfs would be less hospitable for life, and the cosmos far less measurable from their environs.

Since measurability is not a requirement for habitability, one cannot invoke the Anthropic Principle7 to make the remarkable measurability of the universe seem less remarkable. Evidence suggests that the universe was designed not only for human habitability but also for human measurability and comprehensibility. The same processes and features that make Earth habitable also make and preserve a record of activity and provide a means for measurement. Those very places in the Milky Way that would be most dangerous to humans (e. g., the galactic center, globular clusters, and spiral arms) also offer the poorest visibility and opportunity to make measurements. Does it seem a mere coincidence that Earth’s location in the Milky Way affords an optimal view of most of the universe? Humanity’s home planet is a comfortable porch from which curious humans can gaze out to the ends of time and space.

This argument allows us to ascribe purpose to any fine-tuned, measurable aspect of the universe, such as stars and galaxies, earthquakes, neutrinos, and the Moon. If anyone asks, “Why are there so many stars and galaxies in the universe?”  One can respond with double impact: Not only is a universe as big as this one required for any kind of life, but only a vast number of stars and galaxies permits intelligent creatures to measure (reliably) the basic parameters of the universe. Earthquakes are important not only because life needs the effects of plate tectonics but also because they allow us to probe the internal structure of the Earth, which could not be done any other conceivable way. Neutrinos give us a way to measure the temperature of the sun’s core and to study the details of neutron star formation in supernovae explosions. The Moon records some of the early history of the solar system and takes part in producing wonderful eclipses. And so on.

Of course, this consideration brings us to the deeper, theological question: Why would the Creator make the universe so measurable? What’s the point of allowing humans to measure the characteristics of the universe? To those who hold a Christian worldview, the answer is clear. In fact, the Bible explicitly states it: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20).

Sidebar: Standard Candles

Astronomers employ some types of stars as “standard candles.” These are stars that have luminosities that are in some way standard. As a simple everyday example of a standard candle, consider an ordinary 100-watt light bulb. Because a light bulb has a constant luminosity (or intrinsic brightness) we can estimate its distance from us if we can measure its apparent brightness. This technique only works if we have good reason to believe the luminosity of a given light source is some standard value. For a distant light bulb, one can verify its luminosity by observing it with a telescope and looking for the phrase “100 watts.” Of course, this does not work with stars, but the principle is similar.

References:

  1. See Stanley L. Jaki, The Savior of Science (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Gateway, 1988).
  2. J. P. Moreland, The Creation Hypothesis (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 17.
  3. J. R. Petit, et al., “Climate and Atmospheric History of the Past 420,000 Years from the Vostok Ice Core, Antarctica,” Nature 399(1999): 429-36.
  4. C.P. Sonett and M.A. Chan, “Neoproterozoic Earth-Moon Dynamics: Rework of the 900 Ma Big Cottonwood Canyon Tidal Laminae,” Geophysical Research Letters  25 (1998): 539-42.
  5. Guillermo Gonzalez, "Wonderful Eclipses," Astronomy & Geophysics, (June 1999): 3.18-3.20.
  6. Guillermo Gonzalez, “Is the Sun Anomalous?” Astronomy & Geophysics 40 (October 1999): no. 5, 25-29.
  7. Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos 2d ed. (Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress, 1995), 92, 121-25, 128.


First Detection of Earth-sized Planet?

By Hugh Ross

A team of 41 astronomers from Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and the United States took advantage of a naturally occurring telescope to image a small planet orbiting a star somewhere between us and the Galactic Bulge (the dense concentration of stars that exists at the core of our Milky Way galaxy).1 The natural telescope consisted of a large star functioning as a gravitational lens. According to general relativity, a sufficiently massive body can bend the path of a beam of light that passes close enough to it. Therefore, if  such a body lies between us and another object located directly behind it, it can magnify for us the image of the more distant object (see diagram).  The more massive the lense object is, the more it will magnify.

Gravitational lenses that astronomers are  fortunate enough to find exhibit widely varying magnifying properties. In this particular case the magnification exceeded twenty times.

The team’s results demonstrate that relative to the star, MACHO 98-BLG-35, that provided the gravitational lens phenomenon, the planet orbiting it is between 0.004 and 0.02 percent of the mass of the star. For star masses that could possibly give rise to such a spectacular magnification, the planet mass orbiting it would fall between 3 and 35 times the mass of the Earth (or, 0.17 and 2.0 Neptune masses).

While not so small as an Earth-sized planet, the discovered object does rank as the smallest extrasolar planet yet found. The next smallest is about ten times more massive.

Can this gravitational lens technique ever find planets as small as Earth? Yes, but probably not more than a handful and never with any certainty as to the mass of the planet, its distance from its star, or any of the features of its orbit. That job must be left to the space interferometer project discussed in the accompanying article.

The apologetic significance of the planet discovered orbiting MACHO 98-BLG-35 is that the data demonstrates the planetary system is lacking in large gas-giant planets like Jupiter and Saturn. Since such gas-giants, located where they are in our solar system and manifesting stable near-circular orbits, are essential ingredients for the support of life on Earth,2 we know that the MACHO 98-BLG-35 system is not a candidate for a possibly life-supporting planet. Indeed, not one of the 42 extrasolar planetary systems discovered so far offers any possibility of harboring a planet with the capacity to support life.

The hope expressed by many non-theists before all this research got started was that planetary systems like ours would prove to be common.  This hope appears to be dashed. Our solar system so far remains alone in exhibiting the extraordinary properties necessary for the maintenance of a planet with the capacity to support life.  

References:

  1. S. H. Rhie, et al, “On Planetary Companions to the MACHO 98-BLG-35 Microlens Star,” Astrophysical Journal, 533 (2000), pp. 378-391.
  2. Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, second edition (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1995), pp. 137-138. 


Protein Structures Reveal Even More Evidence for Design

By Fazale (Fuz) R. Rana, Ph.D.

Recent structural characterization of three proteins, RNA polymerase II, thioredoxin reductase (from E. coli), and chloroplast F1-F0 ATPase, provides exciting additional evidence for Design at the subcellular level.1, 2, 3  These three proteins possess, as part of their architectural make-up, components that are literally machine parts.   These new discoveries add to the growing list of molecular motors (enzyme assemblies responsible for cellular movement) and other enzyme systems that are direct analogs to man-made devices.4, 5, 6 

A team of researchers from Stanford University has recently solved the structure of the RNA polymerase II backbone at 3.5 Å resolution.7  RNA polymerase II is a 12-protein subunit complex that synthesizes messenger RNA using DNA as a template. Messenger RNA produced this way contains the information needed to direct the synthesis of proteins at subcellular particles called ribosomes. For this reason, RNA polymerase II plays a central role in gene expression.

The structural analysis of RNA polymerase II has been nearly 20 years in the works.8   This has been due to such factors as the small amount of it in the cell, as well as its fragility, its large size, and its complexity. Diligent effort over the years coupled with technological advances has finally allowed the team from Stanford University to visualize the structure of RNA polymerase II.

The results of this work have been well worth the wait. The molecular basis for understanding RNA polymerase II function is now in place. Equally as exciting are the theological implications of this work.

RNA polymerase II has remarkable machine-like character.9  RNA polymerase II subunits form a channel that houses the chain-like DNA template. “Jaws” help grip the DNA template holding it in place during RNA synthesis. The newly formed RNA chain locks into place a hinge clamp as it exits the RNA polymerase II channel. A funnel-like pore delivers the small subunit molecules to the RNA polymerase II channel. Then the small subunit molecules in the channel are added to the growing end of the RNA chain.

In a similar vein, structural characterization at 3.0 Å resolution reveals that thioredoxin reductase function is built around a ball and socket joint.10  This enzyme, isolated from the bacterium E. coli, assists in the transfer of electrons between molecules.  During the catalytic cycle, the enzyme undergoes a conformational rearrangement that involves the 67° rotation of one of its domains around a clearly defined swivel surface.

Finally, recent image analysis by a team from Germany and Switzerland using atomic force microscopy has revealed structural information about chloroplast F1-F0 ATPase.  On the basis of this work, we can now add this enzyme to the growing list of ATPase enzymes that are rotary motors.11  As with the other rotary motor ATPases, chloroplast ATPase has a rotor, stator, and turbine.

The recent recognition that these three enzymes have machine-like domains, along with previous structural characterization of other enzymes with machine parts (such as F1-F0 ATPase, V1-V0 ATPase, bacterial flagellar proteins and myosin) serve to revitalize the Watchmaker argument.12  Popularized by William Paley in the 18th century, this argument states that as a watch requires a watchmaker, so too, nature requires a Creator.

This simple, yet powerful, argument has been challenged by skeptics like David Hume, who asserts that the necessary conclusion of a Creator, based on analogical reasoning, is only compelling if there is a high degree of similarity between the objects that form the analogy.13  Skeptics have long argued that nature and a watch are sufficiently dissimilar so that the conclusion drawn from the Watchmaker argument is unsound.

The discovery of enzymes with domains that are direct analogs to man-made devices addresses this concern, because of the striking similarity between the machine parts of these enzymes and man-made devices.  Furthermore, as the list of enzymes with machine parts grows, the conclusion of the Watchmaker analogy grows even more certain. Experts in inductive thinking will point out that the more objects taking part in an analogy, the more sound the conclusion arrived at through analogical reasoning.14

References:

  1. Patrick Cramer, et al., “Architecture of RNA Polymerase II and Implications for the Transcription Mechanism,” Science 288 (2000): 640-49.
  2. Brett W. Lennon et al., “Twists in Catalysis: Alternating Conformations of Escherichia coli Thioredoxin Reductase,” Science 289 (2000): 1190-94.
  3. Holger Seelert et al., “Proton-Powered Turbine of a Plant,” Nature 405 (2000): 418-19.
  4. Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge To Evolution (New York: The Free Press, 1996), 69-72.
  5. Hugh Ross, “Small Scale Evidence of Grand-Scale Design,” Facts and Faith 4, no. 2 (1997): 1.
  6. Fazale Rana and Micah Lott, “Hume vs. Paley: These ‘Motors’ Settle the Debate,” Facts for Faith 1, No. 2 (2000): 34-39.
  7. Patrick Cramer et al., 640-49.
  8. Joan Weliky Conaway and Ronald C. Conaway, “Light at the End of the Channel,” Science 288 (2000): 632-33.
  9. Conaway and Conaway, 632-33.
  10. Lennon et al., 1190-94.
  11. Holger Seelert et al., 418-19.
  12. Rana and Lott, 34-39.
  13. Rana and Lott, 34-39.
  14. Patrick J. Hurley, A Concise Introduction To Logic, 6th ed. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing,1997), 494-96.


Problem of Evil (Part Two)

By Ron Nash

In the last installment of this series, I noted that the problem of evil is for most people the toughest question to deal with.  I also pointed out the importance of breaking the problem of evil down into several smaller components.  If we know how to break the problem of evil into several smaller difficulties, at least we are no longer facing an enormous issue, and we have a chance of explaining the smaller components.  In this issue, we’ll consider three of them.

Moral Evil and Natural Evil

A good place to begin our downsizing of the problem of evil is recognizing the difference between two kinds of evil: moral evil and natural evil.  Moral evil results from the choices and actions of human beings.  When the question why is asked about some moral evil, the answer will include a reference to something that humans did or did not do.  Moral evil sometimes results when a human acts, for example, by shooting a gun.  But moral evil may also occur as a result of human inaction, the failure to do something.  Perhaps someone could have prevented the person from getting the gun and didn’t.  So moral evil results from human choices and actions; any other kind of evil is what we call natural evil.  The class of natural evils includes such things as earthquakes, tornadoes, and diseases not resulting from human choices.  Many wise people believe questions about the two kinds of evil require different kinds of answers.  I hope to consider examples of these different answers in future columns.

The Theoretical versus the Personal Problems of Evil

It is one thing to deal with evil on a purely theoretical or philosophical level.  It is something quite different to encounter evil in a personal way.  Sitting in a philosophy classroom and thinking about the problem of evil is obviously different from struggling with the news that a loved one has just died in an automobile accident.  At the moment when one is being hammered existentially by some particular instance of evil or pain, it is easy to forget a philosophical argument that once seemed to suggest answers as to why evil exists.  Someone troubled by aspects of the theoretical or philosophical problem of evil may find help from a respected philosopher or apologist.  But when one confronts a personal problem of evil, that person may need a wise and caring friend, pastor, or counselor.

The distinction before us at this point reminds me of an important lesson we can learn from the life of C.S. Lewis.  One of Lewis’s more influential books, The Problem of Pain, offers his answers to the theoretical problem of evil.  Many believe there are some very good arguments in that book.  However, after Lewis met and then married Joy Gresham, he learned the painful truth about the difference between the theoretical and personal problems of evil.  His wife’s eventual death from cancer after a long period of painful suffering plunged Lewis into a time of doubt and depression.  At that time he was confronted by the personal problem of evil, and the philosophical arguments in his earlier book were of no help to him.  What he needed and obtained was help from one of Joy’s sons and from his pastor.

Evil in General versus Specific Instances of Evil

My last distinction notes the difference between evil in general and particular cases of evil.  Like most philosophers and apologists, I know a number of arguments that I believe help to explain why moral and natural evil exist.  I hope to look at some of those arguments in a future column.  But when I or someone else is confronted by a specific instance of evil such as a loved one diagnosed with terminal cancer or a person killed in a car crash, we’re dealing with an entirely different matter.

Conclusion

It should be clear that this short essay does not solve the problem of evil in any of its forms.  That was not my intention.  Rather, I have sought to show that our first efforts to deal with the problem of evil should attempt to cut it down to size, reduce it to smaller parts of the larger problem.  After we have done this, our next steps may be slightly easier.

Dr. Ronald Nash is Professor of Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida and also at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He is the author of 35 books including Life’s Ultimate Questions (Zondervan), The Meaning of History (Broadman & Holman) and The Word of God and the Mind of Man (Presbyterian and Reformed).  All are easily available from www.barnesandnoble.com and www.amazon.com


Thinking About The Incarnation:
The Divine Word Became Flesh

By Kenneth Richard Samples

At the very heart of historic Christianity is a truly astounding truth-claim that is celebrated all around the world at Christmas. This central article of the Christian faith is known as the doctrine of the Incarnation: God became man in Jesus of Nazareth. It is this truth that sets Christianity apart from all other religions of the world (including Judaism and Islam). For it is unique to Christianity to discover a God who takes the initiative in becoming flesh in order to redeem sinful human beings. As C. S. Lewis aptly put it, “The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.”1

The Christian teaching that the Savior of the world is both divine and human is certainly a mysterious and unfathomable doctrine. For that reason it is often misunderstood and misrepresented. This article will briefly explain the doctrine of the Incarnation, and respond to some critical questions concerning its origin, importance, historical development, and coherence.

The Historic Christian Doctrine of the Incarnation

The most important creedal statement concerning the Incarnation is the Creed of Chalcedon. It was the Council of Chalcedon (the fourth ecumenical council) in A.D. 451 that laid down the basic boundaries concerning the orthodox view of Christ’s person and nature. According to this council, Jesus Christ is one divine Person in two natures (divinity and humanity). Thus the Chalcedon Creed became, and continues to be, the normative standard for the orthodox doctrine of Christ. All of Christendom (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant) affirms the Chalcedonian formula that Jesus Christ is both God and man. This creed enunciates the orthodox doctrine of the Incarnation (specifically Christ’s two natures) in the following manner:

We all with one voice confess our Lord Jesus Christ to be one and the same Son, perfect in divinity and humanity, truly God and truly human, consisting of a rational soul and a body, being of one substance with the Father in relation to his divinity, and being of one substance with us in relation to his humanity, and is like us in all things apart from sin. He was begotten of the Father before time in relation to his divinity, and in these recent days was born from the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos [God-bearer], for us and for our salvation. In relation to the humanity he is one and the same Christ, the Son, the Lord, the Only-begotten, who is to be acknowledged in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, and without separation. The distinction of natures is in no way abolished on account of this union, but rather the characteristic property of each nature is preserved, and concurring into one Person and one subsistence, not as if Christ were parted or divided into two persons, but remains one and the same Son and Only-begotten God, Word, Lord, Jesus Christ; even as the Prophets from the beginning spoke concerning him, and our Lord Jesus Christ instructed us, and the Creed of the Fathers was handed down to us.2

The Chalcedonian formulation does not explain just how the two natures are united in one person, but it sets the crucial theological parameters for orthodox biblical Christology (doctrine of the person and nature of Christ).

The Christian Theistic View of God and the Incarnation

The doctrine of the Incarnation should properly be understood within the broader context of the Christian theistic view of God. 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.3 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. The doctrine of the Incarnation then properly emerges doctrinally from this explicit Trinitarian teaching.

The term “incarnation” is of Latin origin, and literally means “becoming in flesh” (Lat. in carne, Gk. en sarki). While the term is not contained in Scripture per se, the Greek equivalent is (John 1:14: Kai ho logos sarx egeneto -- “And the Word became flesh”). The doctrine of the Incarnation is at the heart of the biblical message for it reveals the person and nature of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Christian doctrine of the Incarnation teaches that the eternal Logos (Word), the second person of the Trinity, without diminishing His deity took to Himself a fully human nature. Specifically, this doctrine teaches that a full and undiminished divine nature, and a full and perfect human nature were inseparably united in the one historical and divine person of Jesus of Nazareth. According to Holy Scripture, Jesus Christ is God the Son in human flesh (theanthropos, the God-man).

The Hypostatic Union

As the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ is one person with two natures. In accord with the Chalcedonian definition, these two natures (divinity and humanity) “remain distinct, whole, and unchanged, without mixture or confusion so that the one person, Jesus Christ, is truly God and truly man.”4 Christ is one in substance (homoousios) with the Father in regard to His divine nature, and one in substance with humanity in regard to His human nature. The two natures are perfectly united forever in the one person (hypostasis) of Jesus Christ. The hypostatic union refers therefore to the union of the two distinct natures in the one person of Jesus Christ (neither dividing the person nor confounding the natures). Philosophically speaking, as the God-man, Jesus Christ is “two Whats”(i.e., a divine “what” [or nature] and a human “what” [or nature]) and “one Who”( i.e., a single “person” or “self”).

Ten Essential Points about the Incarnation

The following ten points convey essential information about the Incarnation, and will help one think through the most important elements concerning the doctrine.5

  1. Jesus Christ is one person possessing two distinct natures: a fully divine nature and a fully human nature (a unity of person and a duality of natures). The historic person of Jesus of Nazareth is therefore the God-man.
  2. While Christ has two natures, He nevertheless remains a single unified person (not two different persons). Christ’s human nature subsists only for the purpose of this union; it has no independent personal subsistence of its own. Christ is the same person both before and after the Incarnation. The difference is that before the Incarnation Christ had but one nature, namely divine. After the Incarnation, this very same Christ added to Himself an additional nature – a human one – that subsists together with the divine nature that He had and continues to have. While Christ has a divine and a human consciousness (and two wills as part of the two natures), He nevertheless remains one person. Christian orthodoxy rejected the Nestorian heresy that taught that there were two separate persons in Christ.
  3. Through His divine nature, Jesus Christ is God the Son, second person of the Trinity, who shares the one divine essence fully and equally with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Christian orthodoxy rejected the Arian heresy that viewed Jesus merely as a God-like creature.
  4. Through His human nature, Jesus Christ is fully human, possessing all the essential attributes of a true human being. Christian orthodoxy rejected Docetism,  which denied the true humanity of Christ.
  5. The properties or attributes of both natures may be properly predicated of the one Person. In other words, the one person of Jesus Christ retains all of the attributes of both natures (e.g., through His divine nature He is omniscient while simultaneously through His human nature He may lack knowledge).
  6. The union of the two natures is not an indwelling, nor a mere contact or occupancy of space, but a personal union. This is similar to the union of body and soul in human beings.
  7. The two natures coinhere or interpenetrate in perfect union so that the human is never without the divine or the divine without the human, but the natures do not mix or mingle.
  8. The two natures, divine and human, are distinct, but inseparably united in the one person. The two natures retain their own attributes or qualities and are thus not mixed together. Christian orthodoxy rejected the Eutychian heresy that blended the two natures of Christ together to form one hybrid nature (monophysitism: one nature).
  9. The human nature is not deified, and the divine nature does not suffer human limitation.
  10. The word nature refers to essence or substance, and these two natures are inseparable, unmixed, and unchanged.

With these essential points in mind about the person and natures of Christ, one can now consider four important questions about the doctrine of the Incarnation.

Four Critical Questions about the Incarnation

I. Since there is no passage in the New Testament where Jesus Christ actually says “I am God,” how did Christianity come to formulate the doctrine of the Incarnation?

The doctrine of the Incarnation is the result of the Christian church’s sustained and critical reflection upon the overwhelming Scriptural evidence that Jesus is indeed both God and man. Jesus’ apostles were thorough-going Jewish monotheists; they nevertheless became convinced that while Jesus was indeed a man, He was far more than just a man. In fact, in various ways these same apostles placed Jesus on the level of Yahweh in their Scriptural writings. The apostles came to the astounding conviction that to encounter Jesus of Nazareth was to encounter none other than God in human flesh. While it is true that there is no specific passage where Jesus actually says in so many words “I am God,” there are at least seven (and possibly as many as ten) specific New Testament references where Jesus is called or referred to as God (Gk. theos).6 The Bible thoroughly supports both the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ.

While literally hundreds of passages could be marshaled to support the doctrine of the Incarnation,7 the following is merely a brief survey of the biblical support for this distinctive and essential Christian doctrine.

A.  Biblical Support for the True Deity of Jesus Christ

The Bible attests in numerous ways to the full and undiminished deity of Jesus Christ. Consider the following outlined material in support of Christ’s deity (this outline was derived from the works of Murray J. Harris and John Jefferson Davis).8

  1. Divine titles proclaimed by or attributed to Jesus Christ9
    1. God (John 1:1, 18; 20:28; Rom. 9:5; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8; 2 Pet. 1:1)
    2. Lord (Mark 12:35-37; John 20:28; Rom. 10:9-13; 1 Cor. 8:5-6; 12:3; Phil. 2:11)
    3. Messiah (Matt. 16:16; Mark 14:61; John 20:31)
    4. Son of God (Matt. 11:27; Mark 15:39; John 1:18; Rom. 1:4; Gal. 4:4; Heb. 1;2)
    5. Son of Man (Matt. 16:28; 24:30; Mark 8:38; 14:62-64; Acts 7:56; cf. Dan. 7:13-14)
  2. Characteristics or actions of Yahweh proclaimed by or attributed to Jesus Christ
    1. Worship of Yahweh applied to Jesus Christ (Isa. 45:23 / Phil. 2:10-11)
    2. Salvation of Yahweh applied to Jesus Christ (Joel 2:32 / Rom. 10:13)
    3. Judgment of Yahweh applied to Jesus Christ (Isa. 6:10 / John 12:41)
    4. Nature of Yahweh applied to Jesus Christ (Exod. 3:14 / John 8:58)
    5. Triumph of Yahweh applied to Jesus Christ (Ps. 68:18 / Eph. 4:8)
  3. Divine names, actions, or prerogatives proclaimed by or attributed to Jesus Christ
    1. Creator (John 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2, 10-12)
    2. Sustainer (1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3)
    3. Universal Ruler (Matt. 28:18; Rom. 14:9; Rev. 1:5)
    4. Forgiver of sins (Mark 2:5-7; Luke 24:47; Acts 5:31; Col. 3:13)
    5. Raiser of the dead (Luke 7:11-17; John 5:21; 6:40)
    6. Object of prayer (John 14:14; Acts 1:24; 7:59-60; 1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 12:8-9)
    7. Object of worship (Matt. 28:16-17; John 5:23; 20:28; Phil. 2:10-11; Heb. 1:6)
    8. Object of saving faith (John 14:1; Acts 10:43; 16:31; Rom. 10:8-13)
    9. Image and Representation of God (Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3)
  4. Divine attributes or qualities proclaimed by or attributed to Jesus Christ
    1. Eternal existence (John 1:1; 8:58; 17:5; 1 Cor. 10:4; Col. 1:17; Heb. 13:8)
    2. Self-existence (John 1:3; 5:26; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2)
    3. Immutability (Heb. 1:10-12; 13:8)
    4. Omnipresence (Matt. 18:20; 28:20; Eph. 1:23; 4:10; Col. 3:11)
    5. Omniscience (Mark 2:8; Luke 9:47; John 2:25; 4:18; 16:30; Col. 2:3)
    6. Omnipotence (John 1:3; 2:19; Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:2)
    7. Sovereignty (Phil. 2:9-11; 1 Pet. 3:22; Rev. 19:16)
    8. Authority (Matt. 28:18; Eph. 1:22)
    9. Life in Himself (John 1:4; 5:26; Acts 3:15)

B. Biblical Support for the True Humanity of Jesus Christ

The Bible attests in numerous ways to the full and essential humanity of Jesus Christ. Consider the following outlined material in support of Christ’s humanity.10

  1. Jesus Christ calls Himself or others call Him a man
    1. During His earthly ministry (John 8:40; Acts 2:22; 1 Cor. 15:21; Phil. 2:7-8)
    2. After His resurrection (Acts 17:31; 1 Cor. 15:47; 1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 2:14; 4:15)
  2. Jesus Christ was conceived supernaturally, but born naturally (Matt. 1:25; Luke 2:7; Gal. 4:4)
  3. Jesus Christ had ancestors (Matt. 1; Luke 3)
  4. Jesus Christ experienced normal growth and development (Luke 2:40-52; Heb. 5:8)
  5. Jesus Christ was subject to real physical limitations
    1. Weariness (John 4:6)
    2. Hunger (Matt. 21:18)
    3. Need for sleep (Matt. 8:24)
    4. Thirst (John 19:28)
    5. Sweat (Luke 22:44)
    6. Temptation (Matt. 4:1-11)
    7. Lack of knowledge (Mark 9:21; 13:32)
  6. Jesus Christ experienced physical pain and death (Mark 14:33-36; Luke 17:25; 22:63; 23:33; John 19:30)
  7. Jesus Christ exhibited the full range of human emotions
    1. Joy (Luke 10:21; John 17:13)
    2. Sorrow (Matt. 26:37)
    3. Love (John 11:5)
    4. Compassion (Matt. 9:36)
    5. Weeping (John 11:35)
    6. Astonishment (Luke 7:9)
    7. Anger (Mark 3:5; 10:14)
    8. Loneliness (Mark 14:32-42; 15:34)
  8. Jesus Christ has all the essential qualities of a human being
    1. Body (Matt. 26:12)
    2. Bones (Luke 24:39)
    3. Flesh (Luke 24:39)
    4. Blood (Matt. 26:28)
    5. Soul (Matt. 26:38)
    6. Will (John 5:30)
    7. Spirit (John 11:33)
  9. Incarnational Passages

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us….” (John 1:14)

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (Phil. 2:5-6)

“For in Christ all the fullness of Deity lives in bodily form…” (Col. 2:9)

“This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God…” (1 John 4:2)

The passages cited above specifically and explicitly teach the doctrine of the Incarnation  (see also Rom. 1:2-5; 9:5; 1 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 2:14; 5:7; 1 John 1:1-3).

II. Why is the doctrine of the Incarnation important?

It has been said that “Christianity is Christ.” The meaning behind this statement is, of course, that Christ is the center and heart of historic Christian truth. The Christian gospel message is all about the person, nature, and work of Jesus Christ. British theologian Alister E. McGrath articulately describes Christianity’s unique Christocentric focus:

If Christianity has a center, it is Jesus Christ. It is impossible for the Christian to talk about God, salvation, or worship without bringing Jesus into the discussion, whether explicitly or implicitly. For New Testament writers, Jesus is a window onto the nature, character, and purposes of God. Jesus is the ground of salvation. Since the time of the New Testament onwards, Christians have worshipped Jesus as the risen Lord and Savior of the world.11

In light of this Christocentric focus, the doctrine of the Incarnation has enormous significance for Christians. Through examining the Incarnation Christ’s person and nature are clearly revealed, and it is directly because of His identity (as the God-man) that He is able to perform His work of redemption. God the Son, second person of the Trinity, assumed a human nature and entered the time-space world. Living and acting here in a way that is open to actual historical investigation, he provided redemption for sinful mankind. As the God-man, He alone was able to represent both God and mankind and to provide redemption through His perfect life, sacrificial death, and glorious bodily resurrection from the dead.

Since Christ is the center of Christian doctrine and truth, His identity is of vital importance. It follows therefore that the doctrine of the Incarnation that reveals His identity is the foundation on which all Christian doctrine is built. This is clearly seen when one begins to analyze closely some of the central tenets of the Christian faith.12 For example, consider the following:

  1. God’s existence and characteristics: While one may know many important things about God via general revelation (i.e., through the created order, the providential ordering of history, and the human conscience), without the Incarnation, talking about God is highly speculative and knowing God personally is virtually impossible.
  2. The Trinity: The two other persons of the Godhead, the Father and the Holy Spirit, are uniquely understood and appreciated in light of the revealed person and nature of Christ. The Incarnation illumines the great truth about the triune nature of God.
  3. The Atonement: Only Jesus Christ, who is both God and man, is able to offer Himself as a sacrifice that reconciles a holy God with sinful mankind. Christ can do what He did redemptively (Savior) because He is what He is ontologically (God-man).
  4. Resurrection: A bodily resurrection that conquers death is only possible for the God-man (Rom 1:3-4).
  5. Justification: Human beings are justified before God through faith (personal trust) in the person of Jesus Christ. The basis of humanity’s acquittal before the Father is directly tied to the actions of the divine-human Savior on the cross.

The doctrine of the Incarnation touches and influences every area of Christian theology. To change or distort the identity of Jesus Christ is to destroy the essence of the Christian faith (2 Cor. 11:3-4; Gal. 1:6-9). Jesus specifically instructs His disciples and others to consider and reflect upon His true identity (Matt. 16:13-16; 22:41-46, cf. Ps. 110). Jesus warned some of the Jewish leaders of His time that their eternal destinies rested on whether they would acknowledge and accept Him for who He really was (John 8:23-24, 28, 52-53, 57-58). Jesus and the apostles also warned the church about the ever present danger of counterfeit Christs (Matt. 24:4-5, 11, 23-24; 2 Cor. 11:3-4, 13-14; Gal. 1:6-9; 1 Tim. 4:1-2; 2 Tim. 4:3; 2 Pet. 2:1-2; 1 John 2:22-23; 4:1-3; Jude 3).

III. Historically speaking, weren’t there theological positions held by individuals and various groups that challenged and/or rejected the orthodox position concerning the person and nature of Christ?

The central doctrinal controversies of the first several centuries of Christian church history focused on Christological issues (questions concerning the person and nature of Christ). What follows is a brief explanation of the major Christological heresies,13 including what they taught about Christ, how it differed from orthodoxy, and how Christian orthodoxy responded.

A. Ancient Christological Heresies

  1. Docetism: A branch of Gnosticism, this view affirmed a type of dualism (the belief that matter is evil and spirit is good). Docetists insisted that Jesus only seemed to be human (Gk. Dokeo – “to seem”), even asserting that Jesus had a “phantom-like body.” Docetism denied the true humanity of Christ. The apostles encountered this heresy in the first century (1 John 4:1-3).
  2. Ebionism: According to this view, Jesus is a mere man, a prophet but the natural son of Joseph and Mary (no virgin birth). Ebionism denied the true deity of Christ. This view is traced to the second century.
  3. Arianism: Arius of Alexandria (A.D. 256-336) argued that Jesus was of like substance (homoiousios) with the Father, but not the same substance (homoousios). Jesus was viewed as the first and greatest creation of God, thus denying the true deity of Christ. This influential heresy, which the ancient church father Athanasius (ca. 296-373) successfully battled, was first condemned at the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325).
  4. Apollinarianism: Following Apollinarius (born ca. 310), the Bishop of Laodicea, this view taught that in the Incarnation the divine Logos took the place of the human soul and psyche of Christ. Jesus' humanity was restricted to his physical body, thus reducing his humanity. Apollinarianism denied the true humanity of Christ. This heresy was condemned at the Council of Constantinople (A.D. 381).
  5. Nestorianism: This view affirmed both Christ’s deity and humanity, but saw the union between the natures as only a moral and/or sympathetic union, not a real personal union. This position represents an overemphasis upon the distinctiveness of the natures. As a result, Jesus became two persons in two natures, rather than the orthodox position of one person in two natures. This heresy was condemned at the Council of Ephesus (A.D. 431).
  6. Eutychianism: Following Eutyches (ca. A.D. 378-454) this view held that Christ had one mixed or compound nature. The two natures merged to form a single nature that was neither divine nor human (a third substance). This position represents an overemphasis upon the unity of the natures. This heresy was condemned at the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451), and at the third Council of Constantinople (A.D. 680).
  7. Monophysitism: This view held that Christ had only one nature. Usually, it was argued that the human nature was absorbed into the divine nature. This heresy was condemned at the third Council of Constantinople (A.D. 680).
  8. Monothelitism: This view held that Christ had only one will. The orthodox position is that if Christ had two natures He must have had two wills, though the human will conforms in every way to the divine will. Monothelitism was also condemned at the third Council of Constantinople.

IV. Isn’t the very concept of the Incarnation (one person as God and man) logically incoherent?

Christians embrace the doctrine of the Incarnation as an indispensable truth of divine revelation. God coming in the flesh to redeem lost sinners is at the very heart of historic Christianity’s gospel proclamation. However, just how Jesus Christ is both God and man (two natures united in one person) is an unfathomable mystery. In fact, this may indeed be the most profound Christian mystery of all. But while the Incarnation is incomprehensible to the finite mind, it should not be rejected as incoherent or absurd. Divinely revealed truth may indeed move above reason, but never against reason, for God is the source and ground of rationality itself. The following two points briefly address two logical challenges to the Incarnation.

Some have argued that the Incarnation is absurd because it asserts that the infinite (divine nature) is contained in the finite (human nature). But the Incarnation does not imply that the infinite is contained in the finite.14 This criticism is clearly a straw man. The divine nature of Christ was not confined or limited to the human nature (or to the body of Christ). While the divine nature is in union with the human nature in the one person, the divine nature certainly extends beyond the bounds of the human nature.15 Biblical scholar and Protestant Reformer John Calvin explains:

For even if the Word in his immeasurable essence united with the nature of man into one person, we do not imagine that he was confined therein. Here is something marvelous: the Son of God descended from heaven in such a way that without leaving heaven, he willed to be born in the Virgin’s womb, to go about the earth, and to hang upon the cross; yet he continuously filled the world even as he had done from the beginning.16

The Incarnation should be understood as “God plus” (God the Son plus a human nature), not as “God minus” (loss of deity or divine attributes) or “God limited” (the infinite limited in the finite). The Incarnation should be thought of as the divine Logos, a preexistent (eternal) person, assuming a human nature unto Himself, without laying His deity aside.

Some think that since God is unlimited (omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, eternal, uncreated) but humans are limited (non-omnipotent, non-omniscient, non-omnipresent, time bound, created), then the very concept of someone being both God and man is logically contradictory and therefore impossible. But could there be another way to look at this proposed logical dilemma? Some contemporary Christian philosophers definitely think so.17 They argue that ordinary human beings are fully human (possessing the essence of humanity) but are also merely human (possessing the previously mentioned limitations). Jesus Christ, on the other hand, is fully human but not merely human. These Christian thinkers have suggested that the limitations of human nature may be common human properties (common to members of a particular kind) but not essential human properties (indispensable to a particular kind). If this is correct, Jesus Christ could have a human nature that makes Him fully human (possessing the essence of humanity) without being merely human (possessing the above mentioned limitations). Therefore Christ’s fully human nature (essential humanity without limitation) is not at odds with His fully divine nature.

The True Meaning of Christmas

During the Christmas season, Christians celebrate the great truth of the Incarnation. For in the Christ child of Bethlehem, God enters into human history and reveals Himself up close and personal. The astounding truth is that in Jesus Christ, God is encountered in a real, personal, historical, and tangible way. Alister E. McGrath reflects upon the ultimate significance of Christmas:

What sorts of things does the incarnation tell us about the ‘God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’? Perhaps most obviously, it tells us that the God with whom we are dealing is no distant ruler who remains aloof from the affairs of his creatures, but one who is passionately concerned with them to the extent that he takes the initiative in coming to them. God doesn’t just reveal things about himself –- he reveals himself in Jesus Christ…. The incarnation speaks to us of a God who acts to demonstrate his love for us. That ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8) is a deep and important truth—but far more important is the truth that God acted to demonstrate this love. ‘In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him’ (1 John 4:9). Actions, as we are continually reminded, speak louder than words.18

References:

  1. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1952), 154. In this quote, Lewis slightly rephrases a statement made by the ancient church father Athanasius (ca. 296-373).
  2. As cited in Alister E. McGrath, An Introduction To Christianity (Cambridge, Mass: Blackwell, 1997), 131-32.
  3. With regard to the Trinity, see Kenneth Richard Samples, “Thinking About The Trinity: ‘One What and Three Whos,’” Facts For Faith, Quarter 3 (2000): 8-13.
  4. Walter A. Elwell, ed., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), s.v. “Hypostatic Union.”
  5. These points were influenced by Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985), s.v. “incarnatio,” “persona Christi,” “unio personalis”; Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 529-67; Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, reprint 1986), 387-89; Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1938), 321-30.
  6. See Murray J. Harris, Jesus As God: The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992).
  7. For a thorough and substantive treatment of the Scriptural support for the Incarnation (especially the deity of Christ), see Murray J. Harris, Jesus As God; and Robert L. Reymond, Jesus, Divine Messiah: The New Testament Witness (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1990). For a detailed theological exploration of the doctrine of the Incarnation, see Benjamin B. Warfield, The Person and Work of Christ (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1950), and Millard J. Erickson, The Word Became Flesh (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991).
  8. The outline material in support of the deity of Jesus Christ was derived from Murray J. Harris, Jesus As God, 315-17; and John Jefferson Davis, Handbook of Basic Bible Texts (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 68-74.
  9. All of these titles in their appropriate Scriptural context support the notion that Jesus Christ is a divine person. See McGrath, 108-15; and Reymond, 44-126.
  10. Millard J. Erickson, Introducing Christian Doctrine, L. Arnold Hustad (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), 214-23.
  11. McGrath, 75.
  12. Bruce Milne, Know the Truth (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1982), 125-49.
  13. H. Wayne House, Charts of Christian Theology and Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 55-56.
  14. Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), s.v. “Logic.”
  15. Elwell, s.vv. “Hypostatic Union.”
  16. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Philadelphia: Westminster Press) 2.13.4.
  17. For a philosophical defense of the doctrine of the Incarnation, see Thomas D. Senor’s “The Incarnation and the Trinity,” in Michael J. Murray ed., Reason for the Hope Within (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 238-252; and Thomas V. Morris, Our Idea of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991), 159-84.
  18. Alister E. McGrath, Understanding Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987), 113-14.


Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground between God and Evolution.

By Kenneth R. Miller. New York, NY: Cliff Street Books/Harper Collins, 1999. 338 pages, index. Hardcover; $25.00.

Reviewed by Fuz Rana

Finding Darwin’s God defends Darwinian evolution, responds to evolution’s most widely known critics, and attempts to communicate what author Ken Miller sees as a false dichotomy between evolution and traditional western monotheism. Miller, a cell biologist and professor at Brown University, has published numerous articles in peer-reviewed journals, and co-authored widely used high school and college biology textbooks. Miller has long been active in the creation/evolution debate and is a highly vocal critic of the growing Intelligent Design movement. Because of his involvement in the Origins debate, it behooves those interested in science apologetics to become familiar with his perspective and to contemplate his ideas.

Miller begins Finding Darwin’s God by introducing the reader to the “ins and outs” of Darwinian evolution. He fully embraces methodological naturalism in his approach to biology and intertwines his explanation of the evolutionary process with his case for why natural processes are sufficiently endowed and solely responsible for life’s diversity. After this introduction, Miller seeks to refute: 1) young-earth proponent’s views on creationism;  2) Phillip Johnson (author of Darwin on Trial, Reason in the Balance, The Wedge of Truth) and the Intelligent Design movement’s attack on the evolutionary paradigm; and 3) Michael Behe’s (author of Darwin’s Black Box) biochemical argument for design embodied in the concept of irreducible complexity. 

Having addressed these critics of evolution, Miller then takes on strict atheistic materialism. He finds atheistic biologists out of line when they equate the success of evolution to the death of theism.  In no uncertain terms, he blames these atheists for the negative perception much of the public holds of the theory of evolution. He sees the challenges to biological evolution not as scientifically warranted, but motivated by a deep-seated emotional response to the implications attached to evolutionary theory by atheists.

In the final three chapters, Miller devotes his efforts to dispelling the commonly held view that biological evolution represents a threat to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  Instead, he argues that Darwinian evolution can and should play a central role in rightly shaping our understanding of God’s grandeur.

In general, Finding Darwin’s God is readily accessible to the nonscientist. Ever articulate, Miller comes across as objective and fair-minded. When evaluating his arguments, however, the reader should be wary of his apparent even-handedness, winsome approach, and passion for Darwinian evolution.  For example, his defense of Darwinian evolution and his response to Johnson’s assertion that the fossil record is inconsistent with biological evolution is unconvincing—even though Miller argues his point with great zeal. He repeatedly points to examples of micro-evolutionary changes (variations within species) as supporting evidence for macro-evolutionary changes (origins of new groups of organisms at the genus level and higher).

Miller’s response to Behe’s concept of irreducible complexity appears to be quite effective on the surface. Miller cites several examples from the scientific literature that seem to describe the emergence of irreducibly complex systems strictly by natural processes. If this is the case, Behe’s Design argument comes completely unglued.  However, a careful reading of the original papers, in each case, turns up crucial details that Miller has neglected to convey.  In each instance, the omitted “fine points” highlight the inability of natural processes to generate irreducibly complex biochemical systems.  In fact, the papers he cites describe extensive researcher intervention¾without which the “evolution” of the irreducibly complex biochemistry under investigation would not have been possible.  Ironically, when this is taken into account, Miller’s argument against Behe’s biochemical evidence for Intelligent Design actually provides powerful support for Behe’s position.

Miller’s attempt to accommodate biological evolution within western theism fails, too.  Miller can only make evolution and traditional Christian theism co-exist by rejecting central tenets of orthodox Christianity¾such as God’s sovereignty and omniscience, and mankind’s original sin¾and by viewing Genesis 1 as Hebrew mythology.

Still, Miller should be commended for writing Finding Darwin’s God. It is refreshing to see a critic of Intelligent Design seriously grapple with the relationship between science and religion and attempt to discover God’s glory in His creation. Those with a serious interest in science apologetics should take the time to read Finding Darwin’s God.  Several skeptics have touted this book as one of the best responses to the Intelligent Design movement.  If this is the case, then Christian apologists should become familiar with Miller’s arguments and tactics and make every effort to prepare thoughtful responses. For non-believing skeptics will undoubtedly bring up his arguments as they dialogue with believers.  After taking Miller’s assault head on, it is comforting to realize that “one of the best” so-called rebuttals to the scientific evidence for Intelligent Design falls far short of being convincing.