Reasons to Believe

Facts for Faith, Issue 6

Articles


Interstellar Rocks Miss the Mark

By Roger Wiens

Where, when, and how did life originate? Answers to these questions prove more elusive than ever to the science community—specifically to those who demand a naturalistic answer. Because of the short timescales required for the complicated leap from nonlife to life on planet Earth, some nontheistic scientists propose that life originated elsewhere in the galaxy. This thinking belongs to a theory called “panspermia” (pan-SPUR-mee-uh), which says that life on Earth got its start in dormant life arriving from space.

This theory’s popularity grows despite intractable problems, including this one: How did life survive in space for any reasonable length of time without special shielding from deadly and ubiquitous cosmic rays? Meteorites have been suggested as a possible safe carrier from one planet (or planetary system) to another.

At the 32d annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, Dr. H. Jay Melosh, from the University of Arizona, reported on a study that tested the probability of just one aspect of the meteor-transport hypothesis. That study looked at Earth’s likelihood of capturing interstellar wandering rocks. Capture of rocks (meteors) does occur, of course, because of gravity. Earth, for example, “captures” about fifteen rocks per year from our near neighbor, Mars. (Planets also eject rocks as a result of comet, meteor, and asteroid collisions.)

Size and mass determine a planet’s odds for success in capturing interstellar rocks. Capture is most efficient when it involves the giant planets. Melosh has estimated that Jupiter captures about 1x10-8 objects per year. In other words, on average, Jupiter captures roughly one interstellar meteorite from another stellar system every 100 million years. How does Earth compare? The study reveals that Earth captures only about 3x10-16 per year (one every three quadrillion years) on its own, and about 1x10-12 per year (one every trillion years) in a process by which the interstellar meteor is first captured into the solar system by Jupiter and then eventually lands on Earth. Translation: Odds are less than one in 200 that Earth would capture even one such meteor in its entire history

Such odds are very low. In truth, they are lower than the study suggests, for the assumptions underlying the calculations were admittedly “liberal.” For example, a Jupiter-sized object and a terrestrial planet were assumed to exist around each and every star in the solar vicinity, a scenario astronomers know to be false.

The odds against panspermia grow worse as one considers the narrow window of time between Earth’s formation and the first appearance (and subsequent reappearances) of life on Earth. Melosh did not address the issue of whether capture by Earth might have been more efficient in the primitive solar system when gas drag (the gravity and other physical effects of a dense gas cloud) may have played a role in meteorite capture. Melosh’s work is the first detailed study of cross-fertilization by meteorites.

In all likelihood, more such studies will follow. An attempt may be made to salvage the hypothesis, but the outcome seems predictable. People who had expected panspermia to solve the problem of the rapid origin of life will have to look elsewhere—beyond the heavens.


Search for Planets Draws a Blank

By Hugh Ross

Is the universe really rife with life sites, as Carl Sagan asserted?1 Research data continues to shape an answer to this question, but the weight of evidence falls, thus far, on the negative side. The ever-optimistic naturalist must work harder and more imaginatively to keep up appearances—and hope.

The list of planets outside Earth’s solar system is growing. Not counting the rocky lumps near a couple of neutron stars, astronomers have discovered and confirmed sixty-seven planets in nearby regions of space.2, 3 At first glance, this finding may seem to support Sagan’s belief. A closer look, however, confirms what Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee’s recent book suggests: Earth is indeed a rare entity, perhaps utterly unique in its life-support characteristics.4

A team of twenty-four astronomers put Sagan’s hypothesis to the test. Using the Hubble Space Telescope’s (HST) detection capabilities, they focused on a “globular cluster” of stars called 47 Tucanae.5 (Globular clusters are the oldest pockets of star formation in any galaxy.) These stars provide an excellent test case because they are similar, physically and chemically, to virtually all the stars in most galaxies and to nearly 98% of the stars in the Milky Way galaxy.

If planets were as common in 47 Tucanae as they are among the stars in the Sun’s galactic neighborhood, the HST survey should have detected seventeen—the number mathematical modeling predicts. Instead, the research team found zero. 6 Not even one. This surprising finding lends support to the idea that special circumstances led to the formation of Earth’s solar system.

All sixty-seven of the planets discovered outside the solar system (and outside 47 Tucanae) are orbiting metal-rich stars (rich in elements heavier than hydrogen and helium) that are younger than the Sun.7-12 Astronomers anticipated this result, for they have long recognized that planets are comprised of “star ashes”—elements heavier than hydrogen and helium produced when stars burn out. In fact, to get enough of this heavy material to make planets requires at least two generations (or cycles) of star birth and star death. Additionally, most of that second cycle of star deaths must have occurred more recently than five billion years ago.

Astronomers now acknowledge that the Sun is exceptional. Less than five billion years ago, this star formed adjacent to two different supernovae (enormous star explosions or star deaths) that showered the Sun’s region of space with two different sets of metal-rich ashes. These events occurred just prior to, and just adjacent to, the condensation of the solar nebulae (the gas and dust cloud) from which Earth’s solar system formed.13-15 Amazing coincidence? Probability numbers suggest otherwise.

References:

  1. Iosef S. Shklovskii and Carl Sagan, Intelligent Life in the Universe (San Francisco: Holden-Day, 1966), 343-50.
  2. Jean Schneider, Extra Solar Planets Catalog, a frequently updated Web site catalog at http://www.obspm.fr/encycl/catalog.html.
  3. S. H. Rhie et al., “On Planetary Companions to the MACHO 98-BLG-35 Microlens Star,” Astrophysical Journal 533 (2000): 378-91.
  4. Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee, Rare Earth (New York: Copernicus, 2000), 15-275.
  5. Ronald L. Gilliland et al., “A Lack of Planets in 47 Tucanae from a Hubble Space Telescope Search,” Astrophysical Journal Letters 545 (2000): L47-51.
  6. Gilliland et al., L47, L50.
  7. Guillermo Gonzalez, “The Stellar Metallicity-Giant Planet Connection,” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 285 (1997): 403-12.
  8. Guillermo Gonzalez, “Spectroscopic Analysis of the Parent Stars of Extrasolar Planetary System Candidates,” Astronomy and Astrophysics 334 (1998): 221-38.
  9. Guillermo Gonzalez, George Wallerstein, and Steven H. Saar, “Parent Stars of Extrasolar Planets. IV. 14 Herculis, HD 187123, and HD 210277,” Astrophysical Journal Letters 511 (1999): L111-14.
  10. Guillermo Gonzalez, “Are Stars With Planets Anomalous?” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 308 (1999): 447-58.
  11. Guillermo Gonzalez and Chris Laws, “Parent Stars of Extrasolar Planets. V. HD 75289,” Astronomical Journal 119 (2000): 390-96.
  12. Guillermo Gonzalez et al., “Parent Stars of Extrasolar Planets. VI. Abundance Analyses of 20 New Systems,” Astronomical Journal 121 (2001): 432-52.
  13. S. Sahipal et al., “A Stellar Origin for the Short-Lived Nuclides in the Early Solar System,” Nature 391 (1998), 559-661.
  14. G. J. Wasserburg, R. Gallino, and M. Busso, “A Test of the Supernova Trigger Hypothesis with 60Fe and 26Al,” Astrophysical Journal Letters 500 (1998): L189-93.
  15. Peter Hoppe et al., “Type II Supernova Matter in a Silicon Carbide Grain from the Murchison Meteorite,” Science 272 (1996), 1314-16.


30% Inefficiency by Design

By Fazale R. Rana

Cells use a highly wasteful process when producing proteins. Roughly 30 percent of all newly synthesized proteins must be degraded (broken down) by the cell immediately after formation because they are improperly made.1 On the surface, this new discovery seems to challenge the notion that an Intelligent Designer is responsible for life’s chemistry, but closer examination reveals a specific purpose for the “inefficiency” of protein synthesis.2-4

Anyone with experience in manufacturing would agree that a production process with a 30 percent defect rate needs much improvement. Yet, the seemingly wasteful process of protein synthesis actually plays a critical role in the ability of the immune system to respond rapidly to viral infections. Without this 30 percent defect rate, viral infections like the common cold could be much more severe.

A quick review of basic biochemistry will help demonstrate how inefficient protein production benefits the immune response. 5 To begin the process of protein production, a messenger RNA molecule carries information from a gene on one of the DNA strands to a structure in the cell called a ribosome. These ribosomes help assemble protein chains by linking together small, subunit molecules, called amino acids. Each of the myriad proteins found inside the cell possesses a unique sequence pulled from a pool of twenty different amino acids. The physical and chemical properties of the amino acid sequence determine how the protein chain folds to form its three-dimensional structure. Protein molecules called chaperones often play a key role in assisting the folding of the protein chain. The three-dimensional architecture of a protein determines its functional or structural role inside the cell.

After proteins have outlived their usefulness to the cell or have become damaged in the process of carrying out their cellular function, they are degraded. Upon degradation, the protein’s amino acids are released, and hence, become available for use in the production of new proteins.

The degradation process of any protein (including those defectively made) uses small fragments of the protein to communicate to the body’s immune system what is happening inside the cell. The cell uses a complex assembly of molecules called the class I major histocompatibility complex (MHC) to transport the fragment to the cell’s surface, where it is presented to the immune system.6, 7

In the case of virally infected cells, viral DNA takes over the cellular machinery and produces viral proteins. Before recent studies, experts thought that only viral proteins that had resided in the cell for some time were degraded and presented to the immune system through the class I MHC. This understanding of the process created a dilemma for researchers, because if the cell waited until well into the viral infection to communicate with the immune system, the body could not respond to the infection before the viral invasion progressed too far.

Enter the new discoveries.8, 9 It turns out that 30 percent of the viral proteins are also produced improperly and degraded immediately with the rest of the cell’s defective proteins. Fragments of the viral protein are then incorporated into the class I MHC and the immune system is quickly alerted to the presence of viral particles inside the cell.

This new discovery reveals that the high level of defective proteins produced by the cell is necessary to allow for a highly efficient immune response to viral infection. There is elegant design in the inefficiency of protein synthesis. This finding teaches an important lesson about so-called imperfections in nature. Without exception, an improved understanding of a “poorly” designed system and a proper viewing of the system from a broader context invariably reveal perfection that points to an Intelligent Designer.

References:

  1. Ulrich Schubert et al., “Rapid Degradation of a Large Fraction of Newly Synthesized Proteins by Proteasomes,” Nature 404 (2000), 770-74.
  2. Hansjörg Schild and Hans-Georg Rammensee, “Perfect Use of Imperfection,” Nature 404 (2000), 709-10.
  3. J. Travis, “Trashed Proteins May Help Immune System,” Science News 157 (2000): 245.
  4. Eric A. J. Reits et al., “The Major Substrates for TAP in vivo are Derived from Newly Synthesized Proteins,” Nature 404 (2000), 774-78.
  5. Harvey Lodish et al., Molecular Cell Biology, 4th ed. (New York: Freeman, 2000), 51-63.
  6. Eric Palmer and Peter Cresswell, “Mechanisms of MHC Class-I Restricted Antigen Processing,” Annual Review of Immunology 16 (1998): 323-58.
  7. Kenneth L. Rock and Alfred L. Goldberg, “Degradation of Cell Proteins and the Generation of MHC Class-I Presented Peptides,” Annual Review of Immunology 17 (1999): 739-79.
  8. Schubert et al., 770-74.
  9. Reits et al., 774-78.


Metal Matters

By Hugh Ross

Uranium and thorium play a vital role in the plate tectonics and volcanism of planets. Consequently, the amount of these two metallic elements influences the ability of any planet to support advanced life. Recently, a research team from the University of Washington, including FACTS for FAITH contributing author and astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez, determined that the abundance of uranium and thorium relative to iron in the interstellar medium has been declining for the past 4.5 billion years.1 This suggests that only a planet formed 4.5 billion years ago could possibly possess enough uranium and thorium to sustain plate tectonics and volcanism long enough for advanced life to be possible. 2

 The star of such a planet would need to have been formed more recently than five billion years ago (see “Search for Planets Draws a Blank,” page 8). Therefore, the number of stars that might be candidates to possess a planet with the capacity to support advanced life is just a tiny percentage of the total stars in existence. Stars that formed significantly earlier than about five billion years ago or later than about 4.5 billion years ago would not be candidates.

References:

  1. Guillermo Gonzalez, Donald Brownlee, and Peter Ward, “The Galactic Habitable Zone: I. Galactic Chemical Evolution,” Icarus (2001), pre-press.
  2. Hugh Ross, The Genesis Question (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1998), 42-44.


Body and Soul Part 1 of 3: Why Consciousness Isn’t Physical

By J. P. Moreland

 Throughout history, Christianity has been interpreted as giving an affirmative answer to questions about the reality of the three great topics of Western philosophy: namely, God, the soul, and life everlasting. For centuries, most Christian thinkers have believed in the existence of the souls of men and beasts, as it used to be put. Animals and humans are composed of an immaterial entity—a soul, a life principle, a ground of sentience—and a body. More specifically, a human person is a unity of two distinct entities—body and soul. The human soul, while not by nature immortal, is nevertheless capable of entering an intermediate disembodied state upon death, however incomplete and unnatural this state may be, and, eventually, being reunited with a resurrected body.

Recently, several thinkers have disputed Christianity’s association with dualism on the grounds that dualism is a Greek notion read into the Bible, that the Bible teaches a Hebraic holistic unity and not a Greek dualism, and that the Christian hope for an afterlife rests on the resurrection of the body and not on the immortality of the soul. None of these assertions is persuasive. Elsewhere, biblical defenses of anthropological dualism have been offered and will not be repeated here.1 Rather, this article will clarify some preliminary issues and defend “property dualism.” Part 2 of this series will defend “substance dualism,” and Part 3 will describe and criticize some important versions of “mind/body physicalism.” This article begins by presenting some important preliminary background issues, and continues with a defense of a dualist construal of mental properties/events.

Preliminary Issues

Currently, there are two main positions on the mind/body problem: physicalism and dualism. The former claims that a human being is completely physical, whereas the latter maintains that a human being is both physical and mental. Dualism comes in two major varieties: substance dualism and property/event dualism. Physicalism comes in different varieties as well, but that will be explored in Part 3 of this series. This article compares the different views listed in the chart below, beginning with a clarification of the nature of substances, properties, and events.

A substance is an entity like an acorn, a carbon atom, a dog, or an angel. Substances have a number of important characteristics. First, substances are particular, individual things. A substance, like a particular acorn, cannot be in more than one place at the same time.

Second, a substance is a continuant—it can change by gaining new properties and losing old ones, yet it remains the same thing throughout the change. A leaf can go from green to red, yet the leaf itself is the same entity before, during, and after the change. In general, substances can change in some of their properties and yet remain the same substance. The very leaf that was green is the same leaf that is now red.

Third, substances are basic, fundamental existents. They are not in other things or had by other things. Someone’s dog, Fido, is not in or had by something more basic than he. Rather, properties (and parts) are in substances that have them. For example, Fido has the property of brownness and the property of weighing twenty-five pounds. These properties are in the substance called Fido.

Fourth, substances are unities of parts, properties, and capacities (dispositions, tendencies, potentialities). Fido has a number of properties like the ones already listed. He also has a number of parts—four legs, some teeth, two eyes. Further, he has some capacities or potentialities that are not always actual. For example, he has the capacity to bark even when he is silent. As a substance, Fido is a unity of all the properties, parts, and capacities had by him.

Finally, a substance has causal powers. It can do things in the world. A dog can bark; a leaf can drop into a puddle of water and produce ripples. Substances can cause things to happen.

In addition to substances, there are also entities that exist called properties. A property is an existent reality, examples of which are brownness, triangularity, hardness, wisdom, painfulness. As with substances, properties have a number of important features.

One feature is that a property is a universal that can be in more than one thing at the same time. Redness can be in a flag, a coat, and an apple all at once. The very same redness can be the color of several particular things all at the same time.

Another feature of properties is their immutability. When a leaf goes from green to red, the leaf changes by losing an old property and gaining a new one. But the property of redness does not change and become the property of greenness. Properties can come and go, but they do not change in their internal constitution or nature.

Moreover, properties can, or perhaps must, be in or had by other things more basic than they.Properties are in the things that have them. For example, redness is in the apple. The apple has the redness. One does not find redness existing all by itself. In general, when one talks about a property, it makes sense to ask the question, “What is it that has that property?” That question is not appropriate for substances, for they are among the things that have the properties. Substances have properties; properties are had by substances.

Finally, there are entities in the world called events. Examples of events are a flash of lightning, the dropping of a ball, the having of a thought, the change of a leaf, and the continued possession of sweetness by an apple (this would be a series of events). Events are states or changes of states of substances. An event is the coming or going of a property in a substance at a particular time, or the continued possession of a property by a substance throughout a time.“This shirt’s being green now" and “this acorn’s process of changing shape” are both examples of events.

Physicalism and Dualism

Keeping these critical distinctions in mind, one can now move on to consider in more detail the different mind/body views, beginning with physicalism.

The Physicalist View

According to physicalism, a human being is merely a physical entity. The only things that exist are physical substances, properties, and events. For humans, the physical substance is the material body, especially the parts called the brain and central nervous system. The physical substance called the brain has physical properties, such as a certain weight, volume, size, electrical activity, chemical composition, and so forth.

Physical events also occur in the brain. For example, the brain contains a number of elongated cells, called neurons, that carry various impulses. Various neurons make contact with other neurons through connections, or points of contact, called synapses. C-fibers are certain types of neurons that innervate the skin (supply the skin with nerves) and carry pain impulses. So, when someone has an occasion of pain or an occurrence of a thought, physicalists hold that these are merely physical events—events where certain C-fibers are firing, or certain electrical and chemical events are happening in the brain and central nervous system.

Thus, physicalists believe that a human being is merely a physical substance (a brain and central nervous system plus a body) that has physical properties, and in which physical events occur.  A person’s conscious mental life of thoughts, emotions, and pain are nothing but physical events in his brain and nervous system. The neurophysiologist can, in principle, describe these events solely in terms of C-fibers, neurons, and the chemical and physical properties of the brain. For the physicalist, a person is merely a functioning brain and central nervous system enclosed in a physical body. A human being is a material substance, a creature made of matter—nothing more, nothing less.

What is matter? There is no clear definition of matter, but examples of it are not hard to come by. Matter composes material objects—things like computers, carbon atoms, and billiard balls—which have physical properties. Physical properties are (1) publicly accessible in the sense that no one person is better suited to have private access to a physical property than anyone else; (2) such that an object must be either spatially located or extended to exemplify the physical property; (3) such that when a strictly material object has physical properties, that object does not engage in genuinely teleological (goal-directed or purpose-directed) behavior; i.e., it does not undergo change for the sake of some end, purpose, or final cause.

Physical properties are the properties that one finds listed in chemistry or physics books. They are properties such as hardness; occupying and moving through space; having a certain shape; possessing certain chemical, electrical, magnetic, and gravitational properties; having density and weight; and being breakable, malleable, and elastic. A physical event would be the possessing of, the coming of, or the going of one or more of these properties by or in a physical substance (or among physical substances). For example, an ice cube melts into water; a banana turns from green to yellow as it ripens.

Another very crucial observation to make about material substances, properties, and events is this: No material thing presupposes or has reference to consciousness for it to exist or be characterized. A person will search in vain through a physics or chemistry textbook to find consciousness included in any description of matter. A completely physical description of the world would not include any terms that make reference to, or characterize, the existence and nature of consciousness.

Assume that matter is actually what chemistry and physics books say it is. Now imagine that there is no God, and picture a universe in which no conscious, living beings had evolved. In such an imaginary world, there would be no consciousness anywhere in the universe. However, in this imaginary world, matter would still exist and be what scientists claim that it is. Carbon atoms would still be carbon atoms; electrons would still have a negative charge. An electron is still an electron regardless of whether or not conscious minds exist in the world. These examples indicate that the existence and nature of matter are independent of the existence of consciousness.

The Dualist View

Dualists disagree with physicalists. According to dualists, genuinely mental entities are real. As with matter, it is hard to give a definition of mental entities. But examples of mental entities are easy to supply. First, there are various kinds of sensations: experiences of colors, sounds, smells, tastes, textures, pains, and itches. Sensations are individual things that occur at particular times. One can have a sensation of red after looking in a certain direction at a red object or by closing his eyes and daydreaming. An experience of pain will arise at a certain time, say, after one is stuck with a pin.

Further, sensations are natural kinds of things that have, as their very essence, the felt quality or sensory property that makes them what they are. Part of the very essence of a pain is the felt quality it has; part of the very essence of a red sensation is the presentation of a particular shade of color to one’s field of vision. Sensations are not identical to things outside a person’s body—for instance, a feeling of pain is not the same thing as being stuck with a pin and shouting, “Ouch!” Sensations are essentially characterized by a certain conscious feel, and thus, they presuppose consciousness for their existence and description. If there were no conscious beings, there would be no sensations.

Second, there are things called propositional attitudes: having a certain mental attitude involving a proposition that is part of a that-clause. For example, one can hope, desire, fear, dread, wish, think, believe that P where P may be the proposition “The Royals are a great baseball team.” Propositional attitudes include at least two components: the attitude itself and the content, or meaning, embedded in the propositional attitude.

Hopes, fears, dreads, wishes, thoughts, etc. are all different attitudes, different states of consciousness, and they are all different from each other based on their conscious feel. A hope that it will rain is different from a fear that it will rain. What’s the difference? A hope has a very different conscious feel from a fear.

Propositional attitudes also all have a content, or a meaning, embedded in the propositional attitude—namely, the propositional content of one’s consciousness while he is having the propositional attitude. A hope that P differs from a hope that Q because P and Q are different propositions or meanings in one’s consciousness. If there were no conscious selves, there would be no propositional attitudes. A hope that it will rain differs from a hope that taxes will be cut. The contents of these two hopes have quite different meanings.

Third, there are acts of free will or purposings. These are acts of will performed by conscious selves. If a woman is unaware that her arm is tied down and she tries to raise it, then the purposing is the “trying to bring about” the event of raising her arm. Intentional actions are episodes of volition, exercises of active power, by conscious selves wherein and whereby they do various actions.

To summarize, dualists argue that sensations, propositional attitudes, and purposings are all examples of mental entities.

Property Dualism vs. Substance Dualism

In addition to these differences between physicalists and dualists, there is also an intramural debate between property dualists and substance dualists regarding mental properties.Property dualists believe there are some physical substances that have only physical properties: For example, a billiard ball is hard and round. They also maintain that there are no mental substances. On the other hand, they contend there is one material substance that has both physical and mental properties—the brain. When someone experiences a pain, there is a certain physical property possessed by the brain (a C-fiber stimulation with chemical and electrical properties) and there is a certain mental property possessed by the brain (the pain itself with its felt quality). The brain is the possessor of all mental properties. A person is not a mental self that has thoughts and experiences. Rather, a person is a brain and a series, or bundle, of successive experiences. Moreover, property dualists claim that just as wetness is a real property that supervenes over a water molecule, so mental properties supervene upon brain states.

In contrast with property dualism, substance dualism holds that the brain is a physical thing that has physical properties, and the mind or soul is a mental substance that has mental properties. When one is in pain, the brain has certain physical properties (electrical and chemical), and the soul, or self, has certain mental properties (the conscious awareness of pain). The soul is the possessor of its experiences. It stands behind, over, and above them, and remains the same throughout one’s life. The soul and the brain can interact with each other, but they are different particulars with different properties. Since the soul is not to be identified with any part of the brain or with any particular mental experience, then the soul may be able to survive the destruction of the body. Substance dualists accept the existence of both mental properties and substances.

Currently, there are three main forms of substance dualism being debated. First, there is Cartesian substance dualism, according to which the mind is a substance with the ultimate capacities for consciousness, and it is connected to its body by way of an external causal relation.2 Second, there is Thomistic substance dualism, one important version of which takes the soul to be broader than the mind in containing, not merely the capacities for consciousness, but also those capacities which ground biological life and functioning. In this view, the human soul diffuses, informs, unifies, animates, and makes the body human. The body is not a physical substance, but rather, an ensouled physical structure such that if it loses the soul, it is no longer a human body in a strict, philosophical sense.3 According to the third form, Emergent substance dualism, a substantial, immaterial self emerges from the functioning of the brain and nervous system, but once it emerges, it exercises its own causal powers and continues to be sustained by God after death.4

The Nature of Identity

Now it is time to turn to a topic, the nature of identity, that will explain a strategy for defending dualism. The eighteenth-century philosopher/theologian Joseph Butler once remarked that every thing is itself and not something else. This simple truth has profound implications. Suppose someone wants to know if J. P. Moreland is Eileen Spiek’s youngest son. If J. P. Moreland is identical to Eileen Spiek’s youngest son (everything true of one is true of the other), then in reality, one is talking about one single thing: J. P. Moreland, who is Eileen Spiek’s youngest son. However, if even one small thing is true of J. P. Moreland and not true of Eileen Spiek’s youngest son, then these are two entirely different people. Furthermore, J. P. Moreland is identical to himself and not different from himself. So if J. P. Moreland is not identical to Eileen Spiek’s youngest son, then in reality one must be talking about two things, not one.

This illustration suggests a truth about the nature of identity known as Leibniz’ Law of the Indiscernibility of Identicals: For any entities x and y, if x and y are identical (they are really the same thing, there is only one thing being talked about, not two), then any truth that applies to x will apply to y as well. This suggests a test for identity: If a person could find one thing true of x not true of y, or vice versa, then x cannot be identical to (be the same thing as) y. Further, if one could find one thing that could possibly be true of x and not y (or vice versa), even if it isn’t actually true, then x cannot be identical to y.

For example, if J. P. Moreland is five-feet-eight inches tall, but Eileen Spiek’s youngest son is six-feet tall, then they are not the same thing. Further, if J. P. Moreland is five-feet-eight and Eileen Spiek’s youngest son is five-feet-eight, but it would be possible for J. P. to be five-feet-nine while Eileen’s youngest son was five-feet-ten, then they are not the same thing either.

What does this have to do with the mind/body problem? Simply this: Physicalists are committed to the claim that alleged mental entities are really identical to physical entities, such as brain states, properties of the brain, overt bodily behavior, and dispositions to behave (for example, pain is just the tendency to shout, “Ouch!” when stuck by a pin, instead of pain being a certain mental feel). If physicalism is true, then everything true of the brain (and its properties, states, and dispositions) is true of the mind (and its properties, states, and dispositions), and vice versa. If a person can find one thing true, or even possibly true of the mind and not of the brain, or vice versa, then dualism is established. The mind is not the brain.

A number of arguments imply something is true of the mind or its states, and not of the brain or its states, or vice versa. Thus, the former cannot be identical to the latter. But, if they are not identical, physicalism is false and, taking dualism to be the only other option, dualism is true.

Keep in mind that the relation of identity is different from any other relation (for example, the relation of causation or constant connection). It may be that brain events cause mental events or vice versa: Having certain electrical activity in the brain may cause someone to experience a pain; having an intention to raise one’s arm may cause bodily events. It may be that for every mental activity a neurophysiologist can find a physical activity in the brain with which it is correlated. But just because A causes B (or vice versa), or just because A and B are constantly correlated with each other, that does not mean that A is identical to B. For example, something is trilateral if, and only if, it is triangular. But trilaterality (the property of having three sides) is not identical to triangularity (the property of having three angles), even though they are constantly conjoined.

Therefore, and this is critical, physicalism cannot be established on the basis that mental states and brain states are causally related or constantly conjoined with each other in an embodied person. Physicalism needs identity to make its case, and if something is true or possibly true of a mental substance, property, or event that is not true or possibly true of a physical substance, property, or event, then physicalism is false.

Can a case for dualism be made? Most definitely. In Part 2  arguments that show the superiority of substance dualism over both physicalism and property dualism will be discussed. But now, some arguments will be given that lend support to property dualism over physicalism.

A Case for Property Dualism and the Immaterial Nature of Consciousness

Property dualism is the view that ostensibly mental properties are genuinely mental, not physical, properties and, on a standard understanding of events, that individual mental events/states are genuinely mental and not physical. At least three arguments have been proffered for property/event dualism.

Mental states

First, once one gets an accurate description of consciousness (page X) it becomes clear that mental properties/events are not identical to physical properties/events. Mental states are characterized by their intrinsic, subjective, inner, private, qualitative feel, made present to a subject by first person introspection. For example, a pain is a certain felt hurtfulness. Mental states cannot be intrinsically described by physical language, even if through study of the brain one can discover the causal/functional relations between mental and brain states.

In general, mental states have some or all of the following features, none of which is a physical feature of anything: Mental states like pains have an intrinsic, raw, conscious feel. There is a “what-it-is-like” to a pain. Most, if not all mental states have intentionality; i.e., they are of or about things. Any way one has of knowing about a physical entity is available to everyone else, including ways of knowing about one’s brain. But a subject has a way of knowing about his mental states that is not available to others—through introspection.

Mental states are constituted by self-presenting properties. One can be aware of the external, physical world only by means of one’s mental states, but one need not be aware of one’s mental states by means of anything else. For example, it is by way of a sensation of red that one is aware of an apple, but one is not aware of the sensation of red by way of another sensation. Mental states are necessarily owned, and, in fact, one’s mental states could not have belonged to someone else. However, no physical state is necessarily owned, much less necessarily owned by a specific subject.

Some sensations are vague (e.g., a sensation of an object may be fuzzy or vague) but no physical state is vague.5 Some sensations are pleasurable or unpleasurable, but nothing physical has these properties. A cut on the knee is, strictly speaking, not unpleasurable. It is the pain event caused by the cut that is unpleasurable. Mental states can have the property of familiarity (e.g., when a desk looks familiar to someone), but familiarity is not a feature of a physical state.

Since mental states have these features and physical states do not, then mental states are not identical to physical states. Some physicalists have responded by denying that consciousness has the features in question. For example, dualists have argued that thinking events are not spatially located, even though the brain event associated with them is spatially located. Physicalists counter that thoughts are, after all, located in certain places of the brain. But there is no reason to accept this claim, since dualists can account for all the spatial factors of the brain events causally related to thoughts. Moreover, through introspection subjects seem to know quite a bit about the features of their thoughts, and spatial location is not one of them. Similar responses are offered by dualists in response to physicalist claims about the other features of consciousness.

Acquisition of Knowledge

A second argument for property/event dualism is the Knowledge Argument, variously formulated by Thomas Nagel, Frank Jackson, and Saul Kripke.6 A standard presentation of the thought experiment is this: Mary, a brilliant scientist blind from birth, knows all the physical facts relevant to acts of perception. When she suddenly gains the ability to see, she gains knowledge of new facts. Since she knew all the physical facts before gaining sight, and since she now gains knowledge of new facts, these facts must not be physical facts and, moreover, given Mary’s situation, they must be mental facts.

To appreciate the argument, it is necessary to focus on the nature of self-presenting properties and three kinds of knowledge. First, a self-presenting property presents both its intentional object (say, the red apple) and itself to the subject exemplifying it. When a person has a self-presenting property, he is modified in some way. One way to put this is to say that when a person has a red sensation, he is in the state of being appeared to redly.

Suppose the light is such that an orange jar looks red to Jim. If Jim says the object is red, his statement is about the jar and is false. If Jim says, “I seem to see something red” or “the jar appears red to me” what he says is true because he is reporting a description of his own sensation. He is not talking about the jar. Jim’s statements report his own description of the private, directly accessed mental sensation going on inside him.

Second, arguably, there are three forms of knowledge, irreducible to each other, though, of course, one form may be the epistemic ground for another: (1) Knowledge by acquaintance: One has such knowledge when one is directly aware of something, e.g., when one sees an apple directly before him, he knows it by acquaintance. One does not need a concept of an apple or knowledge of how to use the word “apple” to have knowledge by acquaintance of an apple. (2) Propositional knowledge: This is knowledge that a proposition is true. For example, knowledge that “the object there is an apple” requires having a concept of an apple and knowing that the object under consideration satisfies the concept. (3) Know-how: This is the ability to do certain things, e.g., to use apples for certain purposes.

Generally, knowledge by acquaintance provides grounds for propositional knowledge which, in turn, provides what is necessary to have genuine know-how. It is because one sees the apple that one knows that it is an apple, and it is in virtue of one’s knowledge of apples that one has the skill to do things to or with them.

By way of application, Mary comes to exemplify the self-presenting mental property of being appeared to redly. With her ability to see, Mary gains several new kinds of knowledge—she gains knowledge by acquaintance, propositional knowledge, and skills both with regard to the color red and her sensation of red. Mary now knows by acquaintance what redness is. Upon further reflection and experience, she can now know things like, necessarily, red is a color. She also gains skill about comparing or sorting objects on the basis of their color, of how to arrange color patterns that are most beautiful or natural to the eye, etc. Assuming a realist, and not a representative, dualist construal of secondary qualities, we may say that the three kinds of knowledge just listed are not themselves knowledge of mental facts, but are forms of knowledge that can be gained only by way of mental states that exemplify the relevant self-presenting property.

Further, Mary gains knowledge about her sensation of red. She is now aware of having a sensation of red for the first time and can be aware of a specific sensation of red being pleasurable, vague, etc. She also has propositional knowledge about her sensations. She could know that a sensation of red is more like a sensation of green than it is like a sour taste. She can know that the way the apple appears to her now is vivid, pleasant, or like the way the orange appeared to her (namely, redly) yesterday in bad lighting. Finally, she has skills about her sensations. She can recall them to memory, re-image things in her mind, adjust her glasses until her sensations of color are vivid, etc.

Physicalists David Papineau and Paul Churchland have offered slightly different versions of the most prominent physicalist rejoinder to this argument:7 When Mary gains the ability to see red, she gains no knowledge of any new facts. Rather, she gains new abilities, new behavioral dispositions, new know-how, new ways to access the facts she already knew before gaining the ability to see. Before the experience, Mary knew all there was to know about the facts involved in what it is like to experience red. She could imagine what it would be like for some other person to experience red. She could know what it is like to have an experience of red due to the fact that this is simply a physical state of the brain, and Mary had mastered the relevant physical theory before gaining sight. But now she has a “pre-linguistic representation of redness,” a first-person ability to image redness or re-create the experience of redness in her memory. She can re-identify her experience of red and classify it according to the type of experience it is by a new “inner” power of introspection. Prior to the experience, she could merely recognize when someone else was experiencing red “from the outside,” i.e., from learning how the experience of red affected others. Thus, the physicalist admits a duality of types of knowledge but not a duality of facts that are known.

For three reasons this response is inadequate. First, is it simply not true that Mary gains a new way of knowing what she already knew instead of gaining knowledge of a new set of facts? Above, there are listed some elements of Mary’s new factual knowledge, and it seems obvious that Mary failed to have this factual knowledge prior to gaining the ability to see.

Second, to be at all plausible, this physicalist rejoinder seems to presuppose a course-grained theory of properties, according to which two properties are identical if they are either contingently or necessarily co-exemplified. This assumption allows the physicalist to identify the relevant property in the Knowledge Argument (being red, being an-appearing-of-red) with a property employed in physical theory isomorphic (of similar form) with it. But the course-grain theory is false. Being triangular and being trilateral are different properties even though necessarily co-exemplified, and the same may be said of various unexemplified or unexemplifiable properties.

Third, when Churchland and Papineau describe Mary’s new know-how, they help themselves to a number of notions that clearly seem to be dualist ones, including: pre-linguistic representation, first-person ability to image, ability to re-identify her experience, introspection, and others. These dualist notions are the real intuition pumps for the physicalist rejoinder. Remove the dualist language and replace it with notions that can be captured in physicalist language, and the physicalist response becomes implausible.

Intentionality

The third argument for property/event dualism is based on intentionality. Some (perhaps all) mental states have intentionality. No physical state has intentionality. Therefore, at least some mental states are not physical. Intentionality is the “ofness” or “aboutness” of various mental states. A thought, sensation, or belief is always of or about its object. Consider the following facts about intentionality:

  1. When one represents a mental act to oneself, there are no sense-data associated with it; this is not so with physical states and their relations.
  2. Intentionality is completely unrestricted with regard to the kind of object it can hold as a term—anything whatsoever can have a mental act directed upon it, but physical relations only obtain for a narrow range of objects (e.g., magnetic fields only attract certain things).
  3. To grasp a mental act one must engage in a reflexive act of self-awareness, but no such reflexivity is required to grasp a physical relation.
  4. For ordinary physical relations (e.g., x is to the left of y), x and y are identifiable objects irrespective of whether they have entered into that relation (ordinary physical relations are external). This is not so for intentional contents (e.g., one and the same belief cannot be about a frog and later about a house—the belief is what it is, at least partly, in virtue of what the belief is of).
  5. For ordinary relations, each of the relata must exist in order for the relation to obtain (x and y must exist before one can be on top of the other), but intentionality can be of nonexistent things (e.g., one can think of Zeus).
  6. Intentional states are intentional (having to do with attributes), but physical states are extensional (having to do with class members).

Many physicalists try to reduce intentionality to physical causal/functional relations. Dualists respond by offering thought experiments in which causal/functional relations are neither necessary nor sufficient for intentionality. Moreover, even if there were necessary and sufficient causal/functional conditions for every intentional state, this would show merely that the two were isomorphic, not identical.

In summary, reasons exist for holding that consciousness is not itself physical. But what about the owner of consciousness, the ego or self? Is the self immaterial as well, or is it something physical, for example, the brain? These questions will be discussed in Body and Soul: Part 2.

J. P. Moreland is professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California. He has authored, co-authored, edited, or contributed to twenty books, including Body and Soul (InterVarsity) and Naturalism: A Critical Analysis (Routledge). He has also written over 50 articles in professional journals, including The American Philosophical Quarterly, Faith and Philosophy, and Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith.

Glossary:

  • Acts of free will (Purposings): Actions of the individual will that are the result of uncaused, uncompelled, or uncoerced choices caused by the agent himself.
  • Dualism: In metaphysics, the view that some reality consists of two fundamentally different entities (e.g., mental and physical).
  • Mental states: Realities that exist as states of consciousness (e.g., thoughts, sensations, beliefs).
  • Mind-body problem:  The problem of formulating a view of a human person that does justice to the physical and mental aspects of human persons and their relations to one another.
  • Physical property: That which is publicly accessible (e.g., electrical, malleable, breakable) and which can be captured in the language of the hard sciences.
  • Physicalism: In metaphysics, the view that all reality is reducible to, or explainable in terms of, the physical (e.g., mental states are reducible to brain states).
  • Property: A characteristic of a thing (e.g., redness, wisdom, triangularity, painfulness).
  • Property dualism: The view that ostensibly mental properties are genuinely mental and not physical properties.
  • Substance: The individual thing (e.g., an acorn, a dog, an angel) that has properties and remains the same through change.
  • Substance dualism: The view that a human consists of an immaterial substantial soul and a physical body that is not identical to the soul.

References:

  1. J. P. Moreland and Scott Rae, Body and Soul (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2000), 17-47; J. P. Moreland, “Restoring the Soul to Christianity,” Christian Research Journal 23 (spring 2000): 23-27, 41-43; John Cooper, Body, Soul & Life Everlasting, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000).
  2. Richard Swinburne, The Evolution of the Soul, 2d ed. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1997).
  3. Moreland and Rae.
  4. William Hasker, The Emergent Self (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University, 1999).
  5. The supposed vagueness of quantum states prior to their measurement is irrelevant here for two reasons: (1) Whatever else a sensation is, it is not a quantum state of some sort; (2) quantum vagueness is, arguably, epistemological and not ontological.
  6. Thomas Nagel, “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” The Philosophical Review 83 (1974): 435-50; Frank Jackson, “Epiphenomenal Qualia,” Philosophical Quarterly 32 (April 1982): 127-36; Saul Kripke, “Naming and Necessity,” Semantics of Natural Languages, eds. Donald Davidson and Gilbert Harman (Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel, 1972), 253-355. Subsequently, Jackson has raised doubts about the Knowledge Argument. See Frank Jackson, “What Mary Didn’t Know,” Journal of Philosophy 83 (1986): 291-95.
  7. David Papineau, Philosophical Naturalism(Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1993), 103-14; Paul M. Churchland, Matter and Consciousness, 2d ed. (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT, 1988), 33-34.


Aliens From Another World? Getting Here From There

By Hugh Ross

(Spanish Version)

A rising challenge to Christianity, both within and beyond the borders of America, springs from the popular obsession with UFOs (unidentified flying objects) and ETI (extraterrestrial intelligent life). Growing numbers of UFO and ETI cults, some overtly religious, others with the pretense of purely scientific endeavor, preach their own message of salvation for the human race, a message that directly contradicts—and overtly targets—the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  These cults deny the existence of a transcendent Creator. They deny that salvation comes only through faith in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. They preach, rather, that hope lies in receiving “guidance” from advanced extraterrestrial aliens, through a book of solutions to all humanity’s problems. Some call it Urantia and say it has already come; others call it Encyclopedia Galactica and await its coming.

As Christian apologists (including those from Reasons To Believe) address university and community audiences in Africa, Australia, Canada, Japan, Russia, Ukraine, and the United States, questions about UFOs and ETI number among the most frequently asked. These questions make sense in light of surveys indicating that UFO sightings worldwide exceed one million per year.1

 Astronomers readily confirm that the vast majority of supposed UFO sightings can be explained by natural phenomena. Only a small fraction of UFOs truly lack any reasonable explanation from nature or from human activity. In the case of virtually all sightings, however, the immediate response of lay people (and even from some scientists) is that superintelligent aliens traveling in sophisticated spacecraft have arrived from the distant reaches of space. “Flying saucers” and “UFOs” are synonymous terms for the vast majority of the world’s population. Flying saucer clubs (and cults) devote themselves exclusively to studying UFO encounters and to promoting the claim that planet Earth has been and continues to be explored by aliens.

How realistic is the notion of interstellar (between planetary systems) or intergalactic (between galaxies) travel—even if we temporarily suspend questions about the possibility of intelligent physical life beyond Earth? Of all the books available on UFO phenomena, few give adequate attention to the properties of space and to the physical challenges of space travel. Such challenges have been underscored by human endeavors of the past few decades, including Apollo 13 and the biosphere experiments. 

Distance Problems

In this day of almost routine success by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in sending spacecraft to Earth’s neighboring planets (not to mention familiar television and movie depictions of space travel throughout the Milky Way and beyond), people may easily lose sight of two facts: (1) the laws and constants of physics set hard limits on any significant space travel by intelligent physical beings; and (2) no amount of technological capability can overcome such limits.

One obstacle to intergalactic or even planetary-system-to-planetary-system travel arises from the enormous distances separating the stars. Distance, of course, translates to time, and time translates to risk exposure. The more time a living or mechanical body spends in space, the more dangers it encounters—deadly dangers.

The nearest star is 25 trillion miles away. If one were to use a grapefruit to model our roughly million-mile diameter Sun, the distance to the nearest star, on this scale, would be the distance from Los Angeles to Managua, Nicaragua. If a person were to hitch a ride to that star on NASA’s fastest (to date) spacecraft, the trip would take 112,000 years.

The nearest stars, however, fail to meet the basic requirements for life support. Sentient physical beings require an Earth-like habitat—one that orbits a single, middle-aged star closely resembling the Sun. This planet’s orbit must be nearly circular, not too eccentric. The planet must be shielded from asteroid bombardment by a massive companion planet (such as Jupiter) but cannot be bounced around by the gravity of that protector planet. Many more criteria could be listed, but these suffice to make the point.2 No star within about 50 light-years of Earth can meet these requirements. Those with a mass similar to the Sun’s are either too young or too old to burn with sufficient stability.3 They possess partner stars or huge nearby planets that would disrupt the orbit of any Earth-like planet, or they lack large protector planets.4

Even if intelligent beings were to reside a mere 50 light-years distant, they would have to cut a zigzag course through various galactic hazards to reach planet Earth, making their trip considerably longer. Incoming travelers would have to dodge the gravity and deadly radiation of neutron stars, supergiant stars, nova and supernova eruptions, and even the remnants of such eruptions. They would have to avoid the gas, dust, and comets so dense in the spiral arms, as well as the environs of late-born stars (stars formed during the past 5 billion years). But, they would have to stay in the plane of the galaxy. Any departure from the plane would expose the travelers to the deadly radiation that streams from the galactic core. Maneuvering to avoid hazards would extend the minimum distance to an estimated 75 light-years.

Recent findings, however, push that minimum figure even higher. Based on the assumption that any interplanetary craft would likely maintain communication with the home planet (or with other members of the traveling party), a SETI (search for ETI) research group scanned all 202 of the solar-type stars (roughly similar to the Sun) within 155 light-years of Earth. Not one intelligible signal was detected anywhere within the vicinity of each star.5 This finding translates to a minimum alien travel distance of 155 light-years plus hazard-avoidance maneuvers, a total of roughly 230 light-years (or 1.36 quadrillion miles).

Speed Problems

As some readers may remember from their high school science classes, the laws of physics forbid any chunk of matter from traveling faster than the velocity of light. Serious difficulties arise, however, long before an object reaches that speed. At the velocity of light, the energy required to move a specified mass is infinite. At even half the velocity of light, the energy needed to propel an object is several million times greater than NASA’s fastest spacecraft requires.

The energy problem compounds, however, because propellants and engines involve mass. The higher a spacecraft’s speed, the more propellant and the bigger the engines it requires. Therefore, the higher the intended speed of the spacecraft, the (exponentially) higher the mass of the craft.

An additional mass problem arises from the need to move the spacecraft’s payload (the total weight of the passengers, crew, instruments, and life-support supplies). The mass of a craft and its propulsion system rises geometrically relative to the mass of the payload.

The need for speed poses yet another problem: The faster an object travels through space, the greater its likelihood to suffer damage from space debris. Micrometeorites, for example, punched holes the size of silver dollars in the Hubble Space Telescope’s solar panels (while the Hubble was traveling at about 0.04 percent the velocity of light relative to the micrometeorites, and about 0.003 percent the velocity of light relative to Earth). If the telescope had been moving a thousand times faster (relative to the micrometeorites), the damage would have been a million times worse. (I.e., the damage increases with the square of the velocity increase.)

In terms of space debris, micrometeorites may be the least of a space traveler’s worry. A large cloud of comets, estimated to contain 100 billion comets or more, surrounds the solar system. Such clouds very likely surround any star in our galaxy that could possibly harbor planets. Astronomers suspect that the giant molecular clouds scattered throughout the Milky Way galaxy may contain even greater numbers of comets.

To protect against damage from space debris, a spacecraft needs some kind of armor. However, armor means more mass, which means more propellant to move the added mass. More propellant means more propellant to move the extra propellant. Thus, the problem escalates.

While space debris poses a lesser risk at lower velocities, lower velocities also mean greater travel time. The probability of damage from space debris rises in proportion to the amount of time spent in space—and, it rises by the square of the velocity. Therefore, in terms of damage from debris, space travelers face deadly dangers at any velocity, slow or fast. And, slow or fast, a spacecraft will suffer general wear and tear to its component parts.

Exposure to radiation poses yet another serious threat. The faster a craft travels through space, the greater the damage it suffers from radiation. The particles associated with radiation (e.g., protons, neutrons, electrons, heavy nuclei, and even photons) cause erosion to the “skin” and components of the craft. Again, the rate of erosion rises with the square of the velocity. However, a slower velocity means more time in space, and that extra time means more radiation exposure for the aliens on board. (No matter how thick any practical safety shield may be, some radiation inevitably leaks through.)

Very conservatively, any reasonably sized spacecraft transporting intelligent physical beings can travel at velocities no greater than about one percent the velocity of light. At higher velocities the risks from radiation, space debris, leaks, and wear and tear are simply too great to prevent the extinction of the space travelers before they reach their destination. A spacecraft traveling at one percent the velocity of light (nearly 7 million miles per hour) would need 7,500 years to traverse 75 light-years or 23,000 years to travel 230 light-years.

Loopholes Via Wormholes?

Highly imaginative and technically trained UFO and ETI buffs suggest that advanced aliens may have found a way to use space-time “wormholes” to travel to distant locations in the universe in a relatively short time. On closer examination, however, this idea offers no help at all in solving the distance and time problems.

General relativity says that massive objects distort the curvature of space and time in their vicinity. The greater the mass-density of an object, the greater the degree of space-time curvature it produces in its immediate vicinity. General relativity predicts that when matter becomes sufficiently compressed by its own gravity (as in a black hole), a discrete region of space-time will develop where the curvature becomes infinitely sharp (Figure 1). That is, a singularity (region where the mass density and space curvature become infinite) will develop at the center of the mass concentration.

If a black hole connected to one sheet of space-time in the universe happens to make contact with another black hole connected to a different sheet of space-time, that point of contact may (hypothetically) offer a travel corridor. The point of contact, however, must be singularity to singularity (Figure 2) so that a traveler funneling into the center of one black hole can come into contact with the center of another black hole.

While these so-called wormholes connecting one black hole to another black hole are mathematically possible, one must question the physical practicality (not to mention plausibility) of their use by alien travelers. According to the best-established models for the universe, regions of space that could be connected via wormholes are already close to one another. In other words, the use of a wormhole would offer little time advantage. One cosmic model in which a ten-dimensional space-time sheet bends to make a U (Figure 3) offers the possibility of a significant shortcut through space, but ongoing research has yet to verify the viability of such a model.

Social Considerations

At 7,500 years (minimum) for a one-way trip from their home to Earth, space aliens would no doubt face some daunting social challenges. Longevity anywhere within the confines of the universe must be finite, not infinite, according to the laws of physics. Moreover, life spans inevitably decrease with exposure to radiation such as space travel yields. The complexities of carbon-based biochemistry (the only possible chemistry for physical life)6, 7 set life’s limit at about a thousand years—even if traveling aliens were to hibernate for long periods.

A journey across more than 75 light-years would extend through multiple generations. A multi-generational journey presents another set of difficulties. Whether or not the original voyagers volunteered for the mission, their progeny would receive the mission by inheritance, not by choice. Like it or not, the mission is theirs. If space travelers were to resemble humans in any way, one can easily imagine that dedication to the original goals might be difficult to maintain. Changed or confused priorities would likely add to the trip’s duration, among other difficulties. They might even lead to aborting the journey. 

A multi-generational strategy for space travel requires a sufficiently large and diverse base population for the initial passengers. Otherwise the aliens would probably become extinct before their craft reached its intended destination. And, a population of any size, from 2 to 20,000, requires various resources and systems for sustenance. At a minimum, these resources and systems must include food and respiration products and waste recycling, and all must be maintained at sufficient levels to minimize the risk of ecological disaster. 

Survival Problems

A one-way trip that takes 7,500 years or more raises serious doubts about the alien travelers’ survivability. The extinction risk, given the limited population and all the contingencies of space travel, seems overwhelming. As humanity has discovered during the past fifty years, a civilization advanced enough to launch a trip through space may not survive long enough to even build a transport and get it off the ground. High technology carries a terrible price: reduced survivability.

High technology and resultant high living standards mean individuals carrying deleterious mutations typically survive long enough to reproduce. High technology and high living standards strongly encourage both men and women to delay reproduction. In a high-tech world, an individual needs more time to be educated and trained for self-sufficiency, even more for making a contribution to ongoing technological advance.

Delayed reproduction, particularly for males, results in transmission of increased numbers of deleterious mutations.8 According to one research study, the human population at the close of the twentieth century suffered an accumulation of deleterious mutations measuring three per person per generation.9 This rate significantly accelerates humanity’s movement toward extinction.

To make matters worse, wealth and technology inversely correlate with the birth rate. In other words, the greater a society’s wealth and the greater its use of technology, the fewer offspring it produces. Today, not a single nation with a per capita income exceeding $20,000 has a birthrate high enough to prevent eventual extinction. In Europe and Japan, for example, the birthrate is less than 75 percent of that needed to maintain the population at a constant level.10

For space travelers all these problems are compounded by limits on the size of their traveling party. Whereas six billion people living on a large planet can tolerate epidemics, natural disasters, ecological crises, and wars, a few (or few thousand) individuals on board a space ship or cluster of space ships would likely be wiped out by such catastrophes. Humanity holds the added advantage of having a large habitat with a wide variety of refuges where one can find temporary escape from a given problem or disaster.

These extinction risks suggest that for distant stars and planets, technology sufficient for space travel is much more likely to doom a society’s destiny than to fulfill it. Intelligence would tell such aliens to stay at home or to limit their colonization efforts to their own planetary system.

Technology Problems

Obviously, the problems of damage by space debris, radiation, leaks, ecological breakdown, and wear and tear are much worse for intelligent physical beings on board spacecraft than for mechanical instruments. If gathering (or giving) knowledge is the goal, men typically have the advantage over machines in that they can adapt more quickly and successfully to changing circumstances and unexpected contingencies. However, as the travel distance increases, the advantage shifts: the greater the difficulty of transporting people relative to machines, the less adaptable the people become.

Even for exploration of our own solar system, machines hold a huge advantage. For visiting the moons of Jupiter (less than 0.0001 light-years away), at least ten thousand instrument missions can be sent for the cost of one manned mission. If something goes wrong with an instrument on such a mission, no one dies (though someone may lose a job). If the instruments detect something they were not designed to probe, another set of instruments can be designed and sent out. If circumstances warrant a longer stay, it can be accomplished with little redesign or extra provisioning, in most cases. A few men on a month-long mission are likely to learn much less about a planet or a moon than would ten thousand space instruments operating over many years.

This kind of analysis would not be lost on aliens more advanced than humans. If aliens exist on distant planetary systems and have some interest in planet Earth, they would more likely send machines than members of their own species.

Call for Further Research

This brief analysis of the feasibility of long-distance space travel may not account for all the significant factors, and time will tell whether its calculations and estimates are too optimistic or too pessimistic. It does demonstrate, however, that a little time in the library with a calculator can bring some realistic considerations to questions about UFOs and ETI. Taxpayers’ money would be more wisely spent on this relatively inexpensive research than on costly probes for alien signals or ships.

Programs designed to systematically discover and explore the characteristics of distant planets would be most helpful. Astronomers have determined the masses and orbits for over sixty planets outside Earth’s solar system.11 Moreover, NASA has been promised funding to send an array of telescopes into space that will have the capacity, not only to measure the masses and orbits of Earth-sized planets orbiting distant stars, but also to determine their rotation rates and the composition of their atmospheres.12

Consider the Motive

The compelling interest in UFOs and ETI seems rooted more deeply in spiritual concerns than in scientific ones. Origin-of-life researchers now acknowledge the virtual impossibility of any natural explanation for life’s origin on Earth, on Mars, on any solar system body, or anywhere among the comets or interstellar clouds.13 The additional finding that microorganisms could not have been transported across interstellar space (radiation pressure from stars would inevitably have killed them) effectively seals the case.14

The ironies seem too great to ignore. An obviously spiritual quest accounts for huge research expenditures of both government and private funds. As long as that quest opposes, rather than supports, Christian doctrines, no outcry arises from the separation-of-church-and-state camp. The greater irony is that humanity already holds in its hands all the information and instructions needed for the best possible life on this planet, as well as for life beyond. This “extra-cosmic encyclopedia” was delivered to humans by God’s Spirit and corroborated with tangible evidences. To ensure humans understood and received it, the Creator Himself personally visited this planet two millennia ago, in human, not alien, form. He revealed—in Himself—the source of answers to life’s greatest questions and challenges.

References:

  1. Jacques Vallee, Dimensions (New York: Ballantine, 1988), 230-31.
  2. Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 3d ed. (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2001), 176-87.
  3. NASA catalog of the 2613 known stars within 81 light-years of Earth, Web site address: http://nstars.arc.nasa.gov/.
  4. Jean Schneider, Extra-solar Planets Catalog, a frequently updated Web site catalog at http://www.obspm.fr/encycl/catalog.html.
  5. Christopher F. Chyba, “Life Beyond Mars,” Nature 382 (1996), 577.
  6. Robert Dicke, “Dirac’s Cosmology and Mach’s Principle,” Nature 192 (1961), 440.
  7. Ross, Creator, 178.
  8. James F. Crow, “The Odds of Losing at Genetic Roulette,” Nature 397 (1999), 293-94.
  9. Adam Eyre-Walker and Peter D. Keightley, “High Genomic Deleterious Mutation Rates in Hominids,” Nature 397 (1999), 344-47.
  10. John W. Wright, ed. The New York Times 2000 Almanac (New York: Penguin Reference, 1999), 487.
  11. Schneider.
  12. Bijan Nemati, “The Search for Life on Other Planets,” Facts for Faith 4 (Q4 2000), 22-31.
  13. Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, “Life from the Heavens? Not This Way . . .” Facts for Faith 1 (Q1 2000), 11-15.
  14. Paul Parsons, “Dusting Off Panspermia,” Nature 383(1996), 221-22.


Black Holes, Singularities, and Wormholes

By Hugh Ross

From a realistic rather than science fiction perspective, the wormhole question is moot. Since black holes are relatively rare, the probability that the singularities of two spatially distant black holes would come into contact is virtually zero, as is the probability that any possible wormhole would lie in a location useful for alien space travel. General relativity dictates, further, that wormholes would be extremely unstable. The longevity of any possible wormhole (briefer than a tiny fraction of a second) is far too brief to allow any physical being (or even any fundamental particle) to travel through.

The most devastating evidence against wormhole travel comes from the laws of physics. In short, any physical object would be destroyed beyond recognition by the intense gravitational forces in the vicinity of a wormhole. An unlucky alien approaching one would be stretched into a long line of particles several miles long. As this alien gets sucked down toward one of the singularities, even the particles would disintegrate. The alien would end up as an extremely compressed ball of chaotic energy.

While wormholes are mathematically possible, they offer no hope or help for alien travel. Even the tiniest physical entity could not survive passage through a wormhole. Coming anywhere close to a wormhole would mean destruction and death.


Biospheres Deemed Failures

By Hugh Ross

Two tests of space travelers’ ability to support themselves independent of Earth have taken place in the Arizona desert (see www.bio2.edu). In 1991 a team of eight adults were sealed inside a 3.15-acre “capsule” for a two-year stint. In 1994 a team of seven entered for a half-year run. All the plants and animals needed for maintenance of food, water, and oxygen and for waste recycling were sealed inside with them. The challenge: maintain the quality and quantity of provisions and the quality of life in this confined habitat.

Alas, the challenge proved too great. Oxygen levels dropped so low and nitrous oxide levels rose so high that a controlled air mixture had to be pumped in. Nearly all the birds and animals died, as did most insects. Cockroaches and ants did survive, however. Forced to adopt a vegetarian diet, the biospherians discovered they could not raise enough crops. Ultimately, food had to be smuggled in.

The most unexpected problem of the biosphere experiment was the psychological one. A sense of adventure and dedication to the project’s goal held people together for the first few weeks. After that time, however, boredom, confinement, and isolation led to serious discontent and strife. Release came none too soon, especially for those who stayed two years. As Discover magazine editors commented recently on a proposed manned mission to Mars, “All the conditions for murder are met if you shut seven astronauts in a capsule together for nine months” (William Speed Weed, “Can We Go To Mars Without Going Crazy?” Discover [May, 2001], 38.)

Of course, the challenges of space travel would vastly exceed those of an Earth-based biosphere. Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field protected the bubble from meteorites and radiation. Availability of Earth’s resources prevented total ecological catastrophe. Psychologically, biospherians had the advantage of knowing that if anything went terribly wrong, rescue was only a few feet and a few minutes away. The importance of this one advantage cannot be overestimated.

An actual spacecraft would need an artificial gravity system, and it must be both compact and reliable. Since some kind of damage, both internal and external, is inevitable over a multi-thousand-year time span, repair and escape systems would be essential. A caravan of back-up craft and ships containing spare parts, equipment, and supplies may provide a solution, but the complications of coordinating such a fleet and of moving things and living beings from one to another seem utterly overwhelming.

The tiny saucers of UFO lore fall woefully short of space travel demands. While such saucers could conceivably (at least in science-fiction terms) be dinghies sent out from mother ships, one wonders how the mother ships could have escaped the notice of astronomers.

In terms of surviving various ecological and astronomical disasters, bigger is better. The best strategy for the aliens would be to send out the largest spaceship possible. But bigger is also worse, in terms of propulsion. Research to date suggests that aliens might be much better off trying to move their entire planetary system than to transport themselves in vehicles across interstellar space.   


Origin-of-Life Predictions Face Off: Evolution vs. Biblical Creation

By Dr. Fazale Rana

(Spanish Version)

When addressing the challenges that naturalistic origin-of-life scenarios present to their faith, Christians often point to the many problems facing origin-of-life researchers. But just pointing out the problems with the evolutionary origin-of-life models has alienated secular scientists, and has, in fact, driven many scientists away from Christ. A new approach is necessary, one that takes into account the legitimate concerns raised by secular scientists. Christians must not only present a positive case for the supernatural origin of life but also offer their case in a scientifically testable form if their ideas are to be taken seriously by the scientific community.

A biblically based, scientifically testable origin-of-life scenario can be developed and used to make a uniquely Christian contribution to the origin-of-life question. Creation can be put to the test; creation can be science. Remarkable harmony exists between the biblical origin-of-life model and the most recent results from the origin-of-life research community. Little if any agreement can be found between the naturalistic origin-of-life scenario and the scientific data.

Importance of the Question

Abiogenesis—the emergence of life from nonliving physicochemical systems—forms the core of the evolutionary paradigm. Life must have its beginning in exclusively physical and chemical processes for evolutionists to legitimately explain life’s diversity throughout Earth’s history from a strictly materialistic standpoint. If abiogenesis lacks scientific credibility, the foundation of evolutionary theory crumbles. Moreover, if life can be shown to have a supernatural origin, then the door opens for viewing all phenomena in biology from an intelligent design perspective.

 Despite the importance of abiogenesis to the evolutionary paradigm, origin-of-life researchers have failed to generate any tangible progress towards a strictly materialistic explanation for life’s inception. The origin-of-life research program first began as a scientific endeavor in the early 1950s, when Stanley Miller produced amino acids in his now legendary spark-discharge experiments.1, 2 Giddy with Miller’s accomplishment, many scientists predicted answers to the origin-of-life question within the decades to come.3 However, origin-of-life researchers are no closer to understanding the origin of life today than they were 40 years ago when Stanley Miller did his first experiments. Best-selling author Paul Davies (an agnostic) makes this point in his book, The Fifth Miracle:          

When I set out to write this book, I was convinced that science was close to wrapping up the mystery of life’s origins . . . Having spent a year or two researching the field, I am now of the opinion that there remains a huge gulf in our understanding . . . This gulf in understanding is not merely ignorance about certain technical details, it is a major conceptual lacuna.4

Davies goes on to explain why such a mismatch persists between public perception and reality on the origin-of-life question:

Many investigators feel uneasy about stating in public that the origin of life is a mystery, even though behind closed doors they freely admit that they are baffled. There seems to be two reasons for their unease. First, they feel it opens the door to religious fundamentalists and their god-of-the-gaps pseudo-explanations. Second, they worry that a frank admission of ignorance will undermine funding. . .5

The “behind-the-scenes” frustration of the origin-of-life research community was clearly evident at ISSOL ’99.6 The 9th meeting of the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life combined with the 12th International Conference of the Origin of Life at the University of California in San Diego in July 1999. This joint scientific meeting, held every three years, attracts the most prominent origin-of-life investigators from around the world and serves as a platform for sharing their latest findings. The mood there was grim.

The Case for a Supernatural Origin

When defending the Christian faith from the hard line of naturalism, pointing out the acknowledged problems with naturalistic origin-of-life scenarios may be important—but it is not enough. Christians must first make a positive case for the supernatural origin of life. Secondly, the case for life’s supernatural beginnings must comport with all of Scripture, not just one or two passages. And finally, for scientists to take seriously the case for a supernatural origin of life, that case must be testable. Paleontologist Niles Eldredge makes these points forcefully in his book The Triumph of Evolution and The Failure of Creationism. (In this work, Eldredge fails to demonstrate the triumph of evolution and only demonstrates the failure of young-earth creationism.7)Referring to young-earth creationists, Eldredge states,

Creation scientists have not managed to come up with even a single intellectually compelling, scientifically testable statement about the natural world. . . Creation science has precious few ideas of its own—positive ideas that stand on their own, independent of, and opposed to, counter opinions of normal science.8

So, in the end, there is as little substance in the scientific creationists’ treatment of the origin and diversification of life as there is in their treatment of cosmological time. They pose no novel testable hypotheses and make no predictions or observations worthy of the name. They devote the vast bulk of their ponderous efforts to attacking orthodox science in the mistaken and utterly fallacious belief that in discrediting science . . . they have thereby established the truth of their own position.9

Reasons To Believe scholars seek to address the important and valid points made by Niles Eldredge and other critics of creationism head-on by developing a biblically based, scientifically testable creation model—one that makes testable predictions. Creation can be tested. Creation can be science. An overview of the Reasons To Believe Creation model appeared in a previous issue of FACTS for FAITH (Q2 2000) and will be the topic of a conference on June 28-30, 2001. Numerous scientific and theological tests support that model.10

Presenting the biblical account of origins in the form of a testable creation model provides a powerful and exciting new approach to evangelism and apologetics. Offering up a testable creation model not only demonstrates the truthfulness of the Bible but also can lead to scientific advance. The standard naturalistic model and the biblical creation model for the origin of life both make predictions; thus, these predictions can be compared with some of the new major discoveries. Not surprisingly, the biblical description of the origin of life agrees with recent scientific discoveries. In sharp contrast, the most recent scientific data contradicts the predictions made by the naturalistic origin-of-life model.

Evolutionary Scenario for the Origin of Life

The textbook11, 12 or standard materialistic scenario for the origin of life begins shortly after Earth’s formation. The earth in its primordial state was markedly different than today. Evolutionary researchers take advantage of the lack of certainty about Earth’s early conditions by postulating that reducing gases—hydrogen-rich gases such as ammonia, methane, and water vapor—made up the early earth’s atmosphere. They speculate that no oxygen was present. Under these conditions energy discharges, such as lightning, propagating through the early earth’s atmosphere would lead to the production of small organic molecules, such as formaldehyde and hydrogen cyanide.

According to this scenario, these prebiotic molecules would then accumulate in the earth’s oceans over vast periods of time to form the legendary primordial or prebiotic soup. Within the prebiotic soup, again over long periods of time, the small prebiotic molecules would react to form more complex molecules, such as amino acids, sugars, fatty acids, purines, and pyrimidines. These molecules would in turn function as building blocks for the complex molecules that eventually would lead to the biomolecules found in living systems today.

This explanation for the origin of life requires that the chemical reactions taking place in the prebiotic soup eventually produce molecules with the ability to self-replicate. As their concentration increased in the prebiotic soup, the large, complex molecules would be expected to aggregate to form protocells or prebionts. Over time, through random chemical and physical events, the self-replicating molecules found in the chemical aggregates would transfer this capability to the prebionts. Evolutionary processes (e.g. natural selection) would eventually lead the prebionts to become increasingly efficient self-replicators and increasingly more complex.

Finally these prebionts would yield an organism referred to as the last universal common ancestor (LUCA). LUCA presumably resembled a modern bacterium. LUCA, then, would have given rise to the major domains of life.

Table I lists some of the most important predictions that reasonably follow from the textbook origin-of-life scenario.

Table I

Some Predictions Made by the Naturalistic (Evolutionary) Origin-of-life Scenario

  1. Chemical evidence for the prebiotic soup will be found in the geological record.
  2. Placid chemical and physical conditions existed on the early earth for long periods of time.
  3. Chemical pathways leading to the formation of biomolecules will be found.
  4. Chemical pathways that produce biomolecules would have been capable of operating under the conditions of the early earth.
  5. Life emerged gradually over a long period of time.
  6. Life originated only once.
  7. Life in its minimal form is simple.

Biblical Model for the Origin of Life

Genesis 1:2 provides the starting point for the biblical description of life’s beginnings:

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

This passage describes the earth in its primordial state.13 According to the text, the Spirit of God was moving above the surface of the waters, so the context of this passage is the earth’s surface. Positioned on the earth’s surface, a hypothetical observer would experience only darkness. He would also note that Earth’s surface was covered entirely with water. An observer would also see Earth as unsuitable for life. The Hebrew word translated as formless, tohu, connotes a desolate wasteland.14

The Genesis 1:2 description of the earth’s primordial conditions finds remarkable agreement with the scientific description of the earth’s initial conditions. The interplanetary debris of the early solar system and thick primordial atmosphere of early Earth would keep sunlight from reaching its surface.15 Darkness would, indeed, be pervasive on the planet. While scientists debate the mechanism and timing for the formation of the earth’s oceans, consensus holds that continents did not exist when the earth formed. Early in its history Earth was, indeed, a water world.16 From the time of its formation (approximately 4.55 billion years ago) until 3.5 billion years ago, the earth experienced numerous collisions that would have rendered the earth a desolate planet largely unsuitable for life.17

Genesis 1:2 also describes the supernatural creation of the first life on Earth.18 The original language makes even more apparent than the English that the Spirit of God is doing more than simply hovering over the surface of the waters. The Hebrew word translated as “hovering,” rahap, may also be translated as “brooding.” In its only other biblical use, rahap describes the Spirit of God “protecting” the wandering nation of Israel (Deuteronomy 32:10-11):

In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers (rahap) over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions.

Transposing this imagery onto Genesis 1:2, we see the Spirit of God “brooding” over the surface of Earth as a mother eagle, hatching and jealously protecting her young.19 As an added note, the nation of Israel is seen wandering in a land of desolation. Here, tohu is translated as howling waste, further linking Deuteronomy 32:10-11 and Genesis 1:2.

Table II lists some of the most important scientific predictions that arise from the biblical description of life’s origin.

Table II

Some Predictions Made by the Biblical Origin-of-life Scenario

  1. Life appeared early in Earth’s history.
  2. Life appeared under harsh conditions.
  3. Life miraculously persisted under harsh conditions.
  4. Life arose quickly.
  5. Life in its minimal form is complex.

Recent Scientific Discoveries in Origin-of-life Research

Comparing the predictions made by the two origin-of-life scenarios with the record of nature provides the best means of assessing the validity of the two competing models. Some of the most recent breakthrough discoveries in origin-of-life research specifically address predictions made by the two models.

Timing of Life’s Appearance

Origin-of-life researchers have recently uncovered unequivocal evidence that life first appeared early in Earth history, shortly after the formation of the first rocks.20-23 The oldest rocks yet discovered on Earth date at around 3.9 billion years old. Prior to this time, the earth existed largely in a molten state unsuitable for life. Researchers have identified carbonaceous deposits—deposits made up of carbon compounds such as kerogen tars, graphite and apatite—from the earth’s oldest rocks, dated at 3.86 billion years old. The chemical signature of these carbonaceous deposits indicates that they were produced as the by-product of biological activity. Fully consistent with the discovery of life’s by-products from 3.86 billion years ago is the discovery of fossilized bacteria in rocks about 3.5 billion years old.24, 25

Conditions at the Time of Life’s Appearance

Life first appeared and spent its early existence under unimaginably harsh conditions. In scientific terms, it should not have originated, let alone persisted. From the time of Earth’s formation (at 4.55 billion years ago) until around 3.9 billion years ago, the planet experienced frequent impacts.26, 27 Some of the objects (asteroids, comets, and planetesimals) striking the earth were approximately 100 km in diameter. Upon impact, these colliders liberated so much energy that, not only did water on the earth’s surface become volatilized, but rocks on the surface and subsurface melted. The giant impactor phase of Earth’s history ended around 3.9 billion years ago. However, at this time, gravitational perturbation in the solar system caused objects in the Kuiper-Edgeworth belt to rush toward the inner solar system.28 This event, termed the late heavy bombardment, led to over 17,000 collisions with the earth, destroying any life that would have been present. Finally, between 3.9 billion years ago and 3.5 billion years ago impactors still collided with the earth, though the size and frequency of impact diminished with time.29 Many of these events still would have vaporized the earth’s oceans, leading to a wholesale destruction of life. Between 3.9 and 3.5 billion years ago, multiple origin-of-life events must have taken place with the maximum time window between impact events, and hence for the origin of life, being 10 million years.30

Soup or No Soup?

To date, origin-of-life researchers have failed to recover any geochemical remnants of prebiotic molecules—organic molecules produced by nonbiological processes. 31 All the carbonaceous deposits recovered from the oldest rocks are, without exception, the by-product of biological activity. The “absence of evidence” for a prebiotic soup must be taken as “evidence of absence.”32

If a prebiotic soup was not present on the early earth, the existing conditions would not support the formation of prebiotic molecules. Conversely, if it is discovered that the conditions of early Earth were not conducive to the formation of prebiotic molecules, a prebiotic soup would not be found within the geological record.

Fitting with the lack of evidence for a prebiotic soup is the growing recognition that the early earth’s conditions would not have supported the synthesis of prebiotic molecules. For example, mounting evidence indicates that the early earth’s atmosphere was neutral, not reducing, composed of N2, CO2, and H2O.33, 34 Even with the absence of O2 (an inhibitor to the process of forming life molecules), prebiotic molecules cannot be produced in this type of atmosphere.35, 36 Strong evidence also has emerged that there were low, but significant levels of O2 not only in the early earth’s atmosphere, but also in the early earth’s hydrosphere.37-39 The presence of O2 would serve to inhibit the formation of prebiotic molecules.

Viability of Chemical Pathways to Life

The prebiotic soup predicted by the textbook evolutionary model did not exist on early Earth. However, even if it had existed, it could not have led to life’s beginning. Origin-of-life researchers have discovered a number of chemical routes capable of yielding many of the molecules needed to build life,40 but abiotic pathways to many other crucially important classes of biochemical compounds have yet to be discovered and may not even exist.41

Even more problematic for the naturalistic origin-of-life scenario is the recognition that the conditions of the hypothetical primordial soup and of the early earth would have inhibited most, if not all, potential prebiotic chemical routes. Many of the potential prebiotic reactions can only succeed under restrictive conditions. In most cases, it is unlikely that these conditions existed on the early earth. In some instances, the same conditions needed to drive the formation of biochemical compounds would have led to their subsequent destruction.42, 43

New evidence indicates that the transition metals and rare earth elements in the early earth’s oceans would have promoted the decomposition of what many scientists believe were key intermediate chemical compounds taking part in the most widely accepted evolutionary origin-of-life scenarios.44 The hypothetical primordial soup would have undoubtedly been a complex chemical mixture comprised of a large number of chemical species. The same chemical routes that would have led to the production of biochemical compounds under laboratory conditions would have been inhibited by other components in the primordial soup. These interfering compounds would have either terminated or redirected key steps in the prebiotic pathways.45, 46 Given the likelihood of widespread chemical interference in the hypothetical primordial soup, the success of origin-of-life researchers in preparing biochemical compounds is a false success. Origin-of-life investigators typically study potential prebiotic pathways under unrealistic, controlled, chemically pristine conditions.

Simplicity or Complexity of First Life?

New evidence indicates that life in its minimal form is chemically complex even if morphologically simple. The smallest bacterial genomes capable of independent survival include between 1500-1900 gene products.47-50 These bacteria are believed to be the oldest organisms on Earth and quite likely reflect the complexity of first life on Earth and the minimum complexity of independent life.51 The smallest known genome, that of Mycoplasma genitalium, is comprised of 470 gene products.52 However, M. genitalium is not an appropriate model for the origin of life, for it depends on host biochemistry to survive and, therefore, cannot exist independently. Nonetheless, M. genitalium is a good model for determining the bare minimum requirements for life. Theoretical and experimental work using M. genitalium indicate that life requires at least 250-350 gene products (having eliminated, in theory, genes used for parasitic interactions).53-55

Biophysicist Hubert Yockey has calculated the probability of forming a single gene product (one that is functionally equivalent to the ubiquitous protein cyctochrome C) as one chance in 1075. 56 Given this probability, Yockey calculated that if the hypothetical primordial soup contained about 1044 amino acids, a hundred billion trillion years would yield a 95% chance for random formation of a functional protein only 110 amino acids in length (a single gene product).57 The universe is about 15 billion years old. This means that less than one trillionth of the time has passed that would be needed to make even one of the 250-350 gene products necessary for minimal life, or one of the 1500 gene products necessary for independent life.

Further complicating the supra-astronomical probabilities that must be overcome for even the simplest life to arise by natural processes is the changing view of bacteria. No longer regarded as cells with a random, nondescript internal structure, bacteria are now recognized as having remarkable internal organization, both spatially and temporally, at the protein level.58, 59 This internal organization of bacterial cells is universal and is needed for their survival. This means that origin-of-life researchers must account for not only the simultaneous appearance of 250-350 gene products but also their organization inside the cell.

Biblical Description Agrees with Scientific Discoveries

Comparing the predictions of the biblical origin-of-life model with the most recent discoveries coming from origin-of-life research reveals remarkable agreement. Life originated early and quickly in Earth’s history under hostile conditions. Moreover, life as it first appeared, in its minimal form, possesses enormous complexity.

None of the predictions that come from the naturalistic model are satisfied by the most recent scientific results. From a naturalistic perspective, supra-astronomical probabilities argue against the required simultaneous assembly of the molecular components needed for life to function in its most minimal form. Perhaps most devastating of all is the absence of a primordial soup on early Earth. All origin-of-life models that appeal exclusively to natural processes have as their chief requirement a primordial soup. Even if a primordial soup existed, however, the chemical processes supposedly taking place in the soup seem incapable of producing life. In light of the most recent scientific discoveries, the comments of Paul Davies and the quiet frustration of origin-of-life researchers seem understandable.

The harmony between the Bible’s account of the origin of life and nature’s record provides powerful evidence for the validity of the Christian faith. The lack of concordance between the naturalistic model for life’s origin and the scientific data causes one of the key pillars of the theory of evolution to crumble. Once a reasonable, testable case has been made for the supernatural origin of life, the door is open to view other areas of the biological realm from a supernatural standpoint as well.

In addition to demonstrating the truthfulness of Scripture, recent discoveries show how the biblical account of origins can contribute to scientific research. By offering the biblical account of life’s origin in a form that invites scientific testing, Christians make clear that the study of creation is science. A testable creation model approach to the origin of the universe, the origin of life, the major categories of life, and the origin and spread of humanity allows Christians to make a unique contribution to the question of origins—one that allows for supernatural explanations. By offering testable models capable of making predictions, Christians can positively influence the direction of scientific research in a way that reflects their worldview and in a way that can be respected and embraced by the scientific community. Creation is science.

References:

  1. Stanley L. Miller, “A Production of Amino Acids under Possible Primitive Earth Conditions,” Science 117 (1953), 528-29.
  2. Stanley L. Miller, “Production of Some Organic Compounds under Possible Primitive Earth Conditions,” Journal of the American Chemical Society 77 (1955): 2351-61.
  3. John Horgan, The End of Science: Facing the Limits of Knowledge in the Twilight of the Scientific Age (New York: Broadway, 1997), 138-42.
  4. Paul Davies, The Fifth Miracle: The Search for the Origin and Meaning of Life (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999), 17.
  5. Davies, 17-18.
  6. Fazale R. Rana and Hugh Ross, “Life From the Heavens? Not This Way . . .” Facts for Faith 1 (Q1 2000), 11-15.
  7. See review by Fazale R. Rana in Facts for Faith 3 (Q3 2000), 60-61. Book reviewed: Niles Eldredge, “The Triumph of Evolution and the Failure of Creationism,” (New York: W. H. Freeman, 2000), 91.
  8. Eldredge, 91.
  9. Eldredge, 146.
  10. Hugh Ross, “Can Science Test a God-Created-It Origins Model? Yes!” Facts for Faith 2 (Q2 2000), 40-47, 55-58.
  11. The author readily acknowledges that the origin-of-life research community is actively considering other origin-of-life scenarios as alternatives to the one presented in this article. Nevertheless, the textbook scenario still appears to be the most widely accepted origin-of-life model among origin-of-life investigators. Many of the features of the textbook origin-of-life scenario find their way into nearly all of the alternative origin-of-life models.
  12. Richard Cowen, History of Life, 3d ed. (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Science, 2000), 1-18.
  13. Hugh Ross, The Genesis Question: Scientific Advances and the Accuracy of Genesis (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1998), 23.
  14. Spiros Zodhiates, ed. Hebrew-Greek Keyword Study Bible New International Version (Chattanooga, Tenn.: AMG, 1996): 1560-61.
  15. Ross, Genesis, 26-27.
  16. Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee, Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe (New York: Springer-Verlag, 2000), 53-54.
  17. Ward and Brownlee, Rare Earth, 49-52, 57-60.
  18. Ross, Genesis, 29-30.
  19. John Rea, Charisma’s Bible Handbook on the Holy Spirit (Orlando: Creation House, 1998), 23-27.
  20. Manfred Schidlowski, “A 3,800-Million-Year Isotopic Record of Life from Carbon in Sedimentary Rocks,” Nature 333 (1988), 313-18.
  21. Manfred Schidlowski, “Carbon Isotopes as Biogeochemical Recorders of Life over 3.8 Ga of Earth History: Evolution of a Concept,” Precambrian Research 106 (2001): 117-34.
  22. S. J. Mojzsis et al., “Evidence for Life on Earth before 3,800 Million Years Ago,” Nature 384 (1996), 55-59.
  23. Minik T. Rosing, “13C-Depleted Carbon Microparticles in 3700-Ma Sea-Floor Sedimentary Rocks from West Greenland,” Science 283 (1999), 674-76.
  24. J. William Schopf, “Microfossils of the Early Archean Apex Chert: New Evidence of the Antiquity of Life,” Science 260 (1993), 640-46.
  25. Frances Westall et al., “Early Archean Fossil Bacteria and Biofilms in Hydrothermally-Influenced Sediments from Barberton Greenstone Belt, South Africa,” Precambrian Research 106 (2001): 93-116.
  26. K. J. Zahale and N. H. Sleep, “Impacts and the Early Evolution of Life” Comets and the Origin and Evolution of Life. Edited by Paul J. Thomas, Christopher F. Chyba, and Christopher P. McKay (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1997), 175-208.
  27. Ward and Brownlee, 48-50.
  28. Hugh Ross, “New Evidence for Life’s Rapid Origin,” Connections vol. 3 no. 1 (2001), 1.
  29. Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos: How the Greatest Scientific Discoveries of the Century Reveal God, 2d ed. (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1995), 147-48.
  30. Hubert Yockey, Information Theory and Molecular Biology (New York: Cambridge University, 1992), 183, 203-04.
  31. Yockey, Information, 235-41.
  32. Hubert Yockey, “To NASA: Stop Funding This Science-Without-a-Subject,” Facts for Faith 1 (Q1, 2000), 13.
  33. Francis Raulin, “Atmospheric Prebiotic Synthesis,” presentation at the 12th International Conference on the Origin of Life and the 9th meeting of the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life, San Diego, Calif., 1999.
  34. Christopher Wills and Jeffrey Bada, The Spark of Life: Darwin and the Primeval Soup (Cambridge, Mass.: Perseus, 2000), 61-62.
  35. Jonathan Wells, Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth? (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2000), 19-22.
  36. Stanley L. Miller, “The Endogenous Synthesis of Organic Compounds” The Molecular Origins of Life: Assembling Pieces of the Puzzle. Edited by Andre Brock (New York: Cambridge University, 1998), 59-85.
  37. Wells, 14-18.
  38. Charles B. Thaxton, Walter L. Bradley, and Roger L. Olsen, The Mystery of Life’s Origin: Reassessing Current Theories (Dallas: Lewis and Stanely, 1984), 76-93.
  39. Ivan G. Draganic, “Oxygen and Oxidizing Free-Radicals in the Hydrosphere of Early Earth,” presentation at the 12th International Conference on the Origin of Life and the 9th meeting of the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life, San Diego, Calif., 1999.
  40. Miller, Endogenous, 59-85.
  41. Miller, Endogenous, 75.
  42. One important example of this involves the sugar, ribose. See Miller, Endogenous, 74.
  43. Rosa Larralde et al., “Rates of Decomposition of Ribose and Other Sugars: Implications for Chemical Evolution,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 92 (1995): 8158-60.
  44. Mitsuhiko Akaboshi et al., “Dephosphorylating Activity of Rare Earth Elements and Its Implications in the Chemical Evolution,” presentation at the 12th International Conference on the Origin of Life and the 9th meeting of the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life, San Diego, Calif., 1999.
  45. Robert Shapiro, “Prebiotic Cytosine Synthesis: A Critical Analysis and Implications for the Origin of Life,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 96 (1999): 4396-401.
  46. Robert Shapiro, “The Homopolymer Problem in the Origin of Life,” presentation at the 12th International Conference on the Origin of Life and the 9th meeting of the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life, San Diego, Calif., 1999.
  47. Andreas Rupp et al., “The Genome Sequence of the Thermoacidophilic Scavenger Thermoplasma acidophilum,Nature 407 (2000), 508-13.
  48. Carol J. Ault et al., “Complete Genome Sequence of the Methanogenic Archaeon, Methanococcus jannaschii,” Science 273 (1996), 1058-73.
  49. Gerad Deckert et al., “The Complete Genome of the Hyperthermophilic Bacterium Aquilex aeolious,” Nature 392 (1998), 353-58.
  50. Karen E. Nelson et al., “Evidence for Lateral Gene Transfer Between Archae and Bacteria from Genome Sequence of Thermotoga maritima,” Nature 399 (1999), 323-29.
  51. Colin Patterson, Evolution, 2d ed. (Ithaca, N.Y.: Comstock, 1999), 23.
  52. Claire M. Fraser et al., “The Minimal Gene Complement of Mycoplasma genitalium,” Science 270 (1995), 397-403.
  53. Clyde A. Hutchinson, III et al., “Global Transposon Mutagenesis and a Minimal Mycoplasma Genome,” Science 286 (1999), 2165-69.
  54. Arcady R. Mushegian and Eugene V. Koonin, “A Minimal Gene Set for Cellular Life Derived by Comparison of Complete Bacterial Genomes,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 93 (1996): 10268-73.
  55. Nikos Kyrpides et al., “Universal Protein Families and the Functional Content of the Last Universal Common Ancestor,” Journal of Molecular Evolution 49 (1999): 413-23.
  56. Yockey, Information, 246-57.
  57. Yockey, Information, 255.
  58. Richard Losick and Lucy Shapiro, “Changing Views on the Nature of the Bacterial Cell: From Biochemistry to Cytology,” Journal of Bacteriology 181 (1999): 4143-45.
  59. Lucy Shapiro and Richard Losick, “Dynamic Spatial Regulation in the Bacterial Cell,” Cell 100 (2000): 89-98.


Augustine of Hippo (pt 2 of 2): Rightly Dividing the Truth

By Kenneth Richard Samples

Augustine’s life (a.d. 354-430) can be divided virtually into halves. The first half of his life (see FACTS for FAITH 5) was spent searching for the truth that would give meaning, purpose, and significance to his life. The second half of his life was spent reflecting upon, explaining, defending, and living out the truth that he had encountered through faith in Jesus Christ. Given his lifelong quest for truth and his years of leadership in the church, Augustine made many contributions of enduring value.

Prolific Classical Author

One of Augustine’s most important contributions to both the Christian church and to Western culture is his voluminous body of writings. He was one of the most prolific authors of antiquity. Of his vast literary output, 113 books and treatises, more than 200 letters, and over 500 written sermons survive. In fact, Augustine wrote three of the most important theological, philosophical, and apologetic works in history. These same three works have also become literary classics of Western civilization. They are the Confessions, The City of God, and On the Trinity.

Confessions

Confessions gave birth to a whole new genre of literature in Western culture—the autobiography. The work chronicles Augustine’s intellectual, moral, and spiritual pilgrimage from paganism to Christianity. The title “Confessions” can be understood in a triple sense: Augustine’s candid and contrite confession of sin, his sincere confession of newfound faith, and his thankful confession of the greatness of God.

The content of the Confessions may provide the most penetrating spiritual and psychological self-analysis of any work ever written. Suffused with truly profound theological, philosophical, and apologetic insights, Augustine quoted and expounded the Scriptures throughout. He devoted the latter part of the work to an exegetical analysis of the early chapters of Genesis (the created world being the cosmic setting for the soul’s journey to God). Written in the form of a prayer to God (similar to the Psalms), the work also serves as thought-provoking devotional literature.

While the Confessions records Augustine’s extraordinary life and spiritual pilgrimage, the book may really be about the human soul’s search for God. In reading the Confessions, people often feel they are reading about their own search for God. Confessions certainly stands as one of the greatest Christian books ever written.

The City of God

Written over a 13-year period, The City of God (the title is taken from Psalm 87:3) stands as Augustine’s magnum opus. It is his longest (about 1500 pages) and most comprehensive work, and is considered by some to be his most significant contribution to Western thought. In this book, Augustine laid new foundations in the fields of Christian apologetics and in the analysis of Christian history.1

The City of God can be divided into two major parts. The first part of the work consists of Augustine’s refutation of the charge made by some Roman citizens that Christianity was responsible for the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. In the second part, Augustine developed his own tale of two cities: “the City of God” and “the City of Man.” The City of God, represented as “Jerusalem,” has a divine origin and a heavenly, or eternal, destiny. The City of Man, represented as “Babylon,” has a human origin and an earthly, or temporal, destiny. Augustine saw human affairs, like all things, as being under the control of the sovereign and providential plan of Almighty God. In this work, Augustine gave the Western world its first philosophy of history, presenting and defending a distinctly Christian linear view of history.

On the Trinity

This work contains the first fully systematic theological presentation of the doctrine of the Trinity. Augustine explained and defended orthodox Trinitarianism, asserting that the one true God exists eternally and simultaneously as three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He vigorously rejected all forms of subordinationism that would treat the Son or the Holy Spirit as inferior in nature to the Father. He defended the Western church’s position that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father “and the Son.” [The use of the phrase “and the Son” (filioque) in the Western version of the Nicene Creed later gave rise to the filioque controversy that sharply divided the Eastern and Western churches.]

A unique feature in Augustine’s approach to the Trinity is his use of “psychological analogies.”2 He argued that since the Triune God created the world, one would reasonably expect to find “traces of the Trinity” in creation. And since human beings were made in the expressed image of the Triune God (Imago Dei), traces of the Trinity are likely to be found in human beings. Augustine believed the human mind (composed of “intellect, memory, and will”) reflected this three-in-one concept. Augustine believed that this Trinity doctrine was derived from, and fully supported by, sacred Scripture.

Theologian of Grace

The theological traditions of Roman Catholicism and historic Protestantism both claim Augustine as one of their own. On one hand, his theological views concerning the nature of the church and the sacraments (arising from the Donatist controversy) significantly influenced the development of Roman Catholic theology. On the other hand, his theological views concerning the nature of original sin, the absolute necessity of grace in salvation, and predestination (arising from the Pelagian controversy) influenced how Protestants formulated their doctrinal views. In effect, Augustine’s theological views substantively influenced how Western Christendom formulated many of its central doctrines.3 Those doctrines, within the context of systematic theology, include: anthropology (doctrine of man), hamartiology (doctrine of sin), soteriology (doctrine of salvation), ecclesiology (doctrine of the church), and eschatology (doctrine of the last things). The following two doctrinal controversies illustrate Augustine’s significant theological influence.

The Donatist Controversy

In the early part of the fourth century, the Christian church suffered severe persecution at the hands of the Roman emperor Diocletian (a.d. 284-313). During the persecution, certain Christian leaders bowed to the pressure and surrendered their copies of Scripture (possession of which was declared illegal) to the Roman authorities. After the persecution died down, some of those leaders who had given in to Rome’s demands nevertheless rejoined the church. The Donatists (named from Bishop Donatus, and centered in North Africa) argued that these traditores (“those who handed over,” traitors) should be excluded from the church, for the church was made up only of the “pure.” The Donatists further argued that apostate (lapsed from the faith) clergymen cannot properly and validly administer the church’s sacraments. The Donatists subsequently divided from the catholic church and formed their own “pure church.”

The Donatist controversy4 was very important for it raised questions concerning the true nature of the church and the validity of its sacramental system. Augustine opposed the Donatists, arguing that the Christian church throughout its existence would remain a “mixed body” of both saints and sinners. He believed that the lapsed clergymen could be restored to the church through repentance. Further, he argued that the validity and the efficacy of the sacraments does not depend upon the human agent who administers them, but rather upon the One who instituted the sacraments, namely Jesus Christ. For Augustine, the personal unworthiness of a minister could not compromise the validity of the sacraments. Augustine’s views became normative in the church concerning these issues.

The Pelagian Controversy

In the early part of the fifth century, an intense theological controversy broke out over the nature of human sin and the necessity of divine grace in salvation. Pelagius (ca. a.d. 360-420), a British lay monk, in attempting to bring about moral reform in the church began teaching that human nature was not corrupted by Adam’s fall (a denial of original sin) and that salvation was an earned reward. For Pelagius, human nature had no natural or inherent inclination toward evil that must inevitably result in sin; thus, human beings need not sin. He believed that sin resulted merely from improper education, bad examples, and bad habits.

Augustine viewed Pelagianism5 as a dangerous heresy of self-help salvation. He argued vigorously that Adam’s fallen nature (including both guilt and corruption) had indeed been transmitted to his progeny. Fallen humanity, left to its own devices, could never enter into a relationship with God. He even referred to fallen humanity as massa damnationis, “a mass of damnation.”6 However, God has intervened in mankind’s desperate dilemma through the life, death, and resurrection of the God-man, Jesus Christ. For Augustine, salvation is a gift of God’s grace from first to last. What human beings cannot do for themselves because of sin, God has accomplished through the grace of Christ. Historical theologian Alister E. McGrath comments:

Augustine held ‘grace’ to be the unmerited or undeserved gift of God, by which God voluntarily breaks the hold of sin upon humanity. Redemption is possible only as a divine gift. It is not something which we can achieve ourselves, but is something which has to be done for us. Augustine thus emphasizes that the resources of salvation are located outside of humanity, in God himself. It is God who initiates the process of salvation, not men or women.7

Ultimately, Pelagius and Augustine had two fundamentally different views of Christianity. McGrath succinctly summarizes the Pelagian-Augustinian debate:

The ethos of Pelagianism could be summed up as ‘salvation by merit,’ whereas Augustine taught ‘salvation by grace.’ It will be obvious that these two different theologies involve very different understandings of human nature. For Augustine, human nature is weak, fallen, and powerless; for Pelagius, it is autonomous and self-sufficient. For Augustine, humanity must depend upon God for salvation; for Pelagius, God merely indicated what has to be done if salvation is to be attained, and then leaves men and women to meet those conditions unaided. For Augustine, salvation is an unmerited gift; for Pelagius, salvation is a justly earned reward.8

Augustine’s view that Christianity is a religion of divine rescue finally overcame Pelagius’s self-help religion. In the year a.d. 431, at the Council of Ephesus, Pelagianism was condemned as a heresy. Augustine’s teaching about salvation by grace, in which he was deeply influenced by the Apostle Paul’s epistles, would significantly influence the Protestant Reformers of the sixteenth century. Augustine later became known as the doctor gratiae (“doctor of grace”).9

Controversial Understanding of Predestination

The Pelagian controversy also focused Augustine’s thinking concerning the doctrine of predestination. In his early writings, Augustine taught that God merely chose those human beings whom He foreknew would freely choose to believe in Him (thus predestination is based upon God’s foreknowledge). However, the mature Augustine took the position that God chooses to extend His saving grace to some (the elect), but not to all (bypassing the reprobate).10 Thus God predestines some to eternal life via (irresistible but not coercive) grace, but leaves others in their sin to be justly condemned (thus predestination is based upon God’s autonomous and inscrutable choice).

Augustine’s “great and terrible” doctrine of so-called double predestination (though the reprobates are damned through their own choice and deeds) was rejected by many in his time and still is by many today. However, Augustine believed that while God’s act of election may be inequitable [“Jacob I loved but Esau I hated” (Romans 9:13)], His election is not unjust. For Augustine reasoned that sinners have no claim whatsoever to the grace of God. The choice as to whom God extends His grace is totally within God’s sovereign discretion and prerogative. Most importantly, Augustine believed his thinking on the subject was merely reflecting the clear teaching of Scripture, especially the writings of the Apostle Paul (Romans 8-9; Ephesians 1).

Augustine’s strong predestinarian views influenced a number of Roman Catholic thinkers in history, but has been for the most part set aside or rejected by modern day Roman Catholicism. Augustine’s basic views on this topic were embraced in large part by such Protestant Reformers as Martin Luther and John Calvin, and are still reflected today in the historic confessional statements of the Reformed theological tradition.

Christian Philosopher

While Augustine had no formal education in philosophy, he was nevertheless an intuitive philosopher with varied interests. His use of philosophy in the service of his study of theology left a deep and abiding influence on Western philosophical thought. What follows is a brief outline of some of Augustine’s philosophical ideas and contributions (for most references within the following section see reference11).

Augustine’s Top Ten Contributions to Philosophy

1. Theory of Time: In the ConfessionsBook 11 Augustine developed a very provocative concept of time. He argued that time itself is part of the created order and that time is uniquely apprehended through the human mind (the past in memory, the present in recognition, and the future in expectation). The philosophical skeptic Bertrand Russell said Augustine’s theory of time was superior to Immanuel Kant’s subjective theory.

2. Learning Language: Augustine attempted to explain how small children learn and express language. The analytical philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s starting point (albeit critical) in his Philosophical Investigations was Augustine’s discussion of language in the Confessions.

3. Faith Seeking Understanding: In his Sermon (43.7, 9) Augustine asserted: Crede, ut intelligas (“Believe in order that you may understand”).12 For Augustine, faith (“trust in a reliable source”) is an indispensable element in knowledge. One must believe in something in order to know anything. Knowledge begins with faith and faith provides a foundation for knowledge. Faith is itself indirect knowledge (like testimony or authority). While faith comes first in time, knowledge comes first in importance. Faith and reason do not conflict, but instead complement one another. Augustine believed that while reason does not cause faith, reason everywhere supports faith. Augustine also argued that Christians should seek to use their reason to understand doctrines (the Trinity, Incarnation, etc.) that are given via divine revelation (thus “faith seeking understanding”). Augustine’s writings about the role of faith influenced Credo, ut intelligam (“I believe in order that I might understand”) by St. Anselm (a.d. 1033-1109).

4. Ontological Argument: Augustine’s writings also influenced St. Anselm’s formulation of the ontological argument for the existence of God. In De Doctrina Christiana (On Christian Doctrine), Augustine wrote that God is “something than which nothing more excellent or more sublime exists . . .”13 Anselm would later write in his work the Proslogion that, “God is a being than which none greater can be conceived.”

5. Refutation of Skepticism: The French philosopher René Descartes’ (1596-1650) cogito ergo sum (“I think, therefore I am”) is derived from Augustine’s dubito ergo sum (“I doubt, therefore I am”) and si fallor sum (“If I am deceived, I am”).14

6. Existence of God from Eternal Truths: Augustine argued that the human mind apprehends universal, objective, unchanging, and necessary truths that are superior to the human mind itself. Since truth must reside in a mind, Augustine argued that these eternal truths are grounded in the eternal mind of God. Thus an eternal God exists to explain these eternal truths.

7. Response to the Problem of Evil: Augustine argued that while evil is real it is not a substance or a “stuff.” Rather, evil is a privation (an absence of goodness in the human will). Therefore, God did not create evil; only good. Augustine further argued that the origin of evil resulted when Lucifer chose a lower good (himself) and exalted it above the ultimate good (God).

8. Divine Illumination: Augustine developed an epistemology (theory of knowledge) known as divine illumination. Augustine believed that God illumines the human mind, and makes the world and divine truths intelligible. Human knowledge is thus directly dependent upon God.

9. Creation Ex Nihilo: Augustine vigorously argued that God created the world ex nihilo (creation “out of nothing” or “from nothing”). This means that God created the universe without recourse to anything but His infinite wisdom and awesome power. God called the world into existence not from pre-existent matter or energy or some other “stuff,” but literally out of, or from, nothing. There was nothing but God. Then He created the universe (including matter, energy, and time). Certain points of Augustine’s fifth-century cosmological thinking are amazingly consistent with modern-day big bang cosmology.

10. The Examined Self: Augustine was one of the first to write in depth about the self, particularly in relation to God. In the Confessions, he discusses the negative effects of sin on human nature and the will. He explores the motives and intents of behavior, and how human happiness is only found in a loving relationship with God. He argues that what human beings need most are hearts that rest in the love and care of Almighty God.

Contemporary Criticism of Augustine’s Thought

While Augustine’s presentation and defense of classical Christian theism is strongly criticized at points by some modern scholars (especially those who are skeptical and theologically liberal), much of his thinking is still embraced by many within Western Christendom. Two areas in which Augustine is criticized, even by some sympathetic contemporary scholars, relate to his philosophical thinking and to his use of political power.

Some contemporary philosophers have argued that because Augustine is more of a rhetorician than a philosopher, his philosophical writings sometimes lack “precise, systematic argumentation.”15 This apparent lack of systematization is illustrated by Augustine’s conflicting positions in different works, and by the current inability to know precisely what his views were on certain topics. The enduring tradition of Augustinianism is often understood as representing broad philosophical themes rather than exact positions. In fairness to Augustine, however, he never intended to isolate his philosophical views from their broader theological context, or from the important context of his life experiences. Augustine is uniquely a Christian philosopher and/or a philosophical theologian.

Some have criticized Augustine for his handling of the Donatist controversy. Augustine used the political and legal power of the Roman Empire to suppress the Donatist church. Because of their schismatic views, the Donatists were fined and their church properties were confiscated. From Augustine’s point of view, this was his attempt to compel the Donatists to come back to the catholic church after swallowing some bitter medicine. It is important to note that he never called for the Donatists to be tortured or executed as heretics.

The Oxford History of Western Philosophy summarizes Augustine’s tremendous influence on Western intellectual history as follows:

It is arguable that Augustine is the most influential philosopher who ever lived. His authority has been felt much more broadly, and for a much longer time, than Aristotle’s, whose role in the Middle Ages was comparatively minor until rather late. As for Plato, for a long time much of his influence was felt mainly through the writings of Augustine. For more than a millennium after his death, Augustine was an authority who simply had to be accommodated. He shaped medieval thought as no one else did. Moreover, his influence did not end in the Middle Ages. Throughout the Reformation, appeals to Augustine’s authority were common place on all sides. His theory of illumination lives on in Malebrache and in Descartes’s “light of nature.” His approach to the problem of evil and to human free will is still widely held today. His force was and is still felt not just in philosophy but also in theology, popular religion, and political thought . . .16

References:

  1. Ronald H. Nash, Life’s Ultimate Questions (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 163-4; Allan D. Fitzgerald, ed. Augustine Through the Ages: An Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), s.v. “De Civitate Dei.
  2. Alister E. McGrath, Historical Theology (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1998), 67-72.
  3. McGrath, 26-27.
  4. McGrath, 34, 72-79.
  5. McGrath, 35-37, 79-85.
  6. Fitzgerald, s.v. “Predestination.”
  7. McGrath, 36.
  8. McGrath, 36.
  9. McGrath, 35.
  10. Fitzgerald, s.v. “Predestination.”
  11. See Colin Brown, Christianity & Western Thought, vol. 1 (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1990), 93-99; Nash, 140-66; Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy, vol. 2 (New York: Doubleday, 1993), 40-90.
  12. Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985), s.v.v. “Crede, ut intelligas,” “Credo, ut intelligam.” 
  13. As cited in Copleston, 70.
  14. Copleston, 54.
  15. Anthony Kenny, ed. The Oxford History of Western Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University, 1994), 59.
  16. Kenny, 57-58.

 


Argument for the Silent: A Biblical Case Against Abortion

Robert M. Bowman, Jr.

(Spanish Version)

Nowhere in the Bible is abortion mentioned specifically. That silence may seem to leave room for Christians to hold different opinions as to the morality of abortion while remaining faithful to the teachings of Scripture. Yet within Christianity an interesting alignment has developed on this issue. Nearly all churches and groups that view the Bible as the unerring Word of God also view abortion in all or nearly all instances as immoral. By contrast, nearly all churches and groups that view the Bible as a fallible human witness to God view abortion as a matter of personal choice rather than of objective morality.1 It seems reasonable to conclude that biblical values (at least some of which are shared by some non-Christians) inform the position that abortion is immoral, while the opposing view is in some respects out of keeping with biblical ethics. This article supports this conclusion by setting forth a biblical case against abortion.2

First, a brief comment about terminology is in order. Those who say that abortion is immoral label their position pro-life, indicating that for them the issue is not women’s rights but the life of the unborn. Those who argue that abortion is not generally immoral label their view pro-choice, emphasizing their belief that the issue is the right of women to choose whether to continue their pregnancy or end it by abortion. These terms will be used, since they are the labels each side prefers to use for themselves.

The Basic Pro-Life Argument

The relevance of the Bible to the abortion debate may best be understood by relating it to the basic argument for the pro-life position. The pro-life argument can be stated in various ways. Here is perhaps the simplest and strongest way of stating it:

Premise 1: Intentionally killing an innocent human being is always morally wrong.

Premise 2: Abortion is the intentional killing of an innocent human being (except when the child’s death is not desired but results from saving the mother’s life).

Conclusion: Therefore, abortion is morally wrong (except as noted above).

There are only two ways of refuting this argument: (1) Deny the first premise by arguing that intentionally killing an innocent human being for certain purposes is not morally wrong; (2) Deny the second premise by arguing either (a) that the unborn are not human beings, or (b) that the unborn are not innocent, or (c) that abortion is not intentional killing.

Surprisingly, some pro-choice advocates deny the first premise. Here is where the Bible’s teaching comes to the fore of the abortion debate: A basic principle of biblical ethics and law is that it is always immoral to kill an innocent human being.

Abortion and the Sixth Commandment

For the Christian, the first premise of the basic pro-life argument is directly warranted in the sixth commandment: “You shall not murder” (Exod. 20:13).3 The Bible does not specify all classes of human beings who may not be murdered—that is, it does not bother saying, “You shall not murder women, people of color, old people, infants, deformed people, retarded people,” and so forth; it covers all the bases by the universal prohibition against murder. Nor was it necessary for the Bible to say, “You shall not murder the unborn.” As Randy Alcorn puts it, “All that was necessary to prohibit an abortion was the command, ‘You shall not murder.’”4

In biblical teaching, murder is prohibited because humans are created in the image of God. The classic text on this point is Genesis 9:6:

Whoever sheds man’s blood,
by man shall his blood be shed;
for in the image of God
He made man.

This text is extremely important for the abortion debate because it makes certain crucial points explicit. First, all human beings are made in God’s image. The word translated “man” is ’adam, a Hebrew word which simply means “human being” or “humanity.” The same word is used in Genesis 1:26-27, which says that God created ’adam in his image—and states specifically that this includes both male and female. Thus, if the unborn are human beings, killing them is forbidden because it is an attack on the image of God.

Second, the prohibition against murder does not forbid killing nonhuman animals. In the immediate context of Genesis 9, God specifically gives humanity permission to kill animals and eat their meat (vv. 2-3). Pro-choice writer Stephen Asma is therefore mistaken when he claims that the person who opposes abortion on the grounds of the “sanctity of life” does not realize that on those grounds he “must now sin nightly as he devours his sacred sirloin.”5 It is not all life that the pro-life movement regards as sacred, but all human life. The Hebrew word for “kill” or “murder” in the sixth commandment, râtsach, in some forty occurrences in the Old Testament is never used to refer to the killing of animals, but always to the killing of human beings. The same is true for the Greek word phoneuô, which is used in the New Testament whenever it quotes the sixth commandment. Both the Hebrew and Greek languages used other words when referring to the killing of animals for food or in sacrifice (especially the Hebrew shâchat and the Greek thuô).

Third, the prohibition against murder forbids killing innocent human beings. In Genesis 9:6, human beings who are guilty of murder are themselves subject to having their life taken away by man. This makes it clear that the prohibition against murder is a command prohibiting the taking of life away from human beings who have not killed and are not threatening to kill other human beings. It does not forbid killing in self-defense or the use of lethal force by police, soldiers, or executioners. Here again, it is worth noting that the Hebrew râtsach and the Greek phoneuô are never used in the Bible to refer to killing in war. Therefore, pro-life advocates are not being inconsistent when they oppose abortion but endorse capital punishment and military force. The pro-life claim is not that it is always wrong for human beings to kill other human beings, but that it is always wrong for human beings to kill innocent human beings. Some pro-life advocates do oppose capital punishment and warfare, and believe this position is a more thoroughly ethical stance, but those who do not take this approach are perfectly consistent with their premise.

Though Christians may disagree whether it is ever morally right to kill murderers, it should be beyond controversy that in biblical ethics killing human beings who have done no harm to others is always morally wrong. This is the first premise of the basic pro-life argument.

If the first premise of the pro-life argument cannot be disproved, the only way left to refute it is to disprove the second premise, which is that abortion, except in cases where the mother’s life is in danger, is the intentional killing of an innocent human being. Pro-choice advocates rarely claim that the unborn are guilty or that abortion is not intended to kill the unborn. Thus, pro-choice advocates seem to have only one way to escape the argument: to show that the unborn are not (or probably are not) human beings.6

The Unborn as Human Beings

As stated here, the basic pro-life argument refers in both premises to human beings, not, as is most often done, to human persons. It is common for the abortion debate to be framed in terms of the personhood of the unborn. Pro-life advocates routinely defend the claim that the unborn are persons, and many pro-choice advocates argue that abortion is morally permissible because the unborn are not persons.

The trouble with making personhood the decisive issue in the abortion debate is that contemporary society does not have a consensus view of what personhood is. Some people define personhood in terms of the developed characteristics of self-awareness, individuality, rational thought, the capacity for moral choice, and so forth. Defining personhood in this way virtually guarantees that the unborn will not be considered persons, but arguably six-month-old infants will not qualify as persons either. Others define personhood as the possession of an individual soul or spirit distinct from the body. The trouble with this way of defining personhood is that there is no societal unanimity as to whether such things as souls exist, let alone when they become part of the human being.

Although Christians are right when they defend the claim that the unborn should be regarded as persons from the moment of conception, it might be prudent to avoid the term “person” and make the simpler and more direct argument that the unborn should not be killed because they are human beings. After all, the Bible does not use the word “person” in Genesis 1:26-27 or 9:6 but speaks instead of human beings, ’adam, as created in God’s image and possessing life that is not to be violated. It is therefore unnecessary to defend a particular view of personhood or to argue its applicability to the unborn at any stage of development (for example, by citing Psalm 139) in order to argue that the law should protect the life of the unborn. All that is necessary is to defend the claim that the unborn are human beings.

That claim is now easy to defend—which is why many pro-choice advocates want to keep the discussion on the more debatable concept of personhood. It is a scientifically certain fact that the event of conception (or, perhaps more narrowly, fertilization) is the first event in the history of the human being. Prior to conception, what exists are a mother’s egg and a father’s sperm. When fertilization is complete a new human being is brought into existence that is genetically distinct from the mother and father and that exists as a distinct entity. Therefore, from the moment of conception what exists is a human being with potential for growth and full realization.7

Given that the unborn are human beings from the moment of conception, it follows directly that killing them for any reason other than in an attempt to save someone else’s life (that is, the mother’s life) is forbidden by the sixth commandment. It is unnecessary to prove that the unborn are “persons” in order to claim that their lives ought to be protected by law. The only thing needed is to point out that they are human beings. Let those who would defend abortion as a legal right say, if they can (and if they dare), that it is permissible to kill some innocent human beings. Few pro-choice advocates are willing to say this—at least not directly and openly.

The argument presented here for the pro-life position has made open use of Scripture to define what is meant by “murder” and on what basis pro-life Christians oppose the destruction of the life of the unborn at any stage of development. But the argument is clearly serviceable outside biblical Christianity since the major premise of the argument is simply that killing innocent human beings is wrong and should be prohibited by law. It is not necessary for non-Christians to accept that all human beings are created in God’s image for them to see the moral force of the pro-life argument. They need only agree that all innocent human beings should enjoy a legally protected right to life and that the unborn qualify as human beings.

Robert M. Bowman, Jr. is president of the Institute for the Development of Evangelical Apologetics (IDEA), a ministry in Pasadena, California, and co-author (with Kenneth D. Boa) of Faith Has Its Reasons (NavPress, 2001).

References:

  1. J. Gordon Melton, The Churches Speak On Abortion: Official Statements from Religious Bodies and Ecumenical Organizations (Detroit: Gale Research, 1989).
  2. Some of the material in this article first appeared in Kenneth D. Boa and Robert M. Bowman, Jr., An Unchanging Faith in a Changing World: Understanding and Responding to Critical Issues that Christians Face Today (Nashville: Nelson, 1997), 242-47.
  3. See also: Deut. 5:17; Matt. 5:21; 19:18; Mark 10:19; Luke 18:20; Rom. 13:9; James 2:11. All biblical quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) except as noted.
  4. Randy Alcorn, Pro Life Answers to Pro Choice Arguments (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 1992), 239.
  5. Stephen T. Asma, “The Roman Catholic Church Historically Condoned Early Abortions,” in The Abortion Controversy. Edited by Charles P. Cozic and Jonathan Petrikin; Current Controversies series (San Diego: Greenhaven, 1995), 61.
  6. It will not do to show merely that it is possible that the unborn are not human beings, since such a conclusion admits that it is also possible that they are—and if that is possible, then the morally correct thing to do is to err on the side of caution and not kill them.
  7. Virtually any scientific textbook on human biology will corroborate these facts; an excellent resource is Landrum B. Shettles and David Rorvik, Rites of Life (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983); see also the excerpt from this book in “Human Life Begins at Conception,” in Abortion: Opposing Viewpoints. Edited by Charles P. Cozic and Stacey L. Tipp (San Diego: Greenhaven, 1991), 17-22.

 

 


Alien Encounters Fail the Test

By Kenneth R. Samples

The “contactee movement” arose in the early 1950s as a direct response to the flying saucer phenomenon. In the context of UFO phenomena, a contactee is an individual who claims to have direct and/or personal contact with alien entities (a close encounter of the third kind, CE-III) on a recurring basis. These people assert that UFO occupants have “contacted” selected human beings in order to convey critical information through them to the entire human race. Over a forty-year period the movement has experienced advances and declines in popularity, but it remains a phenomenon deeply rooted in occult-based religion. This article will explore the contactee experience by briefly tracing its development as an occultic religious movement, inspect the typical contactee scenario, and provide a Christian assessment of this unusual UFO-related phenomenon.

Historical Forerunners of the UFO Contactees

The UFO (unidentified flying object) contactee movement emerged at the height of the flying saucer age in the 1950s. This movement was actually a continuation of occult beliefs and teachings concerning extraterrestrials, which had coalesced from various groups and individuals over roughly two centuries.1

A Movement 200 Years in the Making

Two hundred years before the flying saucer age began, Swedish scientist and mystic Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) published a work called Earths in the Solar World (1758) in which he revealed that he had traveled to several planets in the solar system and beyond.2 He claimed to have encountered extraterrestrial beings in his travels, and he provided specific details concerning their civilizations. Swedenborg’s alleged encounters proved less scientific and more metaphysical in nature.

Swedenborg’s extraterrestrial encounters clearly took place through psychic or occultic means. Swedenborg never spoke of a flying saucer, but he didn’t need one. Religion scholar J. Gordon Melton, who has extensively studied the contactee phenomenon, explains:

Most nineteenth—and early—twentieth-century contact with extraterrestrials occurred in a spiritualist context, more likely than not in a séance. The prime mode of contact was a phenomenon quite familiar to psychic researchers, namely ‘astral travel.’ A person experiencing astral travel senses his/her body and consciousness separately, and while the body remains in one place, the consciousness travels around. Thus Swedenborg and mediums . . . could go into trances and travel to the various planets.3

Another leading occult figure who spoke of encounters with extraterrestrial entities was Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-1891), who founded the influential occult religion of Theosophy in 1875.4 Blavatsky, herself a former spiritualist (a person who attempts contact with the dead), developed a new occult religious system centered around belief in “Ascended Masters.”5 These Ascended Masters make up a type of hierarchy of supernatural beings placed between humanity and the divine. Proponents of Theosophy believed that the ascended masters try to assist and guide humanity’s continuing spiritual evolution. Included in the list of these masters were beings from other planets. Thus, Blavatsky claimed to communicate with extraterrestrial beings through occultic means. She included among her ascended masters beings she called “Lords of the Flame” and the “Lord of This World.”6

As an offshoot of the Theosophical Society, the occult-based I AM movement was founded by Guy and Edna Ballard in the 1930s.7 The I AM movement affirmed belief in progressive revelations from these same ascended masters. Guy Ballard, however, made revelations from extraterrestrials a centerpiece in this movement. The I AM movement may be the very first religion centered upon revelatory messages from alien entities through occultic means.8

In the 1920s, The Urantia Book purported to contain messages from numerous extraterrestrial or supermortal beings through the process of automatic writing, though the actual human recorders remained anonymous. Automatic writing is an occult practice where a medium records messages from the spiritual realm. More than 2,000 pages long, The Urantia Book claims to reveal previously unknown truths about the cosmic histories of the earth (“Urantia”) and new revelations and interpretations about the life, mission, and teachings of Jesus Christ.9 The Urantia Book with its alleged extraterrestrial messages remains quite popular today within the circles of UFO religionists.

Scholars are not in complete agreement as to just how the early contactee movement should be traced historically, but what is agreed upon is that all of its major connections were rooted in occult religion. Proponents of the contactee movement also exhibit a general pattern concerning their extraterrestrial contacts. Consider the following three points:10

  1. The alien entities are said to be primarily from neighboring planets (especially Mars and Venus).
  2. The alien messages are communicated through psychic experiences, particularly through “mediums,” by means of what today is referred to popularly as “channeling.”
  3. When communicating with aliens, the contactee used telepathy (direct communication from one mind to another).

Christian apologist and specialist on New Age beliefs, Elliot Miller, defines channeling as “the practice of attempting communication with departed human or extra-human intelligences (usually nonphysical) through the agency of a human medium, with the intent of receiving paranormal information and/or having direct experience of metaphysical realities.”11 Ironically, the term “channeling” which is used widely in New Age circles came into use from the contactees themselves.12 John A. Saliba explains the close parallel between contactee channeling and the practice of spiritualism: “Contactees are similar to spiritualist mediums, the former receiving messages from superior, nonearthly beings, the latter from the spirits of the dead who are also not on this earthly plane.”13

The early individuals and groups who influenced the contactee movement claimed to channel alien beings, but they didn’t speak specifically of flying saucers and personal visits from extraterrestrials. The audacious contactees of the 1950s made that extraordinary assertion.

Two Controversial 1950s Contactees

The “age of the extraterrestrial” was ushered in by the most famous of the 1950s flying saucer contactees, George Adamski (1891-1965).14 Adamski, a resident of Southern California, had a long association with occultism and the metaphysical movement and had written fictional stories in the 1930s about beings from other worlds. In the early 1950s, at the height of the flying saucer age, Adamski proclaimed that he had an encounter with an extraterrestrial. He claimed that a long-haired man from Venus, named “Orthon,” had appeared to him in the California desert. Regular visits and communications from extraterrestrials followed.15 Adamski describes Orthon in these words:

He was round faced with an extremely high forehead; large, but calm, gray-green eyes, slightly aslant at the outer corners; with slightly higher cheekbones than an Occidental, but not so high as an Indian or an Oriental; a finely chiseled nose, not conspicuously large; and an average size mouth with beautiful white teeth that shone when he smiled or spoke.16

Adamski claimed to have boarded a flying saucer on numerous occasions and to have traveled to neighboring planets inhabited by benevolent beings called “Space Brothers.” His travels included meetings with “Venusians, Martians, and Saturnians,” and he even attended a “galactic council.”17 Adamski took and distributed to the public alleged photographs of a flying saucer in the Earth’s atmosphere. His books: Flying Saucers Have Landed (1953), Inside the Space Ships (1955), and Flying Saucer Farewell (1961), made Adamski affluent and in the words of one researcher, he “became a significant international occult celebrity.”18

The 1950s contactee movement, and Adamski in particular, was an embarrassment to serious researchers of unidentified aerial phenomena (UFOs). Ultimately, Adamski’s stories and claims (especially his so-called physical evidence) could not withstand sustained scientific and logical scrutiny. He was exposed, at least to some degree, as a hoaxer and a fraud.19 While he was all but discredited in his later years, Adamski’s contactee claims inspired many others in the broader contactee movement. The ensuing occultic religious influence continues to the present.

Another controversial contactee of the 1950s was George Van Tassel.20 Van Tassel, with a background in aviation, moved to the California desert where he claimed to have had contact with various aliens in the early 1950s. Van Tassel claimed to channel telepathic messages from the alien commanders of various starships.21 One of his contacts was called “Ashtar.” This same Ashtar would become one of the most widely channeled extraterrestrial intelligences in contactee circles.22 According to Van Tassel, an alien named “Solganda” allowed him to tour a spacecraft and gave him the monumental task of building a machine that would reverse the aging process and serve as a time machine.23 His book, I Rode in a Flying Saucer (1952), revealed his extraordinary contactee experiences to the public.

While the contactee movement peaked in popularity around the beginning of the 1960s, the UFO-related occult religious groups that followed them have staked out their territory. They have been able to do this because of the broader acceptance in the West of Eastern mystical and New Age ideas and teachings. But an analysis of the typical contactee scenarios and of the tenets of UFO-related religious groups reveals how unsubstantiated their claims are.

The Typical Contactee Scenario

Central to the nature of the contactee phenomenon as a whole is the understanding that space entities eagerly desire to communicate with humankind. These alien beings prudently select certain individuals to serve as a point of “contact” (channel) between themselves and the broader human race. Contact is then made using two basic methods.24

Some contactees (especially during the early 1950s) claimed to have had face-to-face physical encounters with space aliens. These contactees sometimes reported boarding metallic spacecraft and touring the solar system with their new space brothers. Some of these same contactees claimed to produce evidence to substantiate their extraordinary claims (e.g., Adamski’s alleged photograph of a spacecraft). However, no unimpeachable physical evidence has ever been forthcoming from such claimed encounters.

The more typical scenario is the contactee who receives messages from extraterrestrials through psychic or paranormal means.25 Thus, the selected contactee is given the critical and privileged mission of serving as a channel for alien intelligence from other worlds (or possibly other dimensions of reality). This deeply occultic experience centers around the contactee channeling telepathic messages and revelations from alleged extraterrestrial beings. The contactee may also, while in a trance, record written messages (automatic writing). The contactee is entrusted with “the secrets of the universe,” and is sometimes appointed the alien’s “envoy on earth.”26

Some contactees claim to have both physical encounters and psychic experiences. However, today’s contactees usually claim the psychic variety.

The Alien Dimension

The aliens encountered by contactees vary widely in description.27 Contactees claim that aliens have appeared variously as humans, humanoids, animals, robots, exotic entities, or apparitions.28 However, some of the early contactees gave very specific details. They often described the aliens as Nordic types, humanoids possessing great physical beauty (i.e., tall, blond, shoulder-length hair, dressed in one-piece ski suits). Some contemporary contactees have described aliens in more menacing and bizarre terms.29 Commonly referred to as the Grays, these aliens appear as short, grotesque creatures, with large heads and slanting dark eyes.

According to the early contactees, aliens originated on Earth’s neighboring planets, especially Venus and Mars. Modern contactees are far less specific in identifying the alien’s place of origin. Doubtlessly, the loss of specific details is a response to the ever-increasing scientific data that shows no sentient life exists on the other planets in Earth’s solar system. Some contactees report that the aliens are from distant galaxies, or even from other dimensions of reality (even non-physical or spiritual reality).

A wide variety of descriptions abound among contactees concerning the exact nature of the aliens.30 Some have described their alien communicators as material, physical beings, not unlike human beings. Others have described them as psychic realities, apparitions, or spiritual beings. Still others have described them as former physical beings who have evolved to an advanced spiritual state of existence. As Saliba notes: “Many contactees, however, write about UFOs and space beings as if these were psychic phenomena, belonging to a different time/space dimension that lies beyond the scope and province of modern science.”31

There are two general views regarding the intention of the aliens in contacting humanity: Contactees maintain that some aliens have a benevolent intent, while other aliens have a malevolent intent.

Robert S. Ellwood and Harry B. Partin note the following: “Invariably, these groups believe that many, at least, of these astounding vehicles bear envoys from a superior and benevolent civilization from another world who have come to warn and aid us in our folly.”32 The alien messages and revelations communicated through the contactees often involve moral, metaphysical, and theological injunctions and reflections. The alien’s benevolent intent is confirmed in the minds of some contactees by the fact that the contactee experience is usually positive in nature.33

Some recent contactees have described aliens that are indifferent or even hostile to humankind. While reported negative contactee experiences appear to be in the minority, UFO researcher John Keel argues that there are many “silent contactees” who have contacts with what Keel calls “ultraterrestrials” (malevolent, paranormal beings).34 Keel and others believe that these alien intelligences are attempting to manipulate and control the contactees for their own nefarious purposes. Some contactees report suffering extremely harmful effects through their interactions with these alleged space aliens.

A Christian Assessment of the Contactee Phenomenon

The contactee experience is a peculiar and complicated phenomenon. Looking at the phenomenon since its beginning over fifty years ago, one must wonder whether there aren’t sociological and psychological factors at play when assessing the individual contactees and their extraordinary claims.35 Perhaps their experiences are real, but they may be solely personal and subjective in nature. Social scientists would probably assert that something is indeed happening, if only in the subjective experiences of the contactees themselves.

The Religious Dimension

As discussed previously, the contactee movement’s religious roots clearly lie in the occult, influenced and shaped to greater or lesser degrees by such movements as Swedenborgianism, spiritualism, Theosophy, and the I AM (Ascended Masters) movement. And as Jerome Clark remarks, contactees usually have “a history of involvement with occultism and New Age doctrines.”36 The contactee experience involves direct occult/paranormal beliefs and practices. These specific occult beliefs and practices include: mediumistic trance-channeling of alien (psychic or spirit) entities, automatic writing, communication through telepathy, teleportation, dematerialization, levitation, and psychokinesis.37

Contact with alien beings who are considered morally and spiritually superior to human beings provides an alternative spirituality (albeit occultic and mystical) to what is offered in traditional religion (particularly to the faith and doctrines revealed in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures). The religious nature of the contactee experience and the occult-based religions that have emerged from it provide many of the distinctive qualities usually discovered in traditional religion. Individuals involved in UFO and extraterrestrial-based religion seek “salvation from above” from a wise, benevolent, and heavenly source. Alien messages and revelations mediated through the contactee provide these same people with moral and spiritual guidance, and direction in life. Followers of UFO-based religion look for the answer to life’s ultimate questions not in God, but in these alleged extraterrestrial intelligences. Saliba succinctly describes the religious nature of the UFO phenomena as follows:

One of the most appealing aspects of UFOs is their religious content and structure. UFOs can readily function as a religion for several reasons. They deal with important and often ultimate issues in human life; they contain references to entities that bear some resemblance to traditional religious beings, such as gods, supernatural heroes, angels, and devils; and they appear to have a spiritual or transhuman nature, since their presence is not susceptible to modern empirical investigation. At least seven major religious themes or elements dominate accounts of UFO sightings and contacts: (1) mystery; (2) transcendence; (3) belief in spiritual entities; (4) perfection; (5) salvation; (6) worldview (the ascription of meaning and purpose to the universe); and (7) spirituality.38

Despite the message content and apparent structure that give UFOs some appeal as a religion, the close scrutiny of the contactee phenomenon’s truth claims presented next reveals at least two things. First, that as a religious system the UFO-contactee phenomenon fails to provide acceptable evidence for its claims. Second, the UFO contactee phenomenon conflicts with historical Christian doctrine.

Conflicts with Historic Christian Doctrines

However one attempts to explain the overall phenomenon, the occult practices which permeate the contactee experience are antithetical to historic orthodox Christianity. Scripture explicitly condemns the practice of mediumistic trance-channeling (Deut. 18:9-12, 15; 1 Chron. 10:13-14; Isa. 8:19, 20; Acts 16:16-18), which is at the very heart of the contactee phenomenon. God’s Word explicitly warns against this practice: “Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the LORD” (Lev. 19:31). Channeling, which is only spiritism with a new twist, is actually deeply rooted in pagan religion. Elliot Miller explains:

Deuteronomy 18:9-14 shows not only that spiritism had nothing to do with biblical prophecy, but also that it had a lot to do with the paganism of the time. In fact, spiritism has played a part historically in virtually all forms of paganism. Those who have allowed spirits to use their bodies in this way have been called a variety of names, including “shaman,” “witch doctor,” “medicine man,” “oracle,” “fortune-teller,” and “seer.” In our own culture the common term has been “medium,” but in recent years it has been largely abandoned in favor of “channel” or “channeler,” reflecting, in part, a desire to break free of the negative stereotypes associated with mediums over the years.39

Historic Christian theology overall has condemned the various occult practices common to contacteeism. Along with mediumship or channeling, the Bible also clearly forbids the practice of divination, which involves the foretelling of the future or discovering esoteric (secret or hidden) knowledge through occultic means (Deut. 4:19; Isa. 47:13-15; 44:24-25). From a Scriptural point of view, these practices are an abomination to God, and their involvement opens the contactee and those who follow him or her to direct and dangerous demonic influence. Unlike much of the modern mindset that denies the realm of the demonic (malevolent supernatural beings subservient to Satan), the informed Bible-believing Christian is fully aware of the reality of Satan and his fallen angelic hosts (Job 1:6-12; Ezek. 28: 11-19; Matt. 4:1-11; John 8:44; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 6:11-12; James 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:8; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6).

The contactees may, at times, be experiencing real contact with an objective reality, but, in such instances, that reality would indeed be what the Bible calls the powers of darkness (Eph. 6:12). Since these channels allow entities to effectively take over their minds and bodies, they are susceptive to being, and in some cases may in fact be, demon-possessed (Matt. 4:24; 9:32-34; 12:22-24; Mark 3:7-12; Luke 11:14-26). These contactees are, perhaps unknowingly, seeking revelation from a divinely forbidden source (Ex. 22:18; 2 Kings 21:6; Ezek. 13:9; Zech. 10:2). Again God warns, “I will set my face against the person who turns to mediums and spiritists to prostitute himself by following them, and I will cut him off from his people” (Lev. 20:6). These contactees run the terrible risk of ruin in mind, body, and soul. 

From a historic Christian perspective, could demons really be behind the contactee phenomenon? Clear scriptural evidence seems to offer an affirmative answer. First, the New Testament indicates that the devil “masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14-15). Second, he is also capable of performing “counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders” (2 Thess. 2: 9-10), and near the end of the ages he will inspire false Christs and false prophets who will “perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible” (Matt. 24:24). One approach to interpreting the book of Revelation reveals several times how the “beast” and the “false prophet”—both extensions of Satan—will perform “great miraculous signs” at the end time (Rev. 13:13; 16:14; 19:20). In addition to counterfeit miracles, Satan and his minions also appear capable of predicting the future (sometimes with astounding accuracy, but often not) and declaring a way of salvation, but not the way (Acts 16:16). The goal of the demonic is always to deceive, to cause people to abandon their faith, and, ultimately, to lead the world astray (1 Tim. 4:1; Rev. 12:9).

Some UFO-based religions even make Jesus Christ an extraterrestrial40 and claim to receive channeled messages from him. This claim is a direct challenge to the truth-claims of historic Christianity. No need for further revelations concerning Jesus Christ exists because, as evangelical Christians proclaim, Scripture is God’s previously given and supreme revelation (1 Cor. 4:6; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20, 21). As the book of Jude reveals, the faith (the foundational truths or doctrines of Christianity) has been “once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3). Not only is there no need for further revelations, but the so-called revelations of the contactees often directly contradict the revelation of Scripture, a sure sign of error (1 Cor. 11:4; Gal. 1:8-9; 1 Tim. 4:1; 6:3; Tit. 1:9; 2 Pet. 2:1; 1 John 2:22-23; 2 John 7-11).

Often the metaphysical messages and revelations given by contactees directly deny and contradict historic Christian doctrines about God, Christ, sin, salvation, and Scripture. UFO-based religions like those that embrace the revelations of The Urantia Book categorically reject the orthodox Christology of Jesus Christ as both God and man. Thus, they deny the cosmic Lord and resurrected Savior of the world. The theological messages coming from contactees like the channelers behind The Urantia Book and the Aetherius Society (the oldest and most popular UFO religion) are often pluralistic (all religions are true), monistic (all reality is one), universalistic (no divine judgment), and mystical in content, thus matching more closely with New Age mysticism than with the teaching of Scripture.41 The worldview expressed in UFO-based religion appears to have no place for such biblical distinctives as humankind’s being made in God’s image, being fallen sinners, needing to repent for sin, and needing, absolutely, the grace of God.

As a whole, the religious nature of the contactee experience reveals a fundamentally different worldview than that of historic Christian theism. As always, one would do well to heed the warnings of Scripture: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1). “Test everything. Hold on to the good” (1 Thess. 5:21). Test everything; even the existence of little, green men.

References:

  1. J. Gordon Melton, “The Contactees: A Survey,” The Gods Have Landed. Edited by James R. Lewis (New York: State University, 1995), 2-7.
  2. Jerome Clark, The UFO Encyclopedia, vol. 1, 2d ed.(Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1998), s.v., “Contactees.”
  3. Melton, “Contactees,” 4.
  4. Melton, “Contactees,” 6; Clark, s.v., “Contactees.”
  5. Ron Rhodes, New Age Movement (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 25; Melton, “Contactees,” 6.
  6. Melton, “Contactees,” 6.
  7. Rhodes, 26.
  8. Melton, “Contactees,” 7.
  9. Elliot Miller, “Channeling Spiritistic Revelations for the New Age” Part 1, Christian Research Journal (Fall 1987): 11; William M. Alnor, UFOs in the New Age (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), 196-98. For further background and evaluation of The Urantia Book, see Christian apologist Eric Pement’s review of Martin Gardner’s book Urantia: The Great Cult Mystery in Eric Pement, “Urantia: The Great Cult Mystery,” Christian Research Journal (Fall 1996): 48-49.
  10. Melton, “Contactees,” 7-8.
  11. Elliot Miller, A Crash Course on the New Age Movement (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989), 141.
  12. J. Gordon Melton and George M. Eberhart, “The Flying Saucer Contactee Movement, 1950-1994: A Bibliography,” The Gods Have Landed. Edited by James R. Lewis (New York: State University, 1995), 252.
  13. John A. Saliba, “Religious Dimensions of UFO Phenomena,” The Gods Have Landed. Edited by James R. Lewis (New York: State University, 1995), 27.
  14. Clark, vol. 1, s.v., “Adamski, George.”
  15. Alnor, 87-89.
  16. As cited in UFO: The Continuing Enigma (Pleasantville, New York: Reader’s Digest, 1991), 72.
  17. Alnor, 88.
  18. Clark, vol. 1, s.v., “Adamski, George.”
  19. Clark, vol. 1, s.v., “Adamski, George.”
  20. Alnor, 89-90; Jerome Clark, The UFO Encyclopedia, vol. 2, 2d ed. (Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1998), s.v., “Van Tassel, George W.”
  21. Clark, vol. 2, s.v., “Van Tassel, George W.”
  22. Clark, vol. 1, s.v., “Contactees.”
  23. Clark, vol. 2, s.v., “Van Tassel, George W.;” Alnor, 89.
  24. Clark, vol. 1, s.v., “Contactees.”
  25. Clark, vol. 1, s.v., “Contactees.”
  26. UFO: The Continuing Enigma, 75.
  27. Saliba, “Religious,” 27.
  28. This is Alvin Lawson’s typology of alleged alien appearances as cited in Saliba, “Religious,” 23-24.
  29. Saliba, “Religious,” 23.
  30. Saliba, “Religious,” 25.
  31. Saliba, “Religious,” 25.
  32. Robert S. Ellwood and Harry B. Partin, Religious and Spiritual Groups in Modern America, 2d ed. (Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1988), 111.
  33. Melton and Eberhart, “Flying Saucer,” 252.
  34. As cited in Clark, vol. 1, s.v., “Contactees.”
  35. See John A. Saliba, “UFO Contactee Phenomena from a Sociopsychological Perspective: A Review,” The Gods Have Landed. Edited by James R. Lewis (New York: State University, 1995), 207-50.
  36. Clark, vol. 1, s.v., “Contactees.”
  37. Melton, “Contactees,” 7-8.
  38. Saliba, “Religious,” 41.
  39. Miller, “Channeling,” 10.
  40. According to the Aetherius Society, Jesus Christ is a Venusian. See Clark, vol. 1 s.v., “Aetherius Society.” The Urantia Book presents Jesus as extraterrestrial and radically alters his nature, teaching, and mission. See Clifford Wilson and John Weldon, Close Encounters: A Better Explanation (San Diego: Master, 1978) 233-41.
  41. To see just how well the revelations of the contactees matches with occultism and New Age thinking see Wilson and Weldon, 311-19; and Miller, Crash Course.