Facts for Faith, Issue 8
- Telltale Rocks
- Tolman's Elegant Test
- Deciphering Design in the Genetic Code
- Anthropic Principle: A Precise Plan for Humanity
- A Comment on Humility Theology
- The Physics of Sin
- Do All Religions Lead to God?
- Body and Soul Part 3
- A Focused Force for Faith: Interview with Leslie Wickman
- Unmasking Misconceptions: Book reviews of The Hidden Face of God and Darwin's God
By Fazale Rana
Research conducted by scientists from Denmark and Australia has uncovered new evidence for the metabolic complexity of early life on Earth.1 This team studying 3.5-billion-year-old rocks from northwestern Australia recovered sulfide deposits that represent the activity of ancient sulfate-reducing microorganisms. The sulfide deposits' association with organic carbon residue further supports their biological origin, meaning that complex sulfate-reducing pathways existed. In the words of the researchers, "Sulphate reduction is a complex metabolic process requiring advanced membrane-bound transport enzymes, proton motive force generation by ATPase and other charge separation proteins, and the genetic regulation of protein synthesis through DNA and RNA."2
Geological conditions indicate that at the time of sulfide formation the temperatures were moderate. This means that the sulfate-reducing bacteria were not thermophiles—microbes that live under high temperature conditions—rather they were mesophiles—microbes that require moderate temperatures. This finding runs counter to the expectations of one of the most popular evolutionary origin-of-life models. According to this model, mesophilic sulfate-reducing microbes should be latecomers with thermophilic sulfate-reducing organisms appearing at the base of the evolutionary tree.
This and other new evidences for the complexity of early life on Earth represent some of the most exciting origin-of-life discoveries around.3
- Yanan Shen, Roger Buick, and Donald E. Canfield, "Isotopic Evidence for Microbial Sulphate Reduction in the Early Archaean Era," Nature 410 (2001), 77-81.
- Shen, Buick, and Canfield, 77-81.
- For information on three additional discoveries that evince early and complex life forms on Earth, see Fazale R. Rana, "Early Life Remains Complex," Facts for Faith 7 (Q3 2001), in press.
By Hugh Ross
The cosmic characteristic most extensively described in the Bible is the ongoing expansion of the universe.1 No other holy book of the world's religions describes this feature, nor was it anticipated by secular scholars before the development of Einstein's theory of general relativity.2 Therefore, evidences for a continuously expanding universe provide an impressive tool for demonstrating the divine inspiration of the Bible. Such evidences just received a huge boost.
Many lines of proof exist for demonstrating that the universe is expanding. The velocities with which galaxies are moving away from each other, the verifications of general relativity, the relative age and crowding of galaxies seen at greater distances (thus farther back in time), the measurable cooling of the cosmic background radiation—these four offer a sampling.3 Richard Tolman of the California Institute of Technology proposed one of the best tests as early as 1930, a test involving measurement of galaxies' surface brightnesses.4
Astronomers consider the Tolman test the most elegant of the expanding universe tests because of its independence from other cosmological parameters. Surface brightness is simply an object's luminosity divided by its radius squared. Any adjustments required by geometric effects such as space curvature would impact the luminosity and radius squared identically. Thus, all such effects would simply cancel out each other.
The Tolman test is elegant for a second reason. It predicts an enormous difference in results between an expanding universe and a non-expanding universe. Specifically, the surface brightness of identical objects in an expanding universe decreases by (1 + z) quadrupled, whereas the surface brightness of identical objects in a non-expanding universe would decrease by just (1 + z). The "z" in each case represents the amount of "redshift," or shifting of spectral lines toward longer, redder wavelengths.5
The Tolman test has been difficult to apply, however, for both technological and practical reasons. Developing the instruments and techniques to select identical galaxies took decades. Not until 1990 was the test even possible, and even then its success was limited by the imprecision of ground-based measurements.6 The desire to carry out a truly robust Tolman test gave impetus to development of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST).7
Ironically, by the time the HST went into orbit, other tests of cosmic expansion had been so successfully run that the Tolman test fell far down on the HST's priority list. Earlier this year, though, the opportunity to apply the test finally came. Lori Lubin of Caltech and Allan Sandage of Carnegie Observatories teamed up, using the 400-inch Keck telescope to measure nearly a thousand galaxies' redshifts and the 94-inch HST to measure those galaxies' surface brightness. Instead of photographic plates, they used the much superior "charged coupled" devices. Their results convincingly demonstrated that the universe is indeed continuously expanding.8
The Tolman test provides yet one more proof that the Old Testament prophets saw thousands of years ahead of their time, supernaturally far ahead. They were correct in predicting that Earth resides in a "stretching" cosmos (Isaiah 42:5). This solid evidence for cosmic expansion represents just one more tool for demonstrating the inspiration and accuracy of the Bible.
- Hugh Ross and John Rea, "Big Bang—The Bible Taught It First!" Facts for Faith (Q3 2000), 26-32.
- Hugh Ross, The Fingerprint of God, 2d ed. (Orange, CA: Promise, 1991), 19-59.
- Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 3d ed. (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2001), 32-63.
- Richard C. Tolman, Relativity, Thermodynamics, and Cosmology (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1934), 467.
- Allan Sandage and Lori M. Lubin, "The Tolman Surface Brightness Test for the Reality of the Expansion. I. Calibration of the Necessary Local Parameters," Astronomical Journal 121 (2001): 2271.
- Allan Sandage and Jean-Marc Perelmuter, "The Surface Brightness Test for the Expansion of the Universe. I-Properties of Petrosian Metric Diameters," Astrophysical Journal 350 (1990): 481-91; Allan Sandage and Jean-Marc Perelmuter, "The Surface Brightness Test for the Expansion of the Universe. II-Radii, Surface Brightness, and Absolute Magnitude Correlations for Nearby E Galaxies," Astrophysical Journal 361 (1990): 1-20; Allan Sandage and Jean-Marc Perelmuter, "The Surface Brightness Test for the Expansion of the Universe. III. Reduction of Data for the Several Brightest Galaxies in Clusters to Standard Conditions and a First Indication that the Expansion Is Real," Astrophysical Journal 370 (1991): 455-73.
- Allan Sandage, Large Space Telescope: A New Tool for Science, ed. P. F. Simmons (New York: AIAA, 1974), 19.
- Allan Sandage and Lori M. Lubin, 2271-88; Lori M. Lubin and Allan Sandage, "The Tolman Surface Brightness Test for the Reality of the Expansion. II. The Effect of the Point-Spread Function and Galaxy Ellipticity on the Derived Photometric Parameters," Astronomical Journal 121 (2001): 2289-300; Lori M. Lubin and Allan Sandage, "The Tolman Surface Brightness Test for the Reality of the Expansion. III. Hubble Space Telescope Profile and Surface Brightness Data for Early-Type Galaxies in Three High-Redshift Clusters," Astronomical Journal 122 (2001): 1071-83; Lori M. Lubin and Allan Sandage, "The Tolman Surface Brightness Test for the Reality of the Expansion. IV. A Measurement of the Tolman Signal and the Luminosity Evolution of Early-Type Galaxies," Astronomical Journal, 122 (2001): 1084-1103.
By Fazale Rana
A pilot flying his plane over the South Pacific sees an uncharted island in the distance and circles downward to take a closer look. As the plane descends, the pilot spots large rocks on the island's shore arranged to spell out SOS. Beyond the reach of waves, he notices a grass hut. Without hesitation, the pilot radios for help.
Is this pilot behaving rationally? No one would question the point. He recognizes the improbability of wind and waves acting on the rocks along the shore to spell SOS.1 Experience has taught the pilot that intelligible messages must come from intelligent sources. SOS, though not a word in the English language, represents the code for the universal distress message. The island inhabitant spelled out not just a word, such as "help," but a special code, SOS, on the beach knowing that anyone seeing it from the air would recognize its meaning.
The grass hut also convinces the pilot to radio for help. It provides further evidence that the rocks' arrangement on the beach is not the effect of chance, but rather the work of someone stranded on the island. Encoded information coupled with additional evidence for intelligent activity provides support for design that goes beyond the mere presence of information. It requires an intelligent agent to choose and employ the code. And, encoded information carries an implied sense of purpose.
Over the last 40 years, scientists have found the same type of evidence inside the cell that prompted the pilot's radio call for help. They have discovered that the cell's biochemical machinery is an information-based system. Moreover, the chemical information inside the cell exists as encoded information. The genetic code (the rules used to encode the cell's information) defines the cell's biochemical information system.
By itself, the cell's encoded information offers powerful evidence for an Intelligent Designer. And, like the islander's grass hut, recent discoveries provide additional proof validating the premise. Molecular biologists studying the genetic code's origin have unwittingly stumbled across profound evidence for Intelligent Design—a type of fine-tuning in the rules that form the genetic code. These rules impart to the genetic code the surprising capacity to minimize errors.
Error-minimization properties in the genetic code allow the cell's biochemical information systems to make mistakes and still communicate critical information with high fidelity. It's as if the stranded island inhabitant could arrange the rocks as SSO or OSS and still communicate the need for help.
Much as the islander's message began with the rocks, the description of cellular information begins with proteins. Proteins, the "workhorse" molecules of life, take part in essentially every cellular and extracellular structure and activity. They help form structures inside the cell and in the cell's surrounding matrix. Among other roles, proteins catalyze chemical reactions, harvest chemical energy, serve in the cell's defense systems, and store and transport molecules.2
Molecules called polypeptides make up proteins. One or more of the same and/or different polypeptides interact to form proteins. Polypeptides are chain-like molecules folded into precise three-dimensional structures. The polypeptide's three-dimensional architecture determines the way one polypeptide interacts with other polypeptides to form a protein. The structure of the polypeptide consequently dictates its function.3
Polypeptides form when the cellular machinery links together (in a head-to-tail fashion) smaller subunit molecules called amino acids.4 The cell employs 20 different amino acids to make polypeptides. The amino acids that make up the cell's polypeptide chains possess a variety of chemical and physical properties.5 In principle, the 20 amino acids can link up in any of the possible amino acid combinations and sequences to form a polypeptide.
Each amino acid sequence imparts the polypeptide with a unique chemical and physical profile along its chain. The chemical and physical profile determines how the polypeptide chain folds, and, therefore, how it interacts with other polypeptide chains to form a functional protein. Because structure determines the function of a polypeptide, the amino acid sequence ultimately defines the type of work the polypeptide performs.
A polypeptide's amino acid sequence contains information. Just as letters form words, amino acids strung together form the "words" of the cell, polypeptides.6 In language, some letter combinations produce meaningful words and others produce gibberish. Amino acid sequences do the same. Some produce functional polypeptides, whereas others produce gibberish polypeptides that serve no role inside the cell.7
Treating amino acid sequences as information has become a fruitful approach for researchers seeking to understand the origin of proteins.8 It has also helped them characterize the functional utility of different amino acid sequences.
DNA, like polypeptides, contains information. In fact, DNA's chief function is information storage.
Like proteins, DNA consists of chain-like molecules known as polynucleotides.9 Two polynucleotide chains align in an antiparallel fashion to form a DNA molecule. (The two strands are arranged parallel to one another with the starting point of one strand located next to the ending point of the other strand, and vice versa.) The paired polynucleotide chains twist around each other forming the well-known DNA double helix. The cell's machinery forms polynucleotide chains by linking together four different subunit molecules called nucleotides. The four nucleotides used to build DNA chains are adenosine, guanosine, cytidine, and thymidine, familiarly known as A, G, C, and T, respectively.
DNA stores the information necessary to make all the polypeptides used by the cell. The sequence of nucleotides in the DNA strands specifies the sequence of amino acids in polypeptide chains. Scientists refer to the amino-acid-coding nucleotide sequence (for constructing polypeptides) along the DNA strand as a gene.10 Through the use of genes, DNA stores the information functionally expressed in the amino acid sequences of polypeptide chains. The DNA strands' nucleotides function as alphabet letters and the genes as words.
Central Dogma of Molecular Biology
No discussion of biochemical information systems would be complete without considering information "flow" inside the cell, known as the "central dogma of molecular biology."11 This concept describes how information stored in DNA becomes functionally expressed through the amino acid sequence and activity of polypeptide chains.
Found inside the nucleus of complex cells, DNA can be compared to the reference books found in a library. The information stored there cannot be removed but must be copied, or transcribed. DNA does not leave the nucleus to direct the synthesis of polypeptide chains. Rather the cellular machinery copies the gene's sequence by assembling another polynucleotide, messenger RNA (mRNA).12 This single-strand molecule is similar, but not identical, in composition to DNA. One of the most important differences between DNA and mRNA is the use of uridine (U) in place of thymidine (T) to form the mRNA chain. Scientists refer to the process of copying mRNA from DNA as transcription.
Once assembled, mRNA migrates from the nucleus of the cell into the cytoplasm. At the ribosome, mRNA directs the synthesis of polypeptide chains.13 The information content of the polynucleotide sequence is translated into the polypeptide amino acid sequence–– much like translating Spanish into English.
The analogical language used to describe the flow of information in biochemical systems is no accident. Biochemical systems are information systems.
The Genetic Code
Life's Encoded Information
One may wonder how the sequence of nucleotides in DNA translates into the sequence of amino acids in a polypeptide. There seems to be a mismatch between the storage and functional expression of information in the cell. A one-to-one relationship cannot exist between the four different nucleotides of DNA and the 20 different amino acids used to assemble polypeptides. The cell overcomes this mismatch by using a code comprised of groupings of three nucleotides to specify the 20 different amino acids.14
The cell uses a set of rules to relate these nucleotide triplet sequences to the 20 amino-comprising polypeptides. Molecular biologists refer to this set of rules as the genetic code. The nucleotide triplets, or "codons" as they are called, represent the fundamental communication units of the genetic code. In the same way that the stranded islander used three letters, SOS, to communicate his plight, the genetic code uses three nucleotide "characters" to signify an amino acid. The genetic code is essentially universal among all living organisms.
Sixty-four codons make up the genetic code. Because the genetic code only needs to encode 20 amino acids, some of the codons are redundant. That is, different codons code for the same amino acid. In fact, up to six different codons specify some amino acids. Others are specified by only one codon.
Interestingly, some codons, called stop codons or nonsense codons, code no amino acids. (For example, the codon UGA is a stop codon.) These codons always occur at the end of the gene, informing the cell where the polypeptide chain ends. Stop codons serve as a form of "punctuation" for the cell's information system.
Some coding triplets, called start codons, play a dual role in the genetic code. These codons not only encode amino acids, but also "tell" the cell where a polypeptide begins. For example, the codon GUG not only encodes the amino acid valine, it also specifies the starting point of the polypeptide chain. Start codons function as a sort of "capitalization" for the information system of the cell.
The Genetic Code and Intelligent Design
Observed information on the island leads the pilot to reasonably conclude that an intelligent agent designed it with a purpose. The information content of DNA and proteins, the molecules that ultimately define life's most fundamental structures and processes, leads to the inescapable conclusion that an Intelligent Designer with purpose in mind is responsible for life. This conclusion is as rational as the one made by the pilot when he spotted the message on the beach and radioed for help.
The genetic code, the set of rules that translate the stored information found in DNA into the functional information of proteins, provides further support for an Intelligent Designer. All codes require an intelligent agent to develop the set of rules defining the code.
The set of rules that define the genetic code, universal to all life, reveals still more amazing evidence for design. The genetic code displays a fascinating capacity to resist the errors that naturally occur as the cell uses information or transmits information from one generation to the next. Qualitative inspection of the code only partly exposes its fine-tuning. Recent studies employing methods to quantify error-minimization properties in the genetic code bring this new evidence for Intelligent Design squarely into focus.
Why does the error-minimization capacity of the genetic code provide such a powerful indicator for Intelligent Design? Translating the stored information of DNA into the functional information of proteins is the genetic code's chief function. The genetic code's failure to transmit and translate information with high fidelity can be devastating to the cell. Briefly considering how mutations affect cells facilitates understanding.
A mutation refers to any change that takes place in the DNA nucleotide sequence.15 DNA can experience several different types of mutations. Substitution mutations are one common type. In a substitution mutation, one or more of the nucleotides in the DNA strand is replaced by another nucleotide. For example, an A may be replaced by a G, or a C may be replaced by a T. This substitution changes the codon that the nucleotide is part of. The amino acid specified by that codon changes, leading to an altered chemical and physical profile along the polypeptide chain. If the substituted amino acid possesses dramatically different physicochemical properties from the native amino acid, the polypeptide folds improperly. This improper folding impacts the polypeptide, and hence yields a protein with reduced or even lost function. Most mutations harm cellular health because they significantly and negatively impact protein structure and function.
Qualitative Design Evidence
The genetic code's redundancy appears to be well thought out rather than haphazard. Genetic code rules incorporate a design that allows the cell to avoid the harmful effects of substitution mutations. For example, six codons encode the amino acid leucine (Leu). If at a particular amino acid position in a polypeptide, Leu is encoded by 5' (pronounced five prime, a marker indicating the beginning of the codon). CUU, substitution mutations in the 3' position from U to C, A, or G produce three new codons, 5' CUC, 5' CUA, and 5' CUG, all of which code for Leu. The net effect produces no change in the amino acid sequence of the polypeptide. For this scenario, the cell successfully avoids the negative effects of a substitution mutation.
Likewise, a change of C in the 5' position to a U generates a new codon, 5'UUU, that specifies phenylalanine, an amino acid with similar physical and chemical properties to Leu. A change of C to an A or to a G produces codons that code for isoleucine and valine, respectively. These two amino acids also possess chemical and physical properties similar to leucine. Qualitatively, the genetic code appears constructed to minimize errors that result from substitution mutations.
Quantitative Design Evidence
Recently, scientists from the University of Bath (U.K.) and from Princeton University worked to quantify the error-minimization capacity of the genetic code. Early work indicated that the naturally occurring genetic code withstands the potentially harmful effects of substitution mutations better than all but 0.02 percent (1 out of 5000) of randomly generated genetic codes with codon assignments different from the universal genetic code.16
This initial work overlooked the fact that some types of substitution mutations occur more frequently than others in nature. For example, an A-to-G substitution occurs more frequently than does either an A-to-C or an A-to-T mutation. When researchers incorporated this correction into their analysis, they discovered that the naturally occurring genetic code performed better than one million randomly generated genetic codes. They also found that the genetic code in nature resides near the global optimum for all possible genetic codes with respect to its error-minimization capacity.17 Nature's universal genetic code is truly one in a million—or better!
The genetic code's error-minimization properties are actually more dramatic than these results indicate. When researchers calculated the error-minimization capacity of one million randomly generated genetic codes, they discovered that the error-minimization values formed a distribution where the naturally occurring genetic code's capacity occurred outside the distribution.18 Researchers estimate the existence of 1018 possible genetic codes possessing the same type and degree of redundancy as the universal genetic code. All of these codes fall within the error-minimization distribution. This finding means that of 1018 possible genetic codes, few, if any, have an error-minimization capacity that approaches the code found universally in nature.
Obviously concerned about the implications, some researchers have challenged the optimality of the genetic code.19 The teams from Bath, Princeton, and elsewhere, however, have effectively responded to these challenges.20
A Force Behind the Genetic Code
Based on their research results, the Bath and Princeton scientists concluded that the rules of the genetic code could not be a frozen accident. A genetic code assembled through random biochemical events would not possess near ideal error-minimization properties. These researchers argue that a "force" shaped the genetic code. Instead of looking to a supernatural explanation for the genetic code's origin, however, they appeal to natural selection. They believe random events operated on by "the forces of natural selection" over and over again produced the genetic code's error-minimization capacity.21
Can the Genetic Code Evolve?
Other scientific work questions the likelihood that the genetic code evolved. In 1968 Nobel Laureate Francis Crick, in a classic paper, convincingly argued that the genetic code could not have undergone significant evolution.22 The rationale for Crick's position is easy to understand. Any change in codon assignment leads to changes in amino acids in every polypeptide made by the cell. This wholesale change in polypeptide sequences would result in large numbers of defective proteins. Nearly any conceivable change to the genetic code would be lethal to the cell.
Even if the genetic code could change gradually over time to yield a set of rules that allowed for maximum error-minimization capacity, is there enough time for this process to occur? Biophysicist Hubert Yockey has addressed this question.23 He calculates that natural selection would have to explore 1.40 x 1070 different genetic codes to hit upon the universal genetic code found in nature. Yockey estimates the maximum time available for the code to originate as 6.3 x 1015 seconds. Put simply, natural selection lacks adequate time to find the universal genetic code. It would have to evaluate about 1054 codes per second.
Other researchers suggest that the genetic code's origin coincides with the origin of life. Operating within the evolutionary paradigm, a team headed by renowned origin-of-life researcher Manfred Eigen estimated the age of the genetic code as 3.8 + 0.6 billion years.24 Current geochemical evidence places life's first appearance on Earth at 3.86 billion years ago.25
The Supernatural Origin of the Gentic Code
The genetic code—the set of rules used by the cell to translate information stored in DNA into the information used by polypeptides—possesses a virtually unique optimality in its capacity to resist errors caused by mutation. The genetic code in every way defies explanation as a frozen accident produced by random biochemical events, or as the fortuitous outcome of an evolutionary process directed by the blind forces of natural selection. Genetic code evolution would be catastrophic for the cell. Given the rapidity of life's origin, time is too short for natural selection to come across the well-designed universal genetic code found in nature. The genetic code seemingly originates at the time life first appears on Earth. All this evidence dictates the conclusion that an Intelligent Designer is responsible for the genetic code.
This conclusion becomes even more compelling when one considers that encoded information demands an intelligent agent not only to generate the information, but also to design and apply the set of rules that constitute the code. The remarkable fine-tuning of the genetic code provides cohesive corroborative evidence for the biblical Intelligent Designer. Like the SOS rock formation and the grass hut on the beach, the genetic code offers every indication that a Creator deliberately and purposefully shaped the message.
- Peter Kreeft, Fundamentals of the Faith: Essays in Christian Apologetics (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988), 25-26.
- Robert C. Bohinksi, Modern Concepts in Biochemistry, 4th ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1983), 86-87.
- Harvey Lodish et al., Molecular Cell Biology, 4th ed. (New York: W. H. Freeman, 2000), 54-60.
- Lodish et al., 51-54.
- Lodish et al., 52.
- Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (Bethesda, MD: Adler & Adler, 1986), 308-25; Walter L. Bradley and Charles B. Thaxton, "Information and the Origin of Life," in The Creation Hypothesis: Scientific Evidence for an Intelligent Designer, ed. J. P. Moreland (Downers Grove, IL: InterVaristy Press, 1994), 188-90.
- Lodish et al., 257.
- Hubert P. Yockey, Information Theory and Molecular Biology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992); Charles B. Thaxton, Walter L. Bradley, and Roger L. Olsen, The Mystery of Life's Origin: Reassessing Current Theories (Dallas: Lewis and Stanley, 1984), 127-43; Bernd-Olaf Küppers, Information and the Origin of Life, (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1990).
- Lodish et al., 101-05.
- The gene structure is far more complex than portrayed here. Any biochemistry or molecular biology textbook can be consulted for a more thorough discussion of gene structure.
- David Freifelder, Molecular Biology, 2d ed. (Boston, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 1987), 208.
- Lodish et al., 111-116.
- Lodish et al., 125-34.
- Lodish et al., 117-20.
- Lubert Stryer, Biochemistry, 3d ed. (New York: W. H. Freeman, 1988), 675-76.
- David Haig and Laurence D. Hurst, "A Quantitative Measure of Error Minimization in the Genetic Code," Journal of Molecular Evolution 33 (1991): 412-17.
- Gretchen Vogel, "Tracking the History of the Genetic Code," Science 281 (1998), 329-31; Stephen J. Freeland and Laurence D. Hurst, "The Genetic Code Is One in a Million," Journal of Molecular Evolution 47 (1998): 238-48; Stephen J. Freeland et al., "Early Fixation of an Optimal Genetic Code," Molecular Biology and Evolution 17 (2000): 511-18.
- Freeland and Hurst, 238-48.
- Massimo D. Giulio, "The Origin of the Genetic Code," Trends in Biochemical Sciences 25 (2000): 44.
- Stephen J. Freeland, Robin D. Knight and Laura F. Landweber, "Measuring Adaptation within the Genetic Code," Trends in Biochemical Sciences 25 (2000): 44; Stephen J. Freeland and Laurence D. Hurst, "Load Minimization of the Genetic Code: History Does Not Explain the Pattern," Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 265 (1998): 2111-19; Terres A. Ronneberg, Laura F. Landweber and Stephen J. Freeland, "Testing a Biosynthetic Theory of the Genetic Code: Fact or Artifact?" Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 97 (2000): 13690-95; Ramin Amirnovin, "An Analysis of the Metabolic Theory of the Origin of the Genetic Code," Journal of Molecular Evolution 44 (1997): 473-76.
- Robin D. Knight, Stephen J. Freeland and Laura F. Landweber, "Selection, History and Chemistry: The Three Faces of the Genetic Code," Trends in Biochemical Sciences 24 (1999): 241-47.
- F. H. C. Crick, "The Origin of the Genetic Code," Journal of Molecular Biology 38 (1968): 367-79.
- Yockey, 180-83.
- Manfred Eigen et al., "How Old Is the Genetic Code? Statistical Geometry of tRNA Provides an Answer," Science 244 (1989), 673-79.
- Fazale Rana, "Origin-of-Life Predictions Face Off: Evolution vs. Biblical Creation," Facts for Faith 6 (Q2 2001), 41-47.
The scientists from the University of Bath and Princeton University, fully aware of Francis Crick's work, still rely on evolution to explain the genetic code's optimal design because of the existence of nonuniversal genetic codes. While the genetic code in nature is generally regarded as universal, some nonuniversal genetic codes exist—genetic codes that employ slightly modified codon assignments. Presumably these nonuniversal genetic codes evolved from the universal genetic code. Therefore, researchers argue that genetic code evolution is possible. For the most part, however, the codon assignments of the nonuniversal genetic codes are identical to that of the universal genetic code with only one or two codon assignments being different. It is better to think of the nonuniversal genetic codes as deviants of the universal genetic code.
Does the existence of nonuniversal genetic codes imply that wholesale genetic code evolution is possible? The answer is no. Careful study reveals that codon changes in the nonuniversal genetic codes always occur in relatively small genomes, such as mitochondrial genomes, and involve either: (1) codons that occur at low frequencies in that particular genome; or (2) stop codons. Changes in assignment for these codons could occur without producing a lethal scenario, since only a small number of polypeptides in the cell or organelle would experience an altered amino acid sequence. Thus, it appears that limited evolution of the genetic code can take place, but only in special circumstances.1
- Syozo Osawa et al., "Evolution of the Mitochondrial Genetic Code I. Origin of AGR Serine and Stop Codons in Metazoan Mitochondria," Journal of Molecular Evolution 29 (1989): 202-7; Dennis W. Schultz and Michael Yarus, "On the Malleability in the Genetic Code," Journal of Molecular Evolution 42 (1996): 597-601; Eors Szathmary, "Codon Swapping as a Possible Evolutionary Mechanism," Journal of Molecular Evolution 32 (1991): 178-82.
By Hugh Ross
Human beings climb. Always have, always will. First hills, then mountains, then pinnacles so high they're called "death zones." That's as high as legs could carry them, but not high enough. So people invented balloons, blimps, airplanes, and spacecraft, the higher the better—to a point.
At first, scaling heights made people feel big and powerful. Then they began to feel small, utterly insignificant even, in the hugeness of the cosmos. Today, ironically, the same forces that once shrank humanity's perception of himself now magnify him beyond the wildest imagination, yet with no basis for pride and every reason for humility. Those forces, insatiable curiosity, and capacity for inquiry have lifted humans to a vista, an insight called the anthropic principle, that carries their gaze to the edge of the universe and beyond.
The anthropic principle says that the universe appears "designed" for the sake of human life. More than a century of astronomy and physics research yields this unexpected observation: the emergence of humans and human civilization requires physical constants, laws, and properties that fall within certain narrow ranges—and this truth applies not only to the cosmos as a whole but also to the galaxy, planetary system, and planet humans occupy. To state the principle more dramatically, a preponderance of physical evidence points to humanity as the central theme of the cosmos.
Support for the anthropic principle comes from an unwavering and unmistakable trend line within the data: the more astronomers learn about the universe and the requirements of human existence, the more severe the limitations they find governing the structure and development of the universe to accommodate those requirements. In other words, additional discoveries are leading to more indicators of large-scale and small-scale fine-tuning.
In 1961, astronomers acknowledged just two characteristics of the universe as "fine-tuned" to make physical life possible.1 The more obvious one was the ratio of the gravitational force constant to the electromagnetic force constant. It cannot differ from its value by any more than one part in 1040 (one part in ten thousand trillion trillion trillion) without eliminating the possibility for life. Today, the number of known cosmic characteristics recognized as fine-tuned for life—any conceivable kind of physical life—stands at thirty-eight.2 Of these, the most sensitive is the space energy density (the self-stretching property of the universe). Its value cannot vary by more than one part in 10120 and still allow for the kinds of stars and planets physical life requires.3
Evidence of specific preparation for human existence shows up in the characteristics of the solar system, as well. In the early 1960s astronomers could identify just a few solar system characteristics that required fine-tuning for human life to be possible. By the end of 2001, astronomers had identified more than 150 finely-tuned characteristics.4 In the 1960s the odds that any given planet in the universe would possess the necessary conditions to support intelligent physical life were shown to be less than one in ten thousand.5 In 2001 those odds shrank to less than one in a number so large it might as well be infinity (10173).6
An account of scientific evidence in support of the anthropic principle fills several books.7 The authors' religious beliefs run the gamut from agnosticism to deism to theism, but virtually every research astronomer alive today agrees that the universe manifests exquisite fine-tuning for life.8
The Revolt Against a Revolution
This view of humanity as the focal point of the cosmos represents the historic overthrow of an idea rooted in an ancient revolution, the Copernican revolution. For the first fifteen centuries of the Christian era, Western science assumed that Earth's inhabitants, humans in particular, occupied the central position in the universe. When Nicolaus Copernicus revived the ancient Greek proof that the Sun, rather than Earth, holds the central position in Earth's system of planets, a new scientific perspective took root.9 From this perspective, the Copernican principle, emerged the philosophical notion that humans occupy no privileged or exceptional position in the universe. For the past four hundred years, this principle has been the reigning paradigm of science and society. And, during the past forty years, an extension of it, the mediocrity principle, has grown increasingly prevalent. The mediocrity principle asserts that humanity is not special in any way and that human origin and development have likely been duplicated on billions of other sites throughout the cosmos.
The anthropic principle, emerging almost simultaneously with the mediocrity principle, emphatically contradicts it, exposing a distortion of Copernican thinking. The anthropic principle makes this obvious and crucial distinction: while humanity's place in the universe is not spatially central, it does not necessarily follow that humanity's place is not central, or special, in any way.
Few people yet realize that current cosmological research demonstrates a physical universe with no spatial center. All the matter and energy of the universe reside on the three-dimensional surface of the expanding four-dimensional universe. Just as all Earth's cities reside on the planet's two-dimensional surface and none can be identified as geographically central to all others, likewise none of the galaxies, stars, and planets hold the center position on the cosmic 3-D surface.
In one sense, the anthropic principle is possible because Copernicus was right. What makes humanity's location in the cosmos unique, or special, is that Earth resides away from the center of any astronomical system, such as Earth's galaxy. Humanity lives in a unique location—and moment—in cosmic space-time that allows not only for the possibility of human existence but also for the opportunity to discover that human existence represents a miracle, a special case.
Earth's particular location gives humans a special window to the solar system, the Milky Way galaxy, and the universe itself. In virtually any other galaxy or at any other location in Earth's galaxy and at every other time in cosmic history, the view to the surrounding area would be so unstable and/or so occluded that the form, structure, size, and other characteristics of the galaxy and universe would remain obscure to any sentient observers.10 Earth's creatures enjoy a special view to the splendors of the cosmos. Nowhere else and at no other time in the universe would such glory be visible.11
The importance of the anthropic principle can hardly be overstated. It returns legitimacy and respectability to the human species as a worthy, even primary, subject of scientific research. Further, the anthropic principle has the potential to bring about a paradigm shift arguably as profound as any shift in human remembrance.
As early as the 1980s, physicist Paul Davies concluded that the physical evidence for design of the universe and of Earth for human life could rightly be described as overwhelming.12 Today, no physicist or astronomer who has researched the question denies that the universe, the Milky Way galaxy, and the solar system possess compelling hallmarks of intentional design for human life. Many researchers have commented over the past twenty years that it seems the universe "knew" humans were coming.
Brandon Carter, the British mathematician who coined the term "anthropic principle" (1974),13 noted the strange inequity of a universe that spends about 15 billion years "preparing" for the existence of a creature that has the potential to survive no more than 10 million years (optimistically).14 Carter formalized this enormous imbalance between the time required to produce the possibility for human life and the brevity of the species' (potential) survival as the "anthropic principle inequality."15
In response, some researchers speculated that the human species might represent an anomaly, an exception to the rule (e.g., a late bloomer or a more fragile species) among many possible intelligent life forms elsewhere in the cosmos. However, Carter and (later) astrophysicists John Barrow and Frank Tipler demonstrated that the inequality exists for virtually any conceivable intelligent species under any conceivable life-support conditions.16 Roughly 15 billion years represents a minimum preparation time for advanced life: 11 billion toward formation of a stable planetary system, one with the right chemical and physical conditions for primitive life, and four billion more years toward preparation of a planet within that system, one richly layered with the biodeposits necessary for civilized intelligent life. Even this long time and convergence of "just right" conditions reflect miraculous efficiency.
Moreover the physical and biological conditions necessary to support an intelligent civilized species do not last indefinitely. They are subject to continuous change: the Sun continues to brighten, Earth's rotation period lengthens, Earth's plate tectonic activity declines, and Earth's atmospheric composition varies. In just 10 million years or less, Earth will lose its ability to sustain human life. In fact, this estimate of the human habitability time window may be grossly optimistic. In all likelihood, a nearby supernova eruption, a climatic perturbation, a social or environmental upheaval, or the genetic accumulation of negative mutations will doom the species to extinction sometime sooner than twenty thousand years from now.17
These figures demonstrate that the inequality is extreme. The survival time for advanced intelligent physical life is only a millionth as long as the time required to produce the conditions necessary for its survival.
Another British mathematical physicist, Roger Penrose, was among the first to give voice to a philosophical conclusion: the extremely high level of fine-tuning astronomers and physicists discern powerfully suggests a purpose behind the universe.18 That the design is so focused on providing a home for humanity implies that a significant, even central, part of the purpose for the universe is anthropic. Specifically, the universe was created for the express benefit of humanity.
Given the awesome capacities necessary to create and design the universe, the purpose for humanity must be significant indeed. Further, given that human survivability is cosmically brief means that humanity's purpose can and must be fulfilled quickly. The rapid fulfillment of a profoundly significant purpose for humanity—that's the message of the Bible. No other "revelation" makes such perfect sense of everything humanity observes and experiences.
Purpose, Destiny, and Hope
Distinguished astrophysicists Lawrence Krauss and Glenn Starkman recently analyzed the ultimate consequences of the measured self-stretching property of the universe.19 They deduced that the universe from now on will expand at a faster and faster rate. This exponentially increasing cosmic expansion means that astronomers will see less and less of the universe as time goes on. Thus, knowledge of the universe will decrease with time. Eventually, the cosmic expansion will be so rapid that intelligent beings will lose the capacity to draw adequate energy for work from the heat flow of the universe. All forms of knowledge, then, will necessarily decrease. Inevitably, heat flow will be so tiny that all metabolic reactions will cease, and with their ceasing, all possibility for physical life will end. "Consciousness is eventually lost."20
Krauss and Starkman's response—an expression of despair—betrays their presumption that humanity's destiny must lie within this universe. An important aspect of the biblical message is that God has an existence and a plan for humanity beyond the confines of the cosmos. His plan involves the cosmos but does not end there. Throughout the Old and New Testaments, God reveals His plan to prepare those humans for a paradise vastly superior to anything Earth can offer, a new creation completely beyond the physics and dimensions of the universe.
Therefore, the biblical basis for purpose, destiny, and hope supersedes the limitations, even predicts the limitations and cessation, of the universe. The anthropic principle becomes personal, however, with the commonsense observation that human beings universally and uniquely yearn for a sense of destiny and purpose. Human beings stay alive not just by the powerful instinct to survive possessed by all living creatures, but by a unique and universal awareness that they exist for a reason beyond mere physical survival.
The Christ Connection
Those people who need hard data to affirm their sense of destiny can find it. The space-time theorems of general relativity prove that an Entity transcending matter, energy, space, and time is the cause of the universe in which humanity lives.21 Of all the gods, forces, or principles that people have proposed throughout human history to explain the existence and operation of the universe, only the God of the Bible is consistent with the characteristics of the cause established in these space-time theorems.22 Only the Bible predicts and explains the anthropic principle.
True to their inquisitive and skeptical nature, some scientists and philosophers have challenged the validity of the anthropic principle and certainly of its implications for the Christian worldview and faith. Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan argued that the design of such a vast cosmos for such an infinitesimal creature seems wasteful, thus inconsistent with the character of the Christian's all-wise, all-powerful God.23 Such a God, they imply, would have fulfilled His purpose of providing humanity a home by creating just one planet in one planetary system in a relatively tiny and short-lived cosmos.
This argument fails to consider, however, that purpose governs what a person (or God) does as opposed to what he can do. Given the physics of the universe, the laws and properties for which the Bible reveals a specific divine purpose (see "The Physics of Sin," page 00), the universe is the necessary size and age. A universe either slightly less massive or more massive than what researchers observe would be unsuitable for human life.24 In a human frame of reference, God's provision of such an enormous universe so carefully "machined" for billions of years for human benefit makes a compelling statement about His care for humanity—and His purposefulness.
Some skeptics have attempted to trivialize the anthropic principle with the assertion that humans simply would not be here to observe the universe unless the extremely unlikely did somehow happen to take place. British philosopher Richard Swinburne responded to this notion with a simple illustration.25 He points out that the survivor of a firing squad execution would not attribute his or her survival to a lucky accident. Rather, the survivor would conclude that either the rifles were loaded with blanks or that each of the executioners missed on purpose. The measured fine-tuning of the universe tells us that Someone purposed for humans to exist for a certain period of time.
Another argument claims that there is nothing remarkable about the fine-tuning of the universe if an infinitude of universes exist, each with a different set of characteristics. In this case, chance could dictate that at least one would manifest the characteristics necessary for human life.
The fallacy in this appeal represents a form of the gambler's fallacy. A gambler might conclude that an ordinary coin could land on heads a hundred thousand consecutive times if he rationalizes that 2100,000 coins exist (though he cannot see them), each being flipped 100,000 times by 2100,000 coin flippers. Statistically, one of these coins could come up heads 100,000 times. Such thinking is considered fallacious, however, because the gambler has no evidence for the existence of the other coins, coin flippers, or distinct results. With a sample size of one, the only rational conclusion to draw is that someone "fixed" the coin to land on heads. In the case of the universe, no evidence can be found for the existence of other universes. In fact, the principles of relativity dictate that the space-time envelope of a universe that contains observers can never overlap that of any other universe(s). Thus, the sample size for human observers is one and always will be one, and the conclusion that Someone purposed, or fixed, the universe for human existence remains compelling.
Testing the Conclusion
The anthropic principle invites testing. A skeptic not yet persuaded that the fine-tuning of the universe reflects more than a lucky coin toss can choose to examine the universe, the "coin," more closely. If the anthropic principle and its implications for transcendent design are false, research will discover declining evidence for fine-tuning and existing evidence will be erased by new data. If, on the other hand, the anthropic principle and its implications are true, research will yield an increase in both the number of fine-tuned characteristics and the degree of fine-tuning. Based on the accumulating evidence, to bet on the anthropic principle seems safer than taking another breath. The anthropic principle energizes humanity's climb on the pinnacles of Truth.
- Robert H. Dicke, "Dirac's Cosmology and Mach's Principle," Nature 192 (1961), 440-41.
- Hugh Ross, "Fine-Tuning for Life in the Universe," Appendix C, Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002), in press.
- Lawrence M. Krauss, "The End of the Age Problem and the Case for a Cosmological Constant Revisited," Astrophysical Journal 501 (1998): 461-66.
- Hugh Ross, "Probability for a Life Support Body," Appendix B, Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002), in press. It is also posted on the Reasons To Believe Web site at www.reasons.org.
- I. S. Shklovskii and Carl Sagan, Intelligent Life in the Universe (San Francisco: Holden-Day, 1966), 342-61.
- Ross, "Probability for a Life Support Body," Appendix B, Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men.
- John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986); F. Bertola and U. Curi, eds., The Anthropic Principle (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993); Paul Davies, The Cosmic Blueprint (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988); Michael J. Denton, Nature's Destiny (New York: The Free Press, 1998); George Greenstein, The Symbiotic Universe (New York: William Morrow, 1988); Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 3d ed.(Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2001); Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee, Rare Earth (New York: Copernicus, 2000).
- Quotes from nineteen astronomers who have done research on the anthropic principle may be found in Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 3d ed., 157-60.
- Hugh Ross, The Fingerprint of God, 2d ed. (Orange, CA: Promise, 1991), 12-13, 20.
- Raymond E. White III and William C. Keel, "Direct Measurement of the Optical Depth in a Spiral Galaxy," Nature 359 (1992), 129-30; W. C. Keel and Raymond E. White III, "HST and ISO Mapping of Dust in Silhouetted Spiral Galaxies," American Astronomical Society Meeting, 191, no. 75.01, December, 1997; Raymond E. White III, William C. Keel, and Christopher J. Conselice, "Seeing Galaxies Through Thick and Thin. I Optical Opacity Measures in Overlapping Galaxies," Astrophysical Journal 542 (2000): 761-78; Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 3d ed., 178-79.
- Guillermo Gonzalez, "The Measurability of the Universe: A Record of the Creator's Design," Facts for Faith 4 (Q4 2000), 42-48.
- Paul Davies, The Cosmic Blueprint (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988), 203.
- Brandon Carter, "Large Number Coincidences and the Anthropic Principle in Cosmology," Proceedings of the International Astronomical Union Symposium, No. 63: Confrontation of Cosmological Theories with Observational Data, ed. M. S. Longair (Dordrecht-Holland/Boston, U.S.A.: D. Reidel, 1974), 291-98.
- Brandon Carter, "The Anthropic Principle and Its Implications for Biological Evolution," Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Series A 370 (1983): 347-60.
- Carter, "The Anthropic Principle,"347-60.
- John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 556-70.
- Adam Eyre-Walker and Peter D. Keightley, "High Genomic Deleterious Mutation Rates in Hominids," Nature 397 (1999), 344-47; James F. Crow, "The Odds of Losing at Genetic Roulette," Nature 397 (1999), 293-94; Hugh Ross, "Aliens from Another World," Facts for Faith 6 (Q2 2001), 30-31.
- Roger Penrose, in the movie A Brief History of Time (Burbank, CA: Paramount Pictures Inc., 1992).
- Lawrence M. Krauss and Glenn D. Starkman, "Life, the Universe, and Nothing: Life and Death in an Ever-Expanding Universe," Astrophysical Journal 531 (2000): 22-30.
- Krauss and Starkman, p. 28.
- Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose, "The Singularities of Gravitational Collapse and Cosmology," Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series A 314(1970), 529-48; Jacob D. Bekenstein, "Nonsingular General-Relativistic Cosmologies," Physical Review, D 11 (1975): 2072-75; Leonard Parker and Yi Wang, "Avoidance of Singularities in Relativity Through Two-Body Interactions," Physical Review, D 42 (1990): 1877-83; Arvind Borde, "Open and Closed Universes, Initial Singularities, and Inflation," Physical Review, D 50 (1994): 3692-702; Arvind Borde and Alexander Vilenkin, "Eternal Inflation and the Initial Singularity," Physical Review Letters 72 (1994): 3305-8; Arvind Borde and Alexander Vilenkin, "Violation of the Weak Energy Condition in Inflating Spacetimes," Physical Review, D 56 (1997): 717-23.
- Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 3d ed., 101-18.
- Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time (New York: Bantam Books, 1988), 126; Hugh Ross, "The Haste to Conclude Waste," Facts & Faith 11, no. 3 (1997), 1-3. This is a commentary on the 1997 movie Contact based on Carl Sagan's 1985 novel by the same name.
- Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 3d ed., 51-54, 150-51.
- Richard Swinburne, "Argument from the Fine-Tuning of the Universe," Physical Cosmology and Philosophy, ed. John Leslie (New York: Macmillan, 1991), 165.
By Hugh Ross
The anthropic principle faces serious challenges from outside the disciplines of astronomy and physics. Many scholars in the humanities and social sciences fear that the anthropic principle will somehow legitimize false notions of human supremacy, justifying exploitation of the environment to the detriment of other species. Similarly, Christian scholars worry that the anthropic principle could inflate human ego to disastrous proportions, propelling humanity once again down the path toward Babel.
The warnings against exulting in the power of science, glorifying human knowledge, and exalting the human species have taken form as "humility theology."1 Its proponents seek to underscore for research scientists, educators, political leaders, and others the limits on human understanding. Humility theology appropriately acknowledges that significant spiritual implications flow from advances in scientific research.
Most humility theologians pursue one or more of these laudable objectives: 1) debunk naturalists' claims that physical reality is the only reality (or at least the only knowable reality); 2) refute Stephen Hawking's assertion that scientists possess the means to discover the mind of God, to know and understand everything God knows and understands; and 3) promote religious values and practice.
As a Christian and a scientist, I readily share and support these objectives, yet with one significant reservation. Some humility theologians lean heavily toward religious pluralism, acquiescing to the notion that all (or most) religious truth claims are equally valid. On the basis of both logic and science, I do not. I cannot. To say that human knowledge is inadequate for drawing reasonable conclusions about the Creator's identity would be false humility, not a Christian virtue. (See Kenneth Samples' article, "Do All Religions Lead to God?" page 00.)
- John M. Templeton, The Humble Approach (New York: The Seabury Press, 1981). This is the first of many books and periodicals sponsored by John Templeton in the theme of humility theology.
By Hugh Ross
"What difference does it make? As long as I'm not hurting anyone else, I should be able to live with my girlfriend." "I never loved my wife. Don't I deserve to be happy?" "I needed that money more than he did, so it's okay that I took it. Besides, he owes me for the time when…" Justification for sin comes easily to most people—including Christians. However, conscience has an ally: physics. Observation and personal experience suggest that physical laws work on the side of obedience to God's laws.
When I began studying physics at the age of seven a particular dilemma plagued my mind. I wanted to know why the laws of physics were set up in their prescribed manner. In spite of serious study over the following twelve years, no satisfying answers came forth. Not until I became a Christian at age 19 (the year I also began formal education in classical and statistical mechanics, thermodynamics, and electromagnetism theory), did I recognize that the physics of the cosmos reveal not only God's existence but also God's delight in elegance and beauty. Through the physical design of the cosmos, God richly endows a home for humanity.
This answer helped resolve some of my questions about the structure of physics, but it still left me with some major unanswered perplexities. Why didn't God create a different kind of cosmos for humanity—one elegant and beautiful in its design yet without the hard choices, pain, and suffering produced by evil? God does, in fact, promise a radically different, perfectly wonderful home for humanity after His final judgment against evil (referred to in Revelation as The Great White Throne Judgment).1 So why didn't He make the universe "perfect" in the first place?
These questions led me to search the Bible for God's expressed purpose(s) in creating the cosmos. I found these three, among others:
- God chose to express His glory through creating the universe, creating life in general, and creating humanity in particular.
- The whole of the universe and all life on Earth were created for the benefit of humanity.
- God chose to initiate an eternal love relationship with humans.
As a corollary to these three purposes, God gives humans every assist and incentive to turn away from evil's empty enticement (autonomy) and toward His love. This corollary helps explain why Genesis 1-3 identifies this world and Eden not as God's "perfect" creation, but, rather, as His "good" or "very good" creation.
Many Christians (and others) believe the Garden of Eden was perfect and that God will one day permanently restore people to an Eden-like paradise.2 An inability to imagine anything better than what Adam and Eve enjoyed in the Garden of Eden (before they sinned) makes this viewpoint understandable. However, the Bible reveals a transcendent Creator who made the universe of matter, energy, space, and time from beyond the universe, completely unconfined by it. Therefore, belief in a transcendent reward becomes a reasonable consideration.
Because of Satan's rebellion, and because free will must be real for love to be real, the potential for sin necessarily existed in Eden. That potential alone made Eden an insecure environment and, therefore, an imperfect one. The "new heavens and new earth" described in Revelation 21 and 22 remain perfectly secure, because no possibility for sin exists there. This transcendent reward awaits Christ's followers (see the "New Laws for the New Creation"sidebar).
Advent of Sin—and Physics
The idea that sin (rejection of God's rightful authority) began with Adam's rebellion in Eden ignores the fact that at least in one context the fall into sin predates Eden. Satan clearly fell into sin before he entered Eden to beguile Eve. Exactly how much before that time the fall of Satan occurred is unclear. Job 38:7 states that the angels watched as God laid down the foundations of the Earth. Therefore, Satan likely existed at the time when Earth was formed some 4.6 to 3.9 billion years ago.3 His rebellion against God could have occurred either before or after this event.
Advent of Physical Laws
Adam and Eve's fall into sin, which brought estrangement from God, others, and self, occurred some time after Satan's rebellion and impacted the entire human race and, thus, the world. Genesis 3 explains that sin leads to more work and more pain, implying that Adam and Eve experienced both work and pain before their rebellion against God. Genesis 2 explicitly states that Adam worked and ate in Eden before he sinned.Such work—including the digestion process—implies that the physical laws of gravity, electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, and thermodynamics took effect before Adam's fall. These same physical laws remain in effect today.4
Are work and pain inherently bad? I think not. According to the book of Ecclesiastes, God designed work to be productive and enjoyable. Sin, however, destroys both the productivity and joy of work. This destruction forces individuals to work much harder than would otherwise be necessary. Pain has value, too. It is a necessary partner to physical pleasure. Pain also warns of impending danger. The introduction of sin, however, causes every person to experience more pain than would otherwise be necessary. More work and more pain were part of sin's curse on humanity.
The existence of stars both before and after Eden tells me that physics did not change as a result of Adam's sin. Those laws were already in place, prepared in advance to fulfill their important role in God's grand plan. According to Genesis 1, stars predated the creation of humanity. Stellar burning involves virtually all the laws of physics and is extremely sensitive to the constant and continual operation of those laws.5 Even slight changes or interruptions in those laws mean that stable burning stars of the type necessary for the support of physical life cannot exist, and metabolic reactions, protein synthesis, and protein function become impossible. According to Revelation 20-21, the replacement of the laws of physics (see sidebar, "New Laws for the New Creation") occurs at that moment when evil is finally and permanently eliminated (the Great White Throne Judgment). This timing suggests that the physical laws were intended to be part of God's strategy for conquering sin.
Spiritual Purpose of Physical Laws
God's design of gravity, electromagnetism, strong and weak nuclear forces, and thermodynamics yields this result: the more a person sins, the more work he must perform and the more pain he must experience. All of these laws contribute to the breakdown of a person's body and the breakdown of everything he builds (e.g., a home, a relationship, or a career). Gravity results in increasing sag and stress over time. Electromagnetic radiation corrodes the surfaces of all structures. Nuclear laws cause change in the fundamental building blocks.
Because of their propensity to defy God, individuals need discipline. God's act of ejecting Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden to the world outside, where they had to plant their own gardens and deal, for example, with "thorns and thistles," helped set in motion the discipline they needed to understand that God's ways are best. The propensity to do things their own way (as opposed to following God's wisdom), consigned Adam and Eve and their descendents to experience much more work and much more pain.
The second law of thermodynamics guarantees that whatever a man organizes, whatever he designs, and whatever information he accumulates becomes increasingly disordered. However, sin speeds up the breakdown. For example, if a man abuses his tools, they become less productive and wear out faster, leading him to experience more pain and more work when he uses them. If he abuses his animals, his employees, or a woman who might become his spouse, their response to the abuse causes him more work, less pleasure, and more pain.
God designed the laws of physics to gently but firmly encourage humankind to depart from sin. As Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 5 and 6, not all sins bring identical harm. Some sins defile more than others. The way God designed the laws of physics, the more defiling the sin, the more pain and/or work it generates. And the more sin an individual commits, the more pain and work he experiences. The laws of physics, unlike parents, teachers, and supervisors, allocate consistent and timely retribution. Moreover, physics discipline never misses, never forgets. By God's design, it is neither too much nor too little.
Universality of the Physical Laws
Jeremiah speaks about the fixity of the laws that govern the universe.6 Paul, in Romans, states that the entire creation has been subjected to the law of decay,7 an apparent reference to the second law of thermodynamics. Because the space-time dimensions of the universe are inextricably woven together, the time dimension of the universe cannot be separated from its space dimensions.8 Or, to put it another way, the geometry of the universe is such that time behaves as a space dimension subjecting the entire universe to the law of decay. This fact implies that the entire universe from its very beginning, from the beginning of time itself, experienced decay.
Many references elsewhere in the Bible confirm 1) the ongoing expansion of the universe from the beginning, 2) solar and stellar burning both before and after Adam's fall, and 3) metabolic function in plants and animals.9 All of these phenomena are physically impossible without the continual operation of the second law of thermodynamics.
Gravity and electromagnetism, too, must be in continual operation since the cosmic creation event. The Bible states that the Sun, stars, Earth, and moon existed both before and after Adam. Likewise, Scripture states that electromagnetic light existed from the beginning of creation and remains the same. It also implies that the Earth and Sun maintain a stable configuration with respect to one another.
Straightforward astrophysics demonstrates that the kinds of stable burning stars essential for physical life cannot exist in this universe unless both gravity and electromagnetism retain their current values and operation for the entire history of the universe. Similarly, stable orbits of planets about stars and of electrons about the nuclei of atoms require the stability and constancy of both gravity and electromagnetism. Physical life also requires that all galaxies, stars, and planets, in fact, all matter and energy in the universe be situated on a three-dimensional surface. That surface must be very large and rapidly and continuously expanding. And thermodynamics require the complementary action of gravity and electromagnetism.
The fact that gravity, electromagnetism, and thermodynamics have continuously functioned since the cosmic creation event implies that God prepared, or preprogrammed, the universe to deal with sin. This occurred billions of years before sin became an issue in the physical universe; that is, billions of years before God allowed Satan to invade Eden. Further evidence, both scientific and biblical, suggests that God's plan works in the most efficient manner possible.
The nature of the universe and the physical laws limit the maximum longevity of the human species on planet Earth as several thousand years only. Natural phenomena such as supernova eruptions, asteroid and comet collisions, accelerated cosmic expansion, and the inevitable termination of the silicate-carbonate cycle10 guarantee a relatively rapid extinction of the human species. In fact, scientists now see evidence that the pursuit of education and technology, crucial elements in the rapid advance of civilization (thus in fulfilling Jesus' command to make disciples of all nations) actually shortens the extinction time of the human species by escalating the deleterious mutation rate.11 And, increasing affluence produced by educational and technological advances has a negative impact on the human birth rate.
Extent of Sin's Impact
The connection between the laws of physics and sin explain sin's far-reaching impact. The groaning of creation in anticipation of release from sin has lasted fifteen billion years and affected a hundred billion trillion stars. The effective and efficient conquest of sin mandates a certain set of physical laws. These physical laws dictate that the universe manifests a certain space-time manifold and an even more highly specified expansion rate. That space-time manifold and expansion rate serve to limit the geographical realm for humanity. With great effort humans can make forays into different parts of this solar system. Visiting planets around other stars, however, is out of the question.12 Likewise, the physics of this present universe put a severe constraint on the window of time in cosmic history during which human existence is possible.13
Sin's impact extends beyond the space-time manifold (or envelope) of the universe. For about four billion years (at least) of Earth's history, at least a hundred million angels have witnessed the damage wrought by sin.14 This patient witness is part of God's teaching the angels about His grace. Given their unique perspective on the breadth and depth of sin's devastation, the angels can see and understand—more than you and I yet can—how costly Christ's redemption of humanity is.
When God planned for His ultimate love relationship with humans, He chose to open Eden's gate to Satan, the most magnificent and powerful of his angelic creations. After facing and—by God's grace—overcoming Satan's temptations, humans will never encounter a greater foe. Humanity's exposure to sin (as devastating as it has been and continues to be) paves the way for Christ's followers to receive and enjoy the rewards of the new creation and to fulfill their roles there. Without the training and maturation offered by exposure to sin and its consequences, humanity could look forward to nothing better than paradise, the pleasures of Eden. While paradise may seem wonderful compared to this sin-marred universe, it utterly pales in comparison to the future home provided by God for all who choose the redemption from sin Christ makes available through His death and resurrection.
Better Than Eden
God promised His worshippers a reward far beyond what anyone can imagine or comprehend.15 This second creation of God will one day (on an eighth creation day) supplant the first creation. (See "New Laws for a New Creation" sidebar.)
The Israelites' exodus from Egypt and subsequent journey to the Promised Land offers a helpful analogy. Paradise (Eden) may be likened to Egypt at Moses' time. Humanity's journey through life's trials and temptations resembles Israel's wilderness (Sinai) wanderings. The new creation is roughly analogous to the land of promise (Canaan). Just as the Israelites struggled to imagine and anticipate the blessings of the Promised Land, people everywhere struggle to imagine and anticipate the rewards of the new creation.
The Israelites grumbled about their suffering in the wilderness and yearned to return to Egypt. People today complain about the training and discipline of this life and long for a return to Eden. Egypt was a land of plenty but also a land of slavery. Eden surely seems idyllic, but it holds humanity captive to electromagnetism, gravity, etc. During the aging process, individuals observe that joints and muscles gradually lose the battle against gravity. Skin and other cells break down under long-term exposure to electromagnetic radiation.
On a spiritual level, perpetual insecurity plagued Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. At every moment they were capable of the willful choice that would shatter their unique oneness with the Creator. In the new creation, everyone who has a relationship with Jesus Christ will forever enjoy perfect security. People will live safely beyond the severe testing of their free will, the testing faced in God's first creation. It is past. No tougher test can confront them.
Adam and Eve and all humankind had to be confined to a single time dimension, one that can neither be stopped nor reversed so as to limit the fallout from their sin, including the number of people damaged by it. All who enter the new creation will be free from such time restrictions. The time confinement that limits each individual to just a few close relationships will be lifted.
Jesus often refers to believers in the new creation with singular nouns and pronouns.16 Those who join Him in the new creation are called His bride, and He says that all who live there will be one as He, the Father, and the Holy Spirit are one. The aspect of the oneness of God is illustrated in that the Father, Son, and Spirit are in continuous communication and fellowship with one another.17
For humans to experience this type of oneness, each person will be granted continuous communication and fellowship with one another. It appears somehow that all individuals will possess the capacity to communicate and relate simultaneously, intimately, and harmoniously with billions of others.
Our current dimensional limits (and sinful nature) make such communication and fellowship impossible. And yet for now, such limits are essential. One time dimension (in which time can neither be halted nor reversed) currently confines the impact of humans' sin to only a limited number of people for a limited time. (In the equivalent of two time dimensions or more, a person's sin could simultaneously impact billions of other people in an undiminished manner for an unlimited period of time.) With the new heavenly capacity for knowing and being known, loving and being loved by all other human beings simultaneously, the need for marriage and the nuclear family will be fully satisfied.
Whether God grants the capacity for continuous simultaneous communication and intimate fellowship with all other believers through the equivalent of two time dimensions or some other dimensional or transdimensional means is not revealed. However, we can know that with the elimination of sin, shame, embarrassment, and physical, mental, and spiritual defects, intimacy becomes safe and enjoyable in a manner impossible in this creation. The risk of being hurt or damaged in relationships will be gone forever.
People will no longer need to focus relationship resources on only one marriage partner, one nuclear and extended family, and a few dozen friends. Continuous enjoyment of all other members of the heavenly family provides something far superior to the pleasures of the very best of earthly relationships, including marriage.18 All this, and much more, awaits.
One day God will release humankind from the "playpen" of this universe with all of its restrictive dimensions and physics. He will usher those who worship Him into a new creation replete with physics and dimensions or transdimensions that permit ultimately satisfying relationships with Him and with one another. We will be rewarded to a degree far beyond what anyone can yet think or imagine.19 Until that time, each person can thank God for the discipline of physics.
- Revelation 21-22, The Holy Bible; Hugh Ross, Beyond the Cosmos, 2d ed. (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1999), 217-228.
- Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979, 1991), 274-87; Finis Jennings Dake, God's Plan for Man: Revealing God's Perfect Plan for All Creation (Lawrenceville, GA: Dake Bible Sales, 1977), 972-1000; David Chilton, Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1985); Kenneth L. Gentry, He Shall Have Dominion (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1992), 275-306; Hank Hanegraaff, Resurrection (Nashville, TN: Word Publishing, 2000), 85-92; Doug Phillips, "An Urgent Appeal to Pastors," Back To Genesis, No. 119, November 1998, p. c.; Henry M. Morris, "The Coming Big Bang," Back To Genesis, No. 101, May 1997, p. c.; Henry M. Morris, "The Finished Works of God," Back To Genesis, No. 136, April 2000, p. b.
- Hugh Ross, The Genesis Question (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1998), 30-36, 39-42.
- Genesis 2:15-17, The Holy Bible; Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 2d ed.(Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1995), 111-21.
- R. Kippenhahn and A. Weigert, Stellar Structure and Evolution (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1994), 64-76, 118-136, 248-70; Martin Schwarzschild, Stellar Structure and Evolution of the Stars (New York: Dover Publications, 1958), 30-44.
- Jeremiah 33:25, The Holy Bible.
- Romans 8:18-22, The Holy Bible.
- Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose
- "Singularities of Gravitational Collapse and Cosmology," Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series A 314 (1970), 529-48.
- Genesis 1:1, 1:11-12, 1:14-16, 1:20-28, 4:2-4,15:5, Job 9:8; Psalm 104:2; Isaiah 40:22, 42:5, 44:24, 45:12, 48:13, 51:13; Jeremiah 10:12, 51:15; Zechariah 12:1; The Holy Bible.
- Lawrence M. Krauss and Glenn D. Starkman, "Life, the Universe, and Nothing: Life and Death in an Ever-Expanding Universe," Astrophysical Journal 531 (2000), 22-30; Hugh Ross, "Can Science Test a 'God-Created-It' Origins Model? Yes!" Facts for Faith 2 (Q2 2000), 46; Hugh Ross, The Genesis Question, 43-44.
- James F. Crow, "The Odds of Losing at Genetic Roulette," Nature 397 (1999), 293-94; Adam Eyre-Walker and Peter D. Keightley, "High Genomic Deleterious Mutation Rates in Hominids," Nature 397 (1999), 344-47.
- Hugh Ross, "Aliens From Another World?" Facts for Faith 6 (Q2 2001), 24-32.
- Hugh Ross, "Can Science Test a 'God-Created-It' Origins Model? Yes!" 40-47, 55-58.
- Revelation 5:11, The Holy Bible.
- 1 Corinthians 2:9, The Holy Bible.
- Revelation 21:9, The Holy Bible.
- Revelation 22:12-17, The Holy Bible.
Sidebar: New Laws for the New Creation
Revelation 21 declares that the law of decay (i.e., the second law of thermodynamics) will no longer exist in the new creation. The apostle John records that death, mourning, crying, and pain—four consequences of the decay law—will have no place in the new creation.1 In the new creation, people will apparently consume without incurring cost, further evidence of decay's absence.
The description of a new Jerusalem suggests the absence of gravity (as we know it) in the new creation. This "city" (or structure) measures roughly 1500 miles long by 1500 miles wide by 1500 miles high, and it has corners.2 Thus, the New Jerusalem's shape (a cube or pyramid) violates the law of gravity. Gravity forces any body larger than about 150 miles across into a spherical shape.
With electromagnetic radiation, light casts shadows and eclipses. In the new creation hot bodies such as the sun and the stars, the primary sources of light in the present universe, will no longer exist.3 Light will pervade all of the new creation, but not electromagnetic light, for there will be no darkness, no shadows.
The limitations of the space-time manifold of the universe are lifted in the new creation. Relationships are nonlinear (see subhead, Better Than Eden, and the paragraphs that follow). Nor will people be geographically limited as they are in the present universe. Physics and space will no longer confine individuals to the environs of one tiny planet. The common yearning to be in more than one place at a time as well as to be unrestricted by time will be fulfilled.
- Revelation 21:4, The Holy Bible.
- Revelation 21:16, 17, NIV.
- Revelation 22:5, The Holy Bible.
By Kenneth Richard Samples
During the days following the catastrophic terrorist events of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush called for a national day of prayer. He urged people of all faiths to pray for America. Interfaith religious services were televised from the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. and from Yankee Stadium in New York. These services included clerics from Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. They offered prayers to the God collectively addressed as "the God of Abraham, the God of Muhammad, and the Father of Jesus Christ." Popular television personality Oprah Winfrey led the service held in New York City and boldly declared that all people pray to the same God.
Is Oprah right? Do Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Hindus worship the same God? If so, people of all faiths can live peaceably in this world, can't they?
Religious pluralism is the view that all religions, certainly all major or ethical religions, are equally valid paths to God or to ultimate reality. For the pluralist, many religious roads lead to God and salvation. And yet, given the present cultural milieu of globalism, multiculturalism, relativism (in both truth and morality), and especially the postmodern spirit, the growing climate of religious pluralism poses a serious challenge to the integrity of the Christian faith.
Popular Religious Pluralism
Entering the twenty-first century, America embodies significant ethnic, racial, cultural, and religious diversity. Urban and suburban dwellers come from all parts of the globe. One's next-door neighbor to the right might come from Southeast Asia or Australia. The one to the left might originate from India, Africa, Europe, or the Middle East. America, as a democratic nation, places great value on the principle of tolerance, especially the tolerance of religious expression. The Bill of Rights guarantees American citizens the right to free exercise of religion.
Unfortunately, some people take the notion of equal toleration of religious expression to mean that all religions are equally true, thus equally valid paths to God. In effect, democracy has been applied to ultimate truth.1 This seemingly "politically correct" approach to religion, though popular in this culture, represents deeply convoluted thinking. The acceptance of social pluralism (tolerance of diverse religious expression) does not logically imply the truth of metaphysical pluralism (that all religious truth claims are equally valid and simultaneously true).
The popular notion that all religions are true ignores three imperative considerations. In order to think through and respond to the issue of religious pluralism, one must recognize and understand each of these points.
1. While the religions of the world do share some common beliefs and especially moral values, fundamental and irreconcilable differences clearly divide them on many crucially important issues, including the nature of God, the source and focus of revelation, the human predicament, the nature of salvation, and the destiny of mankind.2 A plethora of views exists just concerning the nature of God (or ultimate reality). Some religions affirm monotheism (one God); others, polytheism (many gods); still others affirm pantheism (all is God); and some even affirm atheism (no God).3 In Judaism4 and Islam, God is personal (and singular); in Christianity God is clearly more than personal and singular (superpersonaland triune5); while in strands of Hinduism and Buddhism God is less than personal and singular (apersonal and diffuse).6
Some of the world's religious traditions view God as wholly transcendent (beyond the world), others as wholly immanent (within the world), and still others as both transcendent and immanent. Some religions view God as infinite in nature and nonidentifiable with the world, whereas in other religions God is finite and identified with the world. Clearly no universal agreement exists among the world's religions as to who or what God really is. As scholar Harold A. Netland states, "Careful examination of the basic tenets of the various religious traditions demonstrates that, far from teaching the same thing, the major religions have radically different perspectives on the religious ultimate."7
Identifying mankind's ultimate problem (sin, ignorance, unenlightenment), the necessary human response (faith, obedience, meditation), and how that dilemma must be resolved in terms of encountering the divine (salvation, liberation, enlightenment) creates other stark contrasts between religions. Fundamental differences exist between the dominant religion of the West, Christianity, and the dominant religion of the East, Hinduism. Christianity affirms that redemption in Christ for the believer involves an eternal personal relationship with God in the afterlife. Hinduism, on the other hand, affirms a cycle of rebirths leading ultimately to the absorption of one's individual consciousness into God or ultimate reality. Those two visions of future reality are simply irreconcilable.8
2. The religions of the world are so diverse in belief and in worldview orientation that they defy attempts to reduce them to a single common theme or essence. Indeed, this vast and complex array of religious perspectives makes religious reductionism a dubious venture altogether. Oxford theologian Alister E. McGrath notes, "There is a growing consensus that it is seriously misleading to regard the various religious traditions of the world as variations on a single theme."9
Netland draws a similar conclusion about attempts to consolidate the religions according to a single salvific (relating to salvation) objective: "It is highly misleading to speak as if all religions share a common soteriological goal and simply differ on the means to reach it."10
Attempts to reduce a variety of religions to their lowest common denominator usually succeed only in distorting the religions. Homogenizing the religions is a costly price to pay to solve the problems of religious diversity, for in the end the religions must sacrifice the very features that make them unique and appealing in the first place. Moreover, the various religions do not easily conform to any particular reductionistic category.
While some rightly identify similar ethical values as a common motif, upon closer inspection it becomes evident that even the similar moral principles are motivated by, and grounded in, fundamentally different views of the nature of reality. Religion cannot be reduced simply to ethics, for religion makes claims about the ultimate nature of reality (metaphysics), to which ethics appeal for justification. The renowned authority on world religions, Cal Berkeley professor Huston Smith, clearly rejects the notion all religions are basically the same:
For as soon as [the notion of sameness] moves beyond vague generalities––'every religion has some version of the Golden Rule'––it founders on the fact that the religions differ in what they consider essential and nonnegotiable.11
The similar ethical values shared by religions such as Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism cannot be separated from the distinctive doctrines promoted by those particular religions. This distinctiveness is especially true in terms of historic Christianity; for Christianity is not primarily a system of ethics. Instead, Christian ethics flow from a redemptive relationship with God through the person of Jesus Christ. Therefore the ethical teachings of Jesus in the New Testament cannot be separated from the unique Christian doctrines that emerge directly from the great redemptive events of Jesus' life (such as the incarnation, atonement, and resurrection). In other words, the truth of Christian ethics is tied to the truth of Christian theology.
3. Formal laws of logic demonstrate the impossibility that all religious truth claims can be true at the same time and in the same way (the law of noncontradiction: A cannot equal A and non-A). For example, Jesus Christ cannot both be God incarnate (Christianity) and not be God incarnate (Judaism, Islam). Contradictory religious claims have opposite truth value, meaning that they negate or deny each other. Therefore exactly one is true and the other false. And, accordingly, Jesus Christ must either be God incarnate or not be God incarnate; no middle position is possible (the law of excluded middle: either A or non-A).
Since Jews, Christians, and Muslims all conceive the identity of Jesus of Nazareth differently, logically speaking, their conceptions simply can't all be true. While it is logically possible that all three positions are false, they definitely cannot all be true. Thus, the claims of popular religious pluralism fail to comport with the self-evident laws of thought. This fact led Christian philosopher Ronald H. Nash to conclude that "any one who would become a pluralist must first abandon the very principles of logic that make all significant thought, action, and communication possible."12
Some people argue that applying logic to religion is false or misleading. They insist that ultimate truth comes only through some type of nonrational intuition. Their argument betrays them, however, because in arguing against logic they must first presuppose the laws of logic to attempt a refutation. To do so is, of course, self-contradictory. As Christian apologists Norman Geisler and Ronald Brooks point out, "Even those who claim, 'Logic does not apply to God,' use logic in that very statement."13
To divorce oneself from the self-evident laws of thought when it comes to ultimate reality is to resign oneself to irrationality. Netland explains a price too great for most people to pay because it requires the "forfeiture of the possibility of meaningful affirmation or statement about anything at all––including statements about the religious ultimate. One who rejects the principle of noncontradiction is reduced to utter silence, for he or she has abandoned a necessary condition for any coherent or meaningful position whatsoever."14
A Philosophical Approach to Pluralism
Some philosophers and religious scholars believe there is a way of making religious pluralism intellectually tenable. Could it be, perhaps, that the contradictions among the world's religions are only apparent rather than real? That is, maybe all the religions are experiencing the same divine reality but in different ways? After all, isn't an encounter with a mysterious and unfathomable God at the core of most religions? Surely God transcends the finite human mind.
The prominent pluralist thinker, John Hick,15 employs a common Eastern way of illustrating this point, called the elephant analogy. In this analogy, several blind men encounter an elephant for the first time. Each feels a different part of the animal, then attempts to determine truth about the essence of its being. One man pats a leg and sees the elephant as a "living pillar." Another man grasps the trunk and beholds a snake. The man who rubs the tusk believes the elephant to be a "sharp plough-share." Though each individual expresses one important aspect of the whole reality, none comprehends the complete entity.16
According to this analogy, one may attribute the differences among the world's religions to mankind's inability to grasp the infinite reality of God. Hick applies the famous Kantian objective/subjective distinction of the world as it is (the objective noumenal world), from the world as it appears to human consciousness (the subjective phenomenal world) to the problem of religious diversity. He argues that one must distinguish between ultimate reality as it is (the divine "noumena"), from ultimate reality as experienced by finite human beings (the divine phenomena).
Hick's pluralistic theory places the ultimate divine reality beyond the particular deities of the various religions. This divine ultimate is not experienced directly, but instead is filtered through the different historical and cultural lenses of mankind. Thus people encounter the same divine reality (Mohammed, Krishna, Jesus) differently because of their differing historical, cultural, or philosophical perceptions and biases. He further explains:
These different personae are thus partly projections of the divine Reality into human consciousness, and partly projections of the human consciousness itself as it has been formed by particular historical cultures.17
For Hick, each religion is valid because each faith provides a genuine (though obviously limited) encounter with ultimate reality. The world's religions represent "different 'faces' or 'masks' or personae of God, the Ultimate Reality."18 And, since Hick thinks that religion is ultimately about existential transformation (ethics) and not about specific doctrinal beliefs, then all religious paths are acceptable because all the major religions are capable of transforming a person from being "self-centered" to being "divine-centered." Hick views religious pluralism as a much more attractive hypothesis than either total "skepticism" of religion on one hand or traditional religious "dogmatism" on the other.
In response to Hick's philosophical pluralism, while his pluralistic vision appeals to many for both its apparent tolerance and its attempted unification of religion, it is nevertheless fraught with serious problems. An examination of Hick's views should begin with careful scrutiny of the elephant analogy.
In thinking about the elephant analogy, no one questions the reality of biases and limited knowledge on the part of mankind when encountering God, but these concessions do nothing to shore up this analogy's central weaknesses as it relates to pluralism. The elephant analogy seems to imply a radical skepticism concerning one's knowledge of God; namely, that no one, or in this case no religion, can really know God satisfactorily.19 But if God is by-and-large unknowable, then how is one able to know that God is unknowable?20 In fact, for that matter, would one even know that God exists? How does Hick know so much about the inner workings of the incomprehensible ultimate reality? Especially since this ultimate reality—in Hick's view—does not reveal itself in nature nor in propositions.
Ironically, while the elephant analogy attempts to validate the truth of all religions, it really succeeds in showing that all religions fail to adequately reveal God. So rather than affirming religious truth, the analogy demonstrates that all religions, at least in large measure, are false or misleading.21 The religions may indeed provide some core ethical values, but as was noted previously, these similar moral values are motivated by, and grounded in, essentially different views of the nature of reality. In religion, ethics cannot be divorced from metaphysical truth claims. What is good must be understood in light of what is real and true. Actions do not exist in a vacuum apart from truth.
The analogy is especially flawed, however, when viewed from the standpoint of historic orthodox Christianity. According to Christianity, God has personally entered the world of time and space in the historical person of Jesus Christ (John 1:1, 14, 18). This same Jesus makes exclusive claims to divine authority and possesses the prerogatives of deity which are incompatible with the homogenizing and accommodating views of religious pluralists (e.g., John 8:58, 10:30).22
To accommodate pluralism's unknowable God, Christianity would be forced to give up all of its distinctive doctrines, including the Incarnation, the Trinity, and the Atonement. As Oxford theologian Alister E. McGrath noted, "The identity of Christianity is inextricably linked with the uniqueness of Christ, which is in turn grounded in the Resurrection and Incarnation."23 If the analogy were to reflect historic Christianity, one would find the elephant healing the men's blindness and personally introducing himself. For the Christian claim is that God is personally, intimately, uniquely, and decisively disclosed in the Jesus Christ.
For the elephant analogy to work and for religious pluralism to be true, the claims of historic Christianity must be false. For according to Jesus' words in the New Testament, "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). "If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well" (John 14:7). Again, central to the message of historic Christianity is the astounding claim that God came to Earth in the flesh and has been personally known among men.
The Apostle Paul's words directly summarize this central Christian truth: "For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form" (Col. 2:9). Moreover, a fair reading of the New Testament reveals that faith in Jesus Christ is considered the unique and only way of encountering God. "Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me'" (John 14:6). The apostle Peter declared concerning Jesus, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
Hick's reasons for embracing religious pluralism over historic, orthodox Christianity (the faith of his youth) is found in his rejection of the Bible as a propositional revelation from God and in his conviction that the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation is both unhistorical and logically incoherent.24 He argues vociferously that the Incarnation is a myth.25 Hick also views historic Christianity's position of religious exclusivism as intellectually narrow and morally unacceptable. But Hick's bold rejection of the truth-claims of historic Christianity creates a logical problem for his broad pluralistic claim.
Christian philosopher C. Stephen Evans points out that "it is an essential part of Christian faith that Jesus is God in a unique and exclusive way. It follows from this that all religions cannot be equally true. If all religions are equally true, then Christianity is false, and therefore not all religions are true."26 In the end, the correct position must be one of these two: (1) Christianity and all other exclusive religions are wrong, and the rest of the religions, which are inclusive, are right; or (2) all religions are metaphysically wrong. In other words, what pluralism succeeds in doing is redefining religion along the line of ethical transformation and simply dismissing any concrete truth claims that might end up creating contradictions among the religions. In a very real sense a pluralist cannot take the truth claims of any religion seriously.
While some individuals believe that the exclusive claims of Christianity are provincial and arrogant, in reality their own pluralistic claims are dismissive of virtually all of a religions' distinctive features. Further, their view provides something other than a neutral or objective analysis of religion. For the idea of an unknowable ultimate reality is closely connected to an Eastern monistic understanding of the divine. Such proponents appear to be taking the greatly presumptuous position that they, unlike the religions of the world, really know the elephant.
Mythical Truth or Historical Truth
Pluralist thinkers such as Joseph Campbell have argued that all religions can be simultaneously true because all religions merely make mythical and/or poetical claims, not historical, factual truth-claims. This assertion of course means that the religions of the world are metaphorically true but literally false.27
However, again, this view flies in the face of historic orthodox Christianity. Whether one is inclined to accept them or not, the truth-claims of Christianity are historical and factual in nature. Jesus of Nazareth was born under the reign of Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus, and He suffered and died at the hands of an equally real Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. The historic Christian faith consistently resists and defies all attempts to homogenize and mythologize its central truth-claims. The apostles saw Jesus' resurrection from the dead and reported it as an historical-factual event.
The apostle Peter proclaimed: "We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty" (2 Pet. 1:16).28 According to the laws of logic and the historical veracity of Scripture, pluralism, no matter how popular, cannot be true.
- Peter Kreeft, Fundamentals of the Faith (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1988), 74-75; R.C. Sproul, Reason To Believe (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 35.
- William L. Rowe, Philosophy of Religion, 2d ed. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1993), 174-75.
- The most primitive form of Buddhism, "Theravada," is godless in belief.
- Reference here is to the traditional adherents of Judaism. Some Jewish groups (Messianic Jews) retain their Jewish heritage and tradition but embrace Jesus Christ (Yeshua) as their Messiah and Savior.
- This is reflected in the unique Christian doctrine of the Trinity according to which, the one true God exists eternally and simultaneously as three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. With regard to the Trinity, see Kenneth Richard Samples, "Thinking About The Trinity: 'One What and Three Whos,'" Facts For Faith 3 (Q3 2000), 8-13.
- Richard L. Purtill, Thinking About Religion (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1978), 105-6.
- Harold A. Netland, Dissonant Voices (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 37.
- Rowe, 175.
- Alister E. McGrath, An Introduction to Christianity (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1997), 155.
- Netland, 160.
- Huston Smith, The World's Religions (New York: HarperCollins, 1994), 245.
- Ronald H. Nash, Is Jesus the Only Savior? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 55. For a clear and insightful discussion of the formal laws of logic, see Ronald H. Nash, The Word of God and the Mind of Man (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 103-12.
- Norman L. Geisler, and Ronald M. Brooks. Come Let Us Reason: An Introduction to Logical Thinking (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 15.
- Nash, Is Jesus the Only Savior?, 55.
- Hick's works on pluralism include God and the Universe of Faiths (London: Macmillan, 1977) and Problems of Religious Pluralism, ed. (New York: St. Martin's, 1985).
- Cited in Michael Peterson, et al., Reason & Religious Belief (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 224.
- John Hick, Philosophy of Religion, 4th ed. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990), 119.
- John Hick. In More Than One Way?: Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World, ed. Dennis L. Okholm and Timothy R. Phillips (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 39.
- See C. Stephen Evans, Philosophy of Religion: Thinking about Faith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985).
- Nash, Is Jesus the Only Savior?, 36.
- Michael Peterson, et al., Reason & Religious Belief, 226.
- For an introduction and defense of the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation, see Kenneth Richard Samples, "Thinking About The Incarnation: The Divine Word Become Flesh," Facts For Faith 4 (Q4 2000): 34-41.
- Alister E. McGrath, Intellectuals Don't Need God & Other Modern Myths (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993), 119.
- Hick, More Than One Way?, 29-59.
- John Hick, ed., The Myth of God Incarnate (London: SCM, 1977). For a philosophical defense of the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation, see Thomas V. Morris, The Logic of God Incarnate (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1986).
- C. Stephen Evans, Why Believe?: Reason and Mystery as Pointers to God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 141.
- See Douglas Groothuis's critique of Joseph Campbell's book The Power of Myth in the Christian Research Journal, Fall 1989, 28.
- This article is an expansion of two other articles; see Kenneth R. Samples, "Responding To Religious Pluralism," Facts and Faith 12, no. 1, (1998), 12-14; and Kenneth R. Samples, "The Challenge of Religious Pluralism," Christian Research Journal (Summer 1990), 39.
Points to Remember
- World religions defy attempts to reduce them to a single common theme for example:
— The nature of God––one God, many Gods, no God; singular, triune; personal, superpersonal, apersonal; immanent, transcendent, or both; finite or infinite.
— Mankind's ultimate problem (sin, ignorance, unenlightenment), the necessary human response (faith, obedience, meditation), and how that dilemma is resolved in terms of encountering the divine (salvation, liberation, enlightenment).
- Formal laws of logic make it impossible that all religious truth claims can be true at the same time and in the same way.
- Whenever the claims of one religion directly contradict (negate or deny) the claims of another religion, then both of these claims cannot be true. Jesus Christ cannot both be God incarnate (Christianity) and not be God incarnate (Judaism, Islam).
- A person arguing against logic must first presuppose the laws of logic to attempt a refutation. This is self-contradictory.
- Unique and central to the message of historic Christianity is the astounding claim that God came to Earth in theflesh and can be personally known among men.
By J. P. Moreland
As Megan stood in the checkout line at the grocery store, a magazine caught her eye. On its cover a voluptuous blonde posed nude, certain body parts concealed only by strategic positioning. Sharp anger mixed with grief at the display of "just a body" provoked Megan to complain to the manager. The words "just a body" echoed in her thoughts all the way home.
Once, Megan hadn't realized that she'd treated herself like "just a body." Without regard for her soul (though she'd never deny possessing one), Megan's behavior demonstrated a physicalist "if it feels good, do it" mentality. She never thought to consider the damage her choices might do to her innermost being. A purely physical self-concept guided Megan into decisions that destroyed her marriage and almost destroyed her self-worth in the process.
Throughout human history, the majority of people, educated and uneducated alike, have been dualists, at least in the sense that they consider a human as a being who experiences life beyond physical death (whether as the very same individual, or as some sort of spiritual entity that merges with the "All"). Some form of dualism appears to be the instinctive response to what people know about themselves through introspection and in other ways.
Many philosophers who deny dualism admit that it is the commonsense view. Nonetheless, the thinking that a person is "just a body" (physicalism) permeates a culture without much awareness. Such a pattern of thought can cause individuals like Megan to make moral choices that damage the soul. Though physicalism is one of philosophy's most complex and challenging topics, understanding its issues in connection with dualism can help a person make constructive choices based on all facets of body and soul.
Part 1 of this series presented the case for property dualism by showing how the mental properties that make up one's stream of consciousness are not physical, but genuinely mental. Part 2 built a case for substance dualism by arguing that a human being's soul, or self (e.g., a mother's soul), is immaterial. This third and final installment rounds out the case for body and soul dualism with two steps: first, by offering a response to the frequently stated objections to property/substance dualism and, second, by critiquing important versions of physicalism.
Response to Typical Objections
Those who argue against property and substance dualism raise objections that fall into one of two classes: scientific problems and philosophical problems. In one way or another, some scientific objections imply that, while possible, evidence makes dualism unlikely. But this claim is hard to substantiate.
Various arguments in philosophy of mind literature (see the arguments presented in Part 1 of this series) make evident that science cannot formulate and address, much less resolve, most of the body and soul issues. For example, even if a certain mental state (such as Megan's desiring a hug) depends upon a specific region of the brain, a dualist can explain the dependence as a form of correlation or causation, rather than as some sort of identity relation. It is not science per se, but philosophical or methodological naturalism that becomes the main dualist opponent here. Dualists justifiably argue that naturalists beg important questions in their employment of science to justify physicalism.
Typical of physicalists, Nancey Murphy admits that while advances in science do not disprove substance dualism, they do show it as a weak position. Murphy asserts, roughly, that physicalism is stronger because it is not primarily a philosophical thesis but rather the hard core of a scientific research program for which ample evidence exists. To what evidence does she refer? "Biology, neuroscience, and cognitive science have provided accounts of the dependence on physical processes of specific faculties once attributed to the soul."1 No such evidence, as Murphy acknowledges, provesdualism false—a dualist can always appeal to correlations or functional relations between the soul and brain/body¾but advances in science make it a view with little justification.
To uncover the flaws in this claim, one may note first that people have both actual properties and potential properties. The former are traits already actualized in a person (e.g., Megan's blue eyes); the latter are genuine potentialities that would be actualized by a person if certain circumstances were to obtain them. If some entity X changes so as to exemplify some property F, then prior to X's exemplifying F, X must be the type of thing that has the property of being potentially F. A little girl does not have the actual property of being shaped like a woman; but even while she is a little girl, she already has the property of being potentially shaped that way.
Both actual and potential properties characterize a person. Moreover, a faculty of a particular person is a natural grouping of resembling capacities or potentialities possessed by her. For example, the mind—a faculty of Megan—consists in a range of naturally resembling potentialities of thought and belief. It follows, therefore, that her faculties characterize Megan, or give her identity. Further, a potentiality gets its identity and proper metaphysical categorization from the type of property being actualized. The nature of a capacity to exemplify F is properly characterized by F itself.
However, as revealed in Part 1 of this series, the capacities for various mental states (e.g., desiring relationship) are mental and not physical capacities. Thus, the faculties constituted by those capacities are mental and not physical and may not always coincide. Thus, as Megan physically matures from a young girl into a woman, her emotional and intellectual faculties may or may not also mature.
A person is the kind of being she is in virtue of the actual and potential properties/faculties essential and intrinsic to her. Thus, a description of the faculties of Megan provides accurate information about her. A description of her capacities/faculties provides more accurate information about what kind of person she is than does an analysis of the causal/functional conditions relevant for her to behave in various ways. This is because the causal/functional conditions relevant to her actions can either be clues to her intrinsic nature or else information about some other entity that she relates to in exhibiting a particular causal action.
For example, if Megan wears clothes that attract attention, information about the precise nature of those clothes and their role in her action may not tell us much about the nature of Megan (except that she is dependent in her functional abilities on other things, that is, her appearance). A conclusion cannot ensue that the actual and potential properties of her clothes are clues to her inner nature.
In the same way, functional dependence on/causal relations to the brain are of much less value in telling Megan who she is than is a careful description of the type-defining mental capacities described in Part 1. In this case, physicalism and dualism are empirically equivalent theses (i.e., consistent with the same set of empirical observations of the brain and body) and, in fact, there is no theoretical virtue (e.g., simplicity, fruitfulness, kindness) that can settle the debate if it is limited to being a scientific debate.
Thus, it is not simply that science cannot prove dualism to be false. Rather, science provides little evidence for settling the issue. This is especially true in light of insights about the relative merits of human faculty descriptions (who Megan is) as opposed to analyses of causal/functional dependencies related to that person (how she appears).
Science is a wonderful tool for explicating various relationships between mind and body and it needs to be said that the mind/soul affects the brain/body and not just vice versa. But, in this author's opinion, science offers little to resolve the main ontological questions of the mind/body problem. These issues remain distinctively and primarily philosophical and even theological in nature.
Turning from scientific to philosophical criticisms of dualism, two problems stand out: first, the problem of knowing other people's minds and, second, the problem of causal interaction. According to the first problem, dualism makes knowledge of other minds impossible or seriously challenged. In a dualist construal, the mental states of other persons are always underdetermined by knowledge of the relevant physical facts about those persons (e.g., brain states and body movements) and, thus, knowledge of the physical facts does not yield knowledge of other people's mental states.
Many times Megan determined her male friends' thinking by their physical actions; however, she often underdetermined their mental states. They had no intention of marrying her even though their actions led her to believe they were on that path.
Dualists respond to underdetermination in two ways. First, they view this problem as, in fact, a reality—one that forms the basis for the knowledge argument as well as for the argument from first person indexicals (indicators of "I"¾see Part 1). So from the dualist perspective, underdetermination represents a virtue and not a vice. (While in Megan's case it might have been helpful to accurately read her boyfriends' minds, more often than not such ability would lead to significant problems¾no one would be able to entertain private thoughts.)
Second, dualists see the physicalists' skepticism as going too far: physicalists presuppose that if it is logically possible for some knowledge claim to be mistaken, then one cannot have knowledge (or justified belief) regarding the claim, at least not until the skeptic is refuted. So understood, the problem is not dualism, but skepticism in general. The dualist argues that an individual can have knowledge or justified belief even if it is logically possible that she is mistaken, or that she offers a defeasible account of knowledge of other minds.
Thus, when Megan's boyfriend slipped an engagement ring on her finger, she was justified in believing that he wanted to marry her, even if he might eventually take the ring back, and even if no amount of knowledge of his brain or body guaranteed that he was not just another philanderer. Space forbids further elaboration, but dualists Richard Swinburne and Alvin Plantinga have proffered accounts of knowledge of other minds adequate to rebut the physicalist challenge.2
Regarding the problem of causal interaction, one should note that Christian theism involves dualist interactionism regarding God Himself. God, an immaterial spirit, is capable of causal interaction with the material world, and if God can part the Red Sea, it is unclear why Megan (made in His image and possessing an immaterial spirit) cannot interact with the material world in such a way as to place a ring on her finger by willing it there.
Very few people, especially Christian theists who raise this objection, have objected to the intelligibility of divine miracles. Even if one does not believe such miracles ever occurred, still, the very idea that if there were a God, He could interact with the material world He created seems intelligible to most people. But if the problem of causal interaction is one about the very nature of spirit and matter, then it counts against divine interaction just as much as it does against human interaction. And if the former is intelligible, as most theists and atheists acknowledge, then the latter is as well.
More justification exists for believing that causal interaction takes place than for accepting the assertion that mind/body interaction is "problematic." Megan is aware of the fact that rejection causes a mental event of pain or that a decision to put a ring on her finger is causally responsible for the ring being there. Adequate evidence reveals that the interaction takes place even if one has no idea how it occurs.
The preceding paragraphs provide a brief response to the main objections against dualism. The discussion now turns to an evaluation of some major forms of physicalism.
A Critique of Physicalist Alternatives to Dualism
Physicalism reduces the mind and body to virtually a body. To understand contemporary versions of physicalism, one must understand the five distinct types of "reduction" to which physicalists appeal:
- Individual ontological reduction: One object (a macro-object like Megan) is identified with another object or taken to be entirely composed of parts characterized by the reducing sort of entity. This type of reduction argues, for example, that living things are identical to or composed entirely of collections of physical/chemical parts arranged in a certain way; thus, living things do not possess a soul or vital entity that accounts for their unity and status as living things. (Megan as a person may be reduced to the components of her physical body.)
- Property ontological reduction: One property (Megan's attractiveness) is wholly identified with another property (Megan's body).
- Linguistic reduction: One word or concept (loneliness) is defined as or analyzed in terms of another word or concept (being alone). These kinds of reductions may be found in the dictionary or specialized vocabulary of a particular discipline.
- Causal reduction: The causal activity of the reduced entity is entirely explained in terms of the causal activity of the reducing entity (e.g., Megan's mental life is entirely explained by her brain).
- Theoretical or explanatory reduction: One theory or law is reduced to another by biconditional bridge principles (e.g., Megan will find a husband if and only if her physical body attracts one). Terms in the reduced theory connect with terms in the reducing theory by way of biconditionals. This relationship identifies the properties expressed by the former terms with those expressed by the latter. Supposedly, the laws of thermodynamics can be reduced to the laws of statistical mechanics and, on that basis, Megan's body can be identified with her ability to find a husband.
Individual ontological reduction is affirmed by virtually all physicalists.3 Whether or not functionalists accept property reduction is debatable, but physicalists generally believe that in the actual world, all properties exemplified by people are physical properties in some sense or another.
Causal reduction is hotly disputed by physicalists. Part of the debate involves the causal closure of physical phenomena (roughly, the notion that if one traces the antecedent causes of a physical event, he never has to leave the physical domain; there is no room for something nonphysical to cause things to happen in a chain of physical events) and the reality of so-called top/down causation. In other words, Megan is what her body does. It is safe to say that, currently, most physicalists accept causal reduction.
With the demise of philosophical behaviorism and positivist theories of meaning, linguistic reduction has been virtually eliminated from the debate. Theoretical reduction, however, remains as the main type of reduction employed in classifications of physicalism and, unless otherwise indicated, descriptions of physicalism, whether labeled as reductive or nonreductive should be understood to employ it.
Type identity Physicalism
Currently, the main version of reductive physicalism is type identity physicalism. These physicalists accept both theoretical reduction and property ontological reduction. In this view, mental properties/types are identical to physical properties/types (e.g., Megan is her body).
Moreover, identity statements asserting relevant identities are construed by physicalists as contingent identity statements employing different yet co-referring expressions. For example, the statement "Megan is identical to the tall blonde woman" is contingently true (while true, it could have been false, unlike "2 + 2 = 4" which is a necessary truth). The terms "Megan" and "tall blonde woman" both refer to the same thing (namely, a specific person) even though the terms do not have the same exact definition. Likewise, "heat is identical to mean kinetic energy" is allegedly a contingent identity statement. The truth of these identity statements is an empirical discovery, and the statements are theoretical identities.
Two main objections seem decisive against type identity physicalism. First, it is obvious that mental and physical properties differ from one another (see Part 1). Physicalists have not met the burden of proof required to overturn this deeply ingrained intuition.
They respond that in other cases of identity (e.g., Megan is not the tall blonde woman), intuitions about nonidentity turned out to be wrong, and the same is true in the case of mental properties. However, for two reasons, this response fails. For one thing, these other cases of alleged property identities are most likely correlation of properties cases.
Second, as philosopher Saul Kripke argued, the reasons why intuitions were mistaken (granting that they were mistaken, for the sake of argument) can easily be explained, but a similar insight does not appear in the case of mental properties.4 Since there is a distinction between Megan and how she appears (the tall blond woman), intuitions about nonidentity confused appearance with reality. But since mental properties such as loneliness are identical to the way they appear, no such source of confusion is available. Thus, intuitions about their nonidentity with physical properties remain justified.
The second difficulty with type identity theory is called the multiple realization problem, though a more accurate label would be the multiple exemplification problem, since according to dualists, mental properties are exemplified and not realized. Organisms with very different brains and bodies can all be in pain.
Largely in response to this latter type identity problem, a version of (allegedly) nonreductive physicalism—functionalism—has become the prominent current version of physicalism. Functionalists employ a topic neutral description of mental properties, or states, in terms of bodily inputs, behavioral outputs, and other mental state outputs. "Topic neutral" refers to a characterization of a mental state in terms that are neutral as to whether the state turns out to be physical or mental. Such a characterization depicts a mental state in terms of its functional role in behavior, not in terms of its intrinsic attributes.
For example, loneliness is whatever state is produced by being alone and which causes a tendency to desire relationship. The state of desiring companionship is, in turn, spelled out in terms of other mental states and bodily outputs (e.g., Megan's activities designed to find someone to love her).
Mental properties are functional. Machine functionalists characterize the various relations that constitute a functional state in terms of abstract computational, logical relations, and causal role functionalists spell them out in terms of causal relations. Either way, a mental property such as loneliness turns out to be the second order property of being alone (a second order property is a property of a property, for example, having blond hair is a property of being Megan), of having a property that plays the relevant functional role "R." In other words, "mental properties" are treated very much like computer software. Type identity physicalism is a hardware view; functionalism is a software position. (For more on functionalism, see sidebar.)
Token physicalism is a hard view to classify. Fundamentally, proponents of this view claim that even though there is no smooth property identity for mental types, every token (that is, particular) mental event is identical to a particular physical event. For example, there is not a single type of physical property that people must have to consider themselves lonely. But, with this view, every time any person is lonely, that particular physical "being alone" event will be identical to some brain event or other. Beyond that, things are not so clear and it is beyond the scope of this article to probe this viewpoint more deeply. However, it is safe to say that for most physicalists, token physicalism is not a distinct viewpoint; rather, it is just one specification of a full-blown physicalist functionalism in which mental properties are seen as functional types and particular physical events as token realizers of those types. So understood, the objections raised against functionalism also apply to token physicalism.
Finally, eliminative materialists assert that mental terms get their meaning from their role in folk psychology (roughly, a commonsense theory designed to explain behaviors, such as searching for a husband by attributing mental states such as loneliness to them), and, that like Phlogiston theory, folk psychology will eventually be replaced with some neurophysiological theory. Thus, they say, the various mental terms of folk psychology fail to refer to anything and should be eliminated. Some eliminative materialists apply this view to all mental states (including sensations, such as pain) while others limit it to propositional states, such as beliefs and thoughts.
Eliminative materialism has garnered only limited acceptance. First, it inappropriately treats dualism as primarily a theory, which it is not (much less a replaceable one); rather, dualism is a descriptive report of the mental self and the mental states with which one is acquainted through introspection. Second, it simply seems implausible to say that no one ever actually has a sensation or belief. Third, some argue that in effect, eliminative materialism is self-refuting in that it advocates the belief that there are no such things as beliefs.
Some eliminative materialists have sought to avoid the self-refutation charge via verbal gymnastics. While admitting their view does in fact reject the existence of beliefs, they argue it allows for a physical replacement that plays the same role as beliefs, and that the theory advocates this replacement. However, many critics remain skeptical of this response on the grounds that if an entity is found that actually plays the same role as a belief, it will simply be a belief by another name. If it plays a different role, then self-refutation may be avoided only at the expense of proffering an inadequate revisionism.
An emerging supervenient position views mental properties as distinctively new kinds of properties that in no way characterize the subvenient physical base on which they depend. So understood, supervenience is actually a form of property dualism. Structural supervenience views mental properties as structural properties entirely constituted by the properties, relations, parts, and events at the subvenient level. Functionalism is currently the most popular version of structural supervenience.
Supervenient physicalism alone is not a distinct viewpoint. It fails to capture property dependence (the dependence of mental properties on physical ones) and, instead, only expresses covariance between mental and physical properties. In this respect, it is consistent with substance dualism, type physicalism, and epiphenomenalism. In fact, it allows for cases where A supervenes B, yet B in some sense depends on A. Personhood supervenes being human, but arguably, this genus/species relation depends ontologically on its genera for existence and identity.
In order for supervenience to express the dependence of mental properties on physical properties and, thus, to be adequate for at least minimal physicalism, it must be supplemented with two further principles:
- The anti-Cartesian principle: There can be no purely mental beings (e.g., substantial human souls) because nothing can have a mental property without having a physical property as well.
- The principle of mind-body dependence: Whatever mental properties an entity has depend on and are determined by its physical properties.
By employing arguments already given in Part 1 of this series, property and substance dualists will reject both principles (1) and (2). Moreover, since the anti-Cartesian principle is strictly a metaphysical thesis, no scientific evidence justifies it, so the authority of science cannot be claimed on its behalf. Regarding the principle of mind-body dependence, some scientific evidence does exist for the dependency expressed; however, scientific evidence also exists showing that mental states causally affect brain states. In any case, substance dualist arguments presented in Part 1 (e.g., the modal argument and the argument from libertarian freedom) provide counterexamples to the principle of mind-body dependence.
In sum, philosophical naturalism supports physicalism; science does not. And while the mind/body issues addressed in this series have been presented in a brief form, some solid philosophical grounds for rejecting physicalism and for accepting property and substance dualism have been established.
Megan turned away from physicalist thinking when she turned her attention to spiritual matters. When she embraced the truth claims of Jesus Christ she began contemplating more deeply the body and soul issues. Through introspection and Bible study, she gained insight into both their distinctions and connectedness. Megan began to recognize herself as an individual of inestimable worth¾much more than just a body—a soul designed in the image of God.
Understanding the implications of substance dualism, even though she was unfamiliar with the exact terms, added value to her existence and reason to safeguard her soul against the damage inflicted by an "if it feels good, do it" approach to life. The understanding that she's not just a body set Megan's spirit free and gives her hope that others might discover the same freedom.
- Nancey Murphy, "Human Nature: Historical, Scientific, and Religious Issues," in Warren S. Brown, Nancey Murphy, and H. Newton Malony, Whatever Happened to the Soul? (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998), 17. Cf. 13, 27, 139-43.
- See Richard Swinburne, The Evolution of the Soul, rev. ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), 11-16; Alvin Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function (NY: Oxford University Press, 1993), 65-77.
- Type identity physicalists affirm property reduction, token physicalists avoid it, and others simply eliminate it.
- Saul Kripke, Naming and Necessity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1972), 148-55.
- Dualism: In metaphysics, the view that some reality consists of two fundamentally different entities (e.g., mental and physical).
- Eliminative materialism: The view that mental terms referring to thoughts and beliefs are like the term "phlogiston," namely that they don't refer to anything real and therefore may be eliminated.
- Epiphenomenalism: The view that mental states are caused by brain states but do not themselves cause anything.
- Functionalism: The view that types of mental states such as being in pain can be characterized totally in terms of their role in behavior.
- Mental holism: The view that a particular mental state gets its identity from its entire set of relations to all the other mental states in one's life.
- Methodological naturalism: The view that science can only seek natural explanations for phenomena.
- Physicalism: The view that human beings are simply material objects.
- Property dualism: The view that ostensibly mental properties are genuinely mental and not physical properties.
- Substance dualism: The view that a human consists of an immaterial substantial soul and a physical body that is not identical to the soul.
- Subvenient: A property, for example being a wavelength, on which an emergent property, for example being a color, depends.
- Supervenient physicalism: The view that mental states are emergent properties that depend on the brain.
By Tani Trost
When Leslie Wickman focuses her time and energy, amazing things happen. The 900-foot long fountain at the Bellagio resort in Las Vegas shoots water 250 feet straight up in the air. A university science center helps students, faculty, and the community understand how science and the Christian faith fit together. And, American astronauts will wear better spacesuits.
Thriving on adventure, Dr. Wickman's exploits take her places most people don't even dream about––bungee jumping off a bridge in New Zealand, kayaking the waters of Alaska, and lecturing at the International Space University in France. Her love for discovering the unknown has taken Wickman not only around the world, but also above the world. Strong, intelligent, and resilient, Wickman became one of the first women astronauts-in-training while working at Lockheed Martin in Northern California. With a twinkle in her eyes, she relates stories of reduced gravity—even weightlessness—in the KC-135 research aircraft.
An interest in international relations and arms control negotiations earned Wickman a bachelor's degree in political science at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. Her passion for science soon propelled Wickman on to Stanford where she earned a master's degree in aero/astro engineering and a doctorate in human factors and biomechanics.
FfF: I understand you were raised in Oregon and Washington. Did you grow up in a city or in a rural area?
LW: We lived in a very rural area about sixty twisting two-lane miles away from the nearest doctor, hospital, or movie theatre. School was seven miles away. In fact, my grade school class only had about seventeen kids in it. My family lived right on the beach, so we'd hear the waves at night while going to sleep. In the daytime we played on the beach and made forts in the forest on the other side of our house. My dad also kept a telescope, so my family used to look at the stars and the planets. That probably sparked my early interest in astronomy and space.
FfF: Did you have a sense back then that someone must have created the universe—making all this beauty and wonder?
LW: Because I was raised in a Christian home, we all had an underlying faith in God as the Creator of everything. My dad, an engineer, was very analytical. He had a strong interest in math and science and certainly encouraged that interest in my brothers and me. And when we looked at the stars and the planets it was always with the understanding that God was their Creator.
However, I was taught something quite different in the public schools. I was forced to learn what the teachers taught about naturalistic processes so that I could pass the tests. All the while, I still believed that God was the Creator—yet I didn't really know how to integrate the two. How could the theories of origins being taught integrate with my belief in God? So in a sense I compartmentalized my faith and my belief in God as the Creator apart from theories that I didn't know what to make of. Not until much later in life did I see how my faith and science could fit together.
FfF: How did you discover that science and faith do fit together?
LW: Several years ago someone handed me Hugh Ross's book, The Fingerprint of God. It was like taking a deep breath of fresh air. I could finally see a way to look at what we're learning about the universe through science that doesn't contradict Scripture.
FfF: Is that when you first heard about Reasons To Believe?
LW: I think I first learned of Reasons To Believe at a science and theology conference held by my predecessor at the Center for Research in Science—CRIS—at Azusa Pacific University. Dr. Ross spoke at that conference a couple of years ago.
FfF: Tell us about CRIS.
LW: CRIS is a community of scholars that emerged in the fall of 1998 as an academic unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Azusa Pacific University (APU). CRIS has a three-fold mission. One purpose is to strengthen the science education experience for students at APU. Another is to bring new scientific research programs onto campus for both the students and faculty. And the third is to stimulate dialogue connecting science and theology—to get people thinking about the questions of how science can be integrated with their personal faith.
FfF: How much have the students responded?
LW: Student involvement seems to be growing. We've had a number of science-and-theology discussion groups on campus, and attendance has varied depending on the topic and how well it got publicized. But in general, I think there's an upward trend. At the start of each semester I talk about CRIS and its mission to the classes I teach. This effort has brought us at least one student intern. And I've had different people volunteer or seek employment at the center because of their interest in what we're doing.
Faculty members promote the different activities in class and encourage students to come. Sometimes we offer extra credit. CRIS also maintains a Web site [www.apu.edu/cris] and office space on the campus where students can volunteer to work.
FfF: Are your lectures open to the public?
LW: CRIS offers science-and-theology discussion groups or seminars almost every month. We open these free monthly seminars to the public. Most of the faculty, at least in the sciences, are aware of CRIS, and we've got a growing profile. When Dr. Fazale Rana came from Reasons To Believe to lecture on "Ethics in Biotechnology," we had a good turnout, and a number of interested people from the community attended.
FfF: How can organizations like CRIS and Reasons To Believe help motivate young people to become astronomers and physicists?
LW: As educators break down the perceived barriers between science and theology, more students will realize they can hold a consistent, integrated worldview if they work in the sciences. I think many of them have felt, like I did, that they had to compartmentalize what they learned through science, keeping it apart from their faith. That kind of separation makes a person feel a little schizoid. If you can't have an integrated worldview or a cohesive thought process, being dedicated is hard. A passionate pursuit of science would be difficult if you perceived that pursuit as conflicting with your core beliefs.
Educators can help people understand that learning more about nature through science can inform our faith. And, the more we learn the truth about God, the more our science can be informed. Those two avenues work together to give a full understanding of the bigger picture of truth. Truth can't contradict truth. The more young people can be shown how those two avenues help provide a fuller picture of truth, the more they will feel free to pursue science with wholeheartedness.
FfF: Believing as passionately as you do, what do you personally hope to accomplish as director of CRIS?
LW: CRIS has a grassroots level of influence with the students. I'd like to see them gain a basic understanding of how science supports their faith. And, at APU in particular, we develop many future schoolteachers. I'd love to see a class on campus designed to help these students learn how to present science in such a way that, at the very least, it doesn't conflict with a person's faith in God. At the best, the students would learn to teach how science supports a person's faith. Obviously, different approaches must be taken for students going on to teach at public schools rather than Christian schools. I would love to see coursework developed in that area. If APU could develop something like that and ultimately share such a curriculum with other schools—that would be a fantastic service.
FfF: Have you been invited to speak on other university campuses?
LW: I've spoken on technical subjects at other schools, such as various aspects of the space program or human factors and biomechanics. When I was in astronaut training at Lockheed, I spoke at schools occasionally about my own experiences. I sometimes talked about my faith as well, and how Earth is located in the perfect spot in the solar system to support life and was designed expressly for that purpose. But I certainly hope to get more opportunities to speak at other schools on matters of faith and science.
FfF: And hopefully if things begin to really take off, other universities will take note and say, "Wow, we need to have a center like CRIS on our campus."
LW: Yes, exactly. One of the other visions I pursue is development of a science and technology center with a Christian worldview. Something along the lines of a Christian exploratorium––a place designed with all kinds of interactive science and technology exhibits tied in with faith. This would include research experiments in all the major areas of science. I would love to see a center like that established, because to my knowledge there isn't anything like it. There are many different science and technology museums, but none that I know of with a credible approach to science from a biblical worldview.
FfF: I'm kind of curious, and maybe we've alluded to this, but what do you think about using science apologetics to reach people with the gospel?
LW: I think science can be used as a tool to knock down obstacles to a person's faith. People often feel like they've got intellectual barriers to hurdle because of the way science has been presented to them in the past. This can hinder someone from even considering faith in Christ. Science apologetics definitely serves as a device to knock down those obstacles. Specific facts can be used as a way of planting seeds. Give people something to think about and ponder and eventually that seed may take root and grow into faith.
FfF: Considering the God of the universe––and the wonders we see all around us—how can we give proper credit for all of the fine-tuning and beauty?
LW: The deeper a person digs into the nature of the universe and creation, the more evidence he or she sees for the complexity and design. We begin to realize how statistically improbable it is that all these things came together by chance. That to me is one of the most convincing arguments: the improbability of all these different things coming together just right in order to support life.
FfF: What would you say to encourage people, especially students, to get involved in science?
LW: The more we discover about the world around us, the more we discover about who God is––about the Person, the entity who created all of this. And the more we learn about how He created, the more we can appreciate who God is––how awesome He is, how careful He is, and, how caring He is toward humankind. So much that He designed things precisely in order that all things could work together to support us and be good for us. I would try to encourage people to study science––to study nature through science––as a way to learn more about God.
Twelve years at Lockheed Martin in California, working on various NASA projects, the Hubble Space Telescope program, and the International Space Station; researched space suit design with NASA for planetary exploration; received astronaut training to support different tests, data acquisition, and development of hardware in order to design spacecraft, tools, and interfaces for astronauts working in space; underwent scuba training to support the neutral buoyancy simulations of the various activities done in space by astronauts, such as interacting with the telescope or space station; logged over 100 hours of time in the shuttle spacesuit working under water; received further astronaut training as a potential industrial astronaut candidate:
Lockheed Martin put me through the astronaut training initially to support the design process for spacecraft and interfaces. But as time went on they realized there was another opportunity to actually fly me as an astronaut with one of the payloads. They started to talk to some of the decision makers at NASA about the possibility of sending me up with, for example, the telescope or on one of the space station missions. And then the Challenger accident happened . . . which basically shut down the possibility for any private citizens or non-NASA personnel to fly in space for a while.
Director of technology development and head of research and development at WET Design in Universal City, California, developing various hardware and software elements for the 900-foot fountain in front of the Bellagio resort:
During 1998 I spent a good part of my summer sitting on the sidewalk in front of the fountain on the strip in Las Vegas programming and developing a computer simulation for it. The air temperature was usually about 120 degrees and sometimes I was tempted to just jump in the water!
The Apollo 13 movie showed a weightless Tom Hanks floating about on the spacecraft. Dr. Wickman trained on the same plane that was used in the film and shared her astronaut training experience with Facts for Faith.
LW: While at Lockheed Martin I participated in reduced-gravity simulations both for weightlessness and for partial gravity on the KC-135 research aircraft, affectionately termed "The Vomit Comet." There's a good reason it's called that—because at least the first time most people go on it, they get motion sickness. The aircraft basically flies a series of parabolic trajectories—which means you're flying along straight and level and then the aircraft does a radical climb, pulling about 2 G's as it enters the beginning of the parabola. Then as the plane goes over the top of the parabola, where the centrifugal force away from the center of the arc offsets gravity, you become essentially weightless for about 20 seconds inside the plane. The plane pulls another 2 G's coming out of the parabola, and goes straight and level for a few seconds until the next one starts. So you're going through this series of parabolas, changing G-levels all the time, for 10 or 15 in a row. Then the pilots turn around and do another 10 or 15. A whole flight consists of anywhere from about 25-40 parabolas.
FfF: Wow, that sounds like a space roller coaster! What actually triggers the nausea?
LW: During the exercise you're inside the fuselage of the plane––up in the clouds essentially––so you have no visual reference at all as to what the plane's doing. All you see is the inside of the fuselage, while your body experiences these changing G-levels. Motion sickness occurs when you have a conflict between the different physiological cues that your body gives. The problem might be differences between visual and inner ear cues, like when a person gets carsick, or confusion with the sensors in your muscles that tell the brain where your body limbs are located and how much force they are encountering. If the various cues you sense from your external world are in conflict with your internal references, your body perceives a problem. You throw up because your brain deduces from these conflicting cues that you must have been poisoned. So your body reacts by trying to get rid of the poison.
FfF: Did you get sick?
LW: When I went on it the first time, I didn't think I'd get sick because I'm used to doing all kinds of crazy things, like skydiving, parachuting, surfing, riding roller coasters, and so on. The instructors told me when I first got on that I should just sit still for the first few parabolas and get adapted. So I sat through the first one in the back of the plane and thought, "Okay, I'm going to be fine." Then I got up and started doing somersaults and playing games during the weightless periods.
After about 12 parabolas I started feeling kind of queasy and decided I'd better go to the back of the plane and sit down. Before taking off they always stuff all the pockets of your flight suit full of plastic "barf bags." A few parabolas later I desperately needed those bags. And the pilots don't turn around and go home just because they've got a sick person in the back. They keep going through the parabolas. Once you've gotten sick it starts to become like Pavlov's experiment with the dog. They turn on these bright photographic lights for the video data tapes right before you're going into the weightless part of the parabola. About once every 30 seconds the lights come on and you think, "Oh great! Here we go again."
FFF: Did these tests dampen your desire to be an astronaut?
LW: Nothing about training dissuaded me from wanting to fly in space. Besides, no direct correlation has been found between the people who get sick on the KC-135 and the people who get sick in space. With the KC-135 you're constantly cycling between different gravity levels, whereas in space you're basically in microgravity the whole time, aside from the launch and re-entry. I think probably the least attractive aspect of being in space is the confinement to a small pressurized vehicle for a long period of time. I was involved in extravehicular activity, which meant putting a spacesuit on and working outside the vehicle. But going outside in space is a lot different from going outside on Earth.
FfF: Did you consider training for a long trip?
LW: For me, a short mission would be a lot more appealing than a long one. A Mars mission isn't as inviting to me as something closer to home, like going to the Moon or to a space station. Right now, the shortest possible trip to Mars and back is about 27 months. And that's just travel time. Once there, and having gone all that way, you'd need to spend a significant amount of time on the surface of the planet to make the trip worthwhile. The shortest round-trip mission that anybody's considering would take about three years. That's a long time not to be able to go outside and play!
Current Consulting Projects
Fighter pilot proficiency studies at RAND
NASA projects for the next-generation reusable launch vehicle (essentially the next-generation spaceshuttle); spacesuit design for extravehicular work.
Crew interfaces and training procedures for Cargo Lifter, a company headquartered in Germany that is developing a huge blimp for intercontinental cargo transport.
This blimp will be immense—about 900 feet long by 250 feet high—that's three football fields long. It is being designed to carry about sixteen tons of cargo over about a 10,000 kilometer range.
"I bungee jumped in New Zealand off a little suspension bridge that was big enough for a water pipe to go across. The bridge was more than 200 feet above the river. At the time I did it, in 1996, it was the highest place in the world that a person could bungee jump. And it was the scariest thing I've ever done in my life!"
The Hidden Face of God: How Science Reveals the Ultimate Truth. By Gerald L. Schroeder. New York: The Free Press, 2001. 224 pages. Hardcover; $26.00.
Reviewed by Fazale R. Rana.
An underlying wisdom and unity pervade the universe, life, and the human mind. Scientists exposed this discovery in their quest to uncover the ultimate nature of reality. Such a discovery, asserts Gerald Schroeder in The Hidden Face of God, makes a powerful case for faith in God.
Schroeder, widely known for integrating science and religion, authored two other popular books on this topic, Genesis and The Big Bang and The Science of God. Educated at MIT, Schroeder conducted research in physics and biology in Israel at the Weizmann Institute of Science, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the Volcani Center.
In an effort to establish the metaphysical source of physical reality, Schroeder starts The Hidden Face of God with physics and proceeds through cellular chemistry to neuroscience. The mind-brain problem, which seeks to determine if the mind is merely physical or also metaphysical, encompasses more than half of the book. After pointing out the unity of purpose shared by both science and religion, he argues that big bang cosmology demonstrates the universe's metaphysical beginnings. Schroeder then turns his attention to the subatomic realm. Modern physics shows that particles of matter are in reality energy, and that wave functions—an expression of information—describe energy, an ephemeral characteristic of the universe. Thus, Schroeder concludes, matter in its essence is metaphysical.
From physics, Schroeder transitions to living systems, first focusing on the chemical workings of the cell. Again he points out that as scientists gain access to life's fundamental systems, they not only uncover mind-boggling complexity, but a complexity undergirded by wisdom. He then describes human reproduction, marveling at the complexity and wisdom that permeate fertilization and embryonic development.
Schroeder then turns his attention to the mind-brain problem, making the case that the human mind represents the ultimate expression of complexity, wisdom, and the metaphysical. Over the course of five chapters, he interweaves brief discussions about the mathematical improbability of producing even a single nerve cell, let alone the brain's structures. He departs for interludes to chide the scientific community for its antimetaphysical bias in studying the mind-brain problem.
Schroeder makes The Hidden Face of God accessible to a nontechnical audience. Unfortunately, this appeal to a broad audience sacrifices the full impact of his argument. He treats cellular chemistry and the mind-brain problem too superficially. At times, it seems as though his case for the metaphysical rests on a simplistic awe of cellular complexity. This approach only convinces the converted and makes skeptics laugh. While the argument extends beyond this superficial approach, the reader gains only brief glimpses of a deeper case for the wisdom observable in life processes. The argument that information and wisdom form the basis of the chemical processes occurring inside the cell serves as a case in point.
After describing the vast complexity and remarkable systems found inside the cell, Schroeder stops abruptly short of the climax—the discovery that cellular chemical systems are information systems. This important, albeit technical, discussion should be the culminating argument for the metaphysical basis of cellular processes. However, the information is relegated to the appendix, presumably to spare the reader from extensive technical details.
In spite of this weakness, Schroeder's approach, with some added rigor, holds potential apologetic use. Unfortunately, Schroeder's theological perspective—one strongly influenced by the kabala (a form of Jewish mysticism)—prevents The Hidden Face of God from being useful as a Christian apologetic resource. From Schroeder's perspective, just as scientists discover the metaphysical by deeply probing the natural realm, kabalists seek God's hidden face by peeling back layers of hidden meaning in the biblical text. Instead of demonstrating harmony between the Bible and science based on sound and rigorous interpretative methodology, Schroeder makes the integration of science and religion a mystical enterprise.
The kabala also influences Schroeder's responses to evil and imperfections in nature. He explains imperfect designs by arguing that the Jewish Creator, as seen by kabalists, doesn't know the future and lacks omnipotence. According to Schroeder, God "feels" his way along as He interacts with nature and mankind. He views God as capable of producing complex, but not perfect, designs. According to the kabala, after God creates, He retreats from creation and remains hidden from all of mankind except for those who achieve righteousness. Those who lack righteousness also lack God's guidance and thus experience the randomness of the universe that leads to evil and suffering.
The Hidden Face of God highlights a growing challenge for Christian apologetics. As the failure of materialism becomes more apparent, an increasing number of scientists will espouse metaphysical views of nature. Non-Christian theistic and deistic alternatives will surely emerge. Christian apologists must be careful not to regard materialism as such a threat that any enemy of materialism becomes their friend. In the end, this association sends a confusing message that compromises the effort to reach people with the gospel of Christ. Such is the case with The Hidden Face of God.
Christian apologists will find much to agree with in this book. However, the theology espoused by Schroeder is cause for Christian apologists to distance themselves from this work. Serious Christian apologists who want to be aware of Schroeder's work because of his influence and popularity, or those with interest in the relationship between science and alternative philosophies, will appreciate The Hidden Face of God.
Darwin's God: Evolution and the Problem of Evil. By Cornelius G. Hunter. Grand Rapids: Baker – Brazos Press, 2001. 192 pages. Hardcover.
Reviewed by Robert M. Bowman, Jr.
According to the conventional wisdom, creation is religion while evolution is science. In Darwin's God, Cornelius G. Hunter delivers a fresh critique of this common assumption. Hunter shows that religious concerns lay at the root of Darwin's case for evolution and that they drive the scientific arguments for evolution even to this day.
Hunter challenges many conventional thoughts about evolution on both sides of the debate. Creationists often argue that evolution presupposes the nonexistence of God, while evolutionists commonly claim to be convinced of evolution independent of any religious presuppositions. According to Hunter, neither claim is true: "Evolution is neither atheism in disguise nor merely science at work" (p. 8). Rather, the theory of evolution formulated by Charles Darwin in his 1859 book, Origin of Species, presupposed a specific concept of God that was common in Victorian society.
As the book's subtitle indicates, Darwin's theory of evolution was actually devised as a solution to the problem of evil. The crux of his argument was that life in the real world is not the pretty or pleasant existence a good God would make it. Darwin could not persuade himself that God intended "that the cat should play with mice" (p. 12). Modern thinkers from Milton to Leibniz resolved the problem of moral evil—the bad things that humans do—by distancing God from human events: God made human beings autonomous and cannot be blamed for their imperfections. Darwin resolved the problem of natural evil—the "bad" things that occur in nature—by distancing God from natural events: God made nature autonomous and cannot be blamed for its imperfections. In this way, Darwin defended God's goodness at the cost of denying His sovereignty.
The seemingly neutral argument of Darwin's Origin of Species, then, turns out to depend on metaphysical, religious presuppositions. Hunter shows that the main evidences for evolution depend on the assumption that if God had created living things directly He would not have made them the way they are. In three chapters, Hunter summarizes the purported evidence for evolution from comparative anatomy, observable small-scale changes in living things, and the fossil record. Along the way he points out various problems with the evidence and exposes the metaphysical arguments underlying the scientific considerations. For example, he quotes evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould as saying, "Odd arrangements and funny solutions are the proof of evolution—paths that a sensible God would never tread but that a natural process, constrained by history, follows perforce" (p. 48). In this same vein, Darwin once joked that he found it hard to believe that "the shape of my nose was designed" (p. 63). In a later chapter, Hunter explains that "nature's failure to fulfill our ideals and expectations was considered clear proof of evolution. All birds should fly, but since some don't, there must be a crude law of nature rather than a Creator behind such incompetence" (p. 105).
To a great extent, then, Darwin's theory of evolution was prompted by the inadequacies of creationism as understood in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Having proved that species are not the immutable, optimally designed creatures that creationists purported them to be, Darwin concluded that creationism was false. Hunter writes: "Evolution is supported by the premise that God must make species absolutely fixed—beaks must not get longer and coloration must not change. And since beaks do get longer and coloration does change, we know that God must not have created them" (p. 64). In Darwin's day, creationists assumed that God would never allow any species to become extinct. The revelations of extinct species in the fossil record seemed, therefore, to disprove creation.
Darwin's God, while provocative and insightful, is lacking in one respect. Again and again Hunter makes the crucial point that Darwin's theory of evolution was an attempt to explain how God could have created a world with suffering and death. Darwin's explanation is ultimately at odds with the biblical view of God as Creator and providential Caretaker of His world. Unfortunately, Hunter does not clearly offer an alternative. Granted that Darwin's solution to the problem of natural evil is biblically unacceptable, Christians need to offer a fully developed, positive alternative that is both biblically sound and scientifically credible.
Nonetheless, what Hunter reveals in Darwin's God is extremely valuable. By exposing the religious roots of evolution, Hunter sheds new light on the debate about the relationship between science and religion.
Robert M. Bowman, Jr. is president of the Institute for the Development of Evangelical Apologetics (IDEA), in Pasadena, California. Mr. Bowman is co-author with Kenneth D. Boa of Faith Has Its Reasons: An Integrative Approach to Defending Christianity (NavPress, 2001).