Monday, July 30, 2007

Frustrating Read...

David Sloan Wilson makes some bold claims in the introduction to his book that actually got me excited to read this book on how evolution changes the way we think about everything. Wilson is a well-regarded evolutionist who has written many works on how evolutionary theory works outside its normal academic boundaries of biology, genetics, paleontology, zoology, etc. and really changes the way we see everything in life from relationships to purpose to global issues to life and death. Wilson comments in his heady introduction that this book is actually a summary of the material that he teaches in his introductory class on evolution at his university. With his usual faux-humility, Wilson boasts about the power of the theory of evolution (and mostly his work in the field of evolution) to explain every part of human existence. In the introduction, Wilson says that he can show how evolution and religion need not be enemies, but can actually peacefully coexist in a rational world. Wilson is obviously enthralled (and I would say blinded) by his own reasoning power as he sees the world through evolutionary-stained glasses.

Of course, what Wilson means when he talks about evolution and religion being friends (and this is what really irritated me in this read) is captured in a few chapters in this book where he summarizes his full-length book on the topic, Darwin's Cathedral. When Wilson talks about religion being compatible with evolution, he means religion when understood as a social construct, having evolved throughout time, without any reflection on the content of the religion's teaching. In other words, if you submit your religious belief's to evolutionary naturalistic philosophy, discard everything in your faith that smacks of supernaturalism, and write off your core beliefs as simply social cultural constructs that have evolved over time, then, yes, your religion can fit nicely within evolutionary theory. But what kind of emaciated religion is that? Not something I would want to give my life to.

Wilson's commitment to evolutionary doctrine is similar to my commitment to Christian doctrine. This book is another reminder that evolutionary theory (and scientific naturalism) is NOT just about science, but about what we believe about the universe, the people in it, and our purpose in the world. At a basic level, my reading in science, evolution, and creationism over the past few weeks has reminded me of one very important fact: what we believe really does matter. This may seem simple to you, but it is profound for me. If you follow Wilson's worldview and dismiss the imago dei and special creation and the supernatural and absolute truth all as social constructs built to give people meaning, you have not just changed out your doctrinal statement, you have changed everything about your life. In this one point, Wilson and I agree - what you believe in the origins debate does change the way we see our lives.

Maybe in another email, we'll flesh out what actually changes when our we dismiss the metanarrative of Scripture and adopt Wilson's (and Darwin's) metanarrative. You might be surprised how much changes.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

An Elegant Read

Since completing my undergrad in mechanical engineering at Baylor, I've continued to be interested by what physicists and scientists are discovering about the fabric of our universe. Brian Greene is a professor of math and physics at Columbia University and a leading proponent of superstring theory. Superstring theory is complicated, but basically is an attempt to make two seemingly opposed, but successful physical theories work together. The first of these two theories is general relativity, by which Einstein gave us the means by which gravity actually works in the cosmos. Both special relativity and general relativity showed that time was not stationary as thought before, but actually a dimension just like space, hence the wording space-time to speak about our 4-dimensional reality. The second great physics theory is quantum mechanics, which describes the way particles actually work at a microscopic level - very, very small. Basically, quantum mechanics shows that, as Greene puts it, there are some very strange things happening at a microscopic level, where location and speed cannot be simultaneously known. Both relativity and quantum mechanics have been shown to accurately predict with amazing accuracy what happens in the world around us, but as one works especially well on a large scale (relativity) and the other on a small scale (QM), physics have been working hard on a united theory of everything that could tie the two together. In this book, Greene makes the argument that superstring theory (also called M-theory) just might be the ultimate theory underlying everything else. The physics community has not all come to this conclusion, but Greene's book makes for fascinating reading.

He writes about very complicated mathematical models of the universe without getting in to the math behind them. Rather, he uses excellent analogies to help the reader understand the complicated ideas involved in the theory. His work requires some background in physics so that you're not completely lost, but you don't have to really know any math to get through it. Some of the most fascinating parts of the book are toward the end as Greene begins to unravel what superstring theory might mean for cosmological questions. The theory still proposes that the Big Bang occurred, but now because of the complexity involved with string theory (11-dimensions instead of 4), all kinds of other questions are being asked about pre-Big Bang and post-Big Bang physics.

All in all, I can't help but notice that the Elegant Universe that Greene describes testifies to an Elegant Creator - Greene forcefully makes the case that every nuclear force and principle of quantum mechanics and relativity seemed to be wired just right for life to exist. This just reinforces in my mind the ideas that the Apostle Paul makes in Romans 1 - that certain attributes of God can be seen in the creation - His eternal power and divine nature to be specific. When I read Greene's work, I see these attributes on every page. Is it my presupposition that God exists and that His Word is true that drives me to this conclusion? Possibly, but even if you come to the table with different presuppositions, you are ultimately asking the same questions and dealing with ultimate human issues. Notice Greene's thoughts towards the end of this book as he reflects on his research and cosmology:

However, maybe there is a limit to comprehensibility. Maybe we have to accept that after reaching the deepest possible level of understanding science can offer, there will nevertheless be aspects of the universe that remain unexplained. Maybe we will have to accept that certain features of the universe are the way they are because of happenstance, accident, or divine choice.

and...

We are all, each in our own way, seekers of the truth and we each long for an answer to why we are here.

Fascinating to me that a child prodigy in mathematics with his Ph.D. in physics from Oxford and his own institute for string theory & cosmology research would land on the last pages of his fine work back on the main philosophical questions that we all must wrestle with.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

great worship music

One the new albums I've enjoyed listening to the last month has been the new work by Steve Fee called "Burn For You". You can check out his website here at http://www.stevefee.com/. His best songs on the album have to be "Glorious One" and "Beautiful the Blood" - great stuff that really declares the worth of Jesus. Just thought I'd pass along the tip...

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Dad's B-day

My dad had his 56th birthday yesterday. My wife did a great write-up about dad on her blog yesterday, so you can check it out here. He is a really great papa.

And, wanted to point you toward a cool review of the last Harry Potter book that sees the many Christian themes in Rowling's books. You can read this review here.

I haven't read any of the Potter books, but I know that I will as the boys get older. For any of my readers who have read through them, you agree with this reviewer?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Darwin's Darkness

Interesting quote in today's mail from a regular letter I receive from Desiring God ministries. In making the point that we become what we behold, they used a fascinating quote from Charles Darwin's autobiography about his inability to enjoy beauty later in life. Check out these chilling words...

Up to the age of 30 or beyond it, poetry of many kids...gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare...Formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great, delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also almost lost any taste for pictures or music...I retain some taste for fine scenery, but it does not cause me the exquisite delight which it formerly did...My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding external laws out of large collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive...The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.

Could this be because we were made to dwell on more than just the natural?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Johnson vs. Pennock

Phillip Johnson has been well known in the ID - evolution debate over the last 16 years since his first major work attacking Darwinism (Darwin on Trial) came out in 1991. He also wrote a book on the philosophy of science (Reason in the Balance) where he spent last time talking about the evidence against Darwinism and more time on a naturalistic philosophy that he sees permeating many fields, from science to law to education. The short book to your left is kind of a Johnson for Dummies book where he summarizes his main philosophical issues with Darwinian science in about 120 pages. The read is good and Johnson is very articulate as always. Johnson's main point in all of his writings is to attack the naturalistic underpinnings of modern science (which have come into being since the mid 19th century). His argument against the circular reasoning of naturalistic philosophy goes something like this: science is defined as the study of naturalistic processes observable and testable in the world, and then anything that points to a super-natural explanation (such as evidence for a Creator) is automatically described as unscientific by definition (because it is not observable in a naturalistic process).

Many books have been written arguing against Johnson's naturalistic circular argument. The best that I've read is probably Robert Pennock's book called The Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism, where Pennock does a fair job of describing the differences inside the Creation camp between young-earth creationists, old-earth creationists, the ID crowd, and theistic evolutionists. His work outlines the holes in many of the tired creationist positions that we continue to use that have been discredited long ago (like the 2nd law of thermodynamics or the dinosaur footprints at Glenrose) by the scientific community. Overall, however, I find his defense of methodological naturalism unconvincing. Pennock's rationale goes something like this (against Johnson's thoughts above): because we can only observe and test naturalistic processes, any claims in science to defend super-natural intervention simply is a cop-out on doing real science. In other words, many scientists throughout time have stopped doing scientific research, thrown up their hands, and simply said, "God must have made it that way." In all of those cases, however, natural laws of physics and biology and chemistry were eventually able to explain the causes behind those events in naturalistic terms. Pennock's argumentation is that science and theology must stay in separate realms because they ask and answer different questions.

This is an extremely hard case to sell today as more and more scientists are using naturalistic Darwinian evolution as the framework to explain away the need for a supernatural Creator - see the recent smash hit by Richard Dawkins called The God Delusion. He (and his many atheistic evangelists) use scientific naturalism as a defense for their atheistic worldviews. (Side-note: you can read a great rebuttal of Christopher Hitchen's book HERE and a great rebuttal of Dawkin's philosophical arguments HERE) All that being said, Pennock's argument that science and theology play on different fields is simply false - they both have many things to say about each other. I'm running out of time here to develop this more fully, but I am convinced that the way we do science does impact our view of theology (such as Kenneth Miller's (evolutionary biologist at Brown University who is also a Catholic) view of a Deistic God who set it all up and got it going but allows it all to happen without Him now), AND our view of theology impacts the way we do science.

More later...

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Larson on Evolution

I just finished a great read on the history of evolutionary thought and science by Edward Larson. Larson won a Pulitzer Prize in history for his book Summer for the Gods which contains a detailed look at the Scopes monkey-trial from the 1920s. He is a fine historian and also an educated student of the history of science. His history of evolution starts pre-Darwin by expounding the main views of scientific creationism before Darwin released Origin of Species in the late 1850s. Larson gives a chapter to Darwin, but actually moves quickly from him to the time in between his original book and the neo-Darwinian synthesis now popular among scientists. Larson spends quite a few pages outlining the social responses to Darwinian evolution, from the eugenics movement (let's be active in promoting evolution by only letting the best reproduce and keeping the worst from reproducing) to the religious anti-evolution movements. These sections of his book are very fair, even though it is clear that Larson is a believer in evolutionary theory. As one inside the Christian movement, I appreciate Larson's fairness and clarity on the creation science response to evolutionary science.

This book is helpful one several fronts and is the major reason I encourage all Christians to pick up a copy. First, it helps to place our current discussions in the correct historical framework. What I mean by that is simply that we tend to repeat arguments from the past that have been discredited or we attack planks of evolutionary theory that are no longer even supported by scientists. In this way, being educated on the 150 years of development in evolutionary science helps us to be much smarter in our discussions about origins issues. Second, this book helps give you a beginning knowledge of evolutionary language, including the big ones that everyone knows - natural selection, random mutation, etc. - but also branching into areas that I knew very little about - genetics, breeding, microbiology, etc. Throughout, the book doesn't get overly bogged down in scientific lingo, but gives the reader the historical view of how the theory of evolution has changed. Finally, this book is helpful because it is recent and shows how evolutionary science is continuing to develop and change. In other words, while the scientific community has consensus that evolution has taken place, the definitions involved and mechanisms at play are always being discussed and reworked as biologists look closer at all the facts.

Overall, I'm not sold on the theory, but I'm also not as n\antagonistic as I was before because I now see that beyond the science, there are major philosophical forces at work. Throughout his book, Larson does a great job of helping the reader see the philosophical underpinnings of the scientists who moved the theory along. And by seeing this snapshot, we again see wide variety - from the atheistic naturalist (who believes there is not god and that everything has happened by random chance) to the deistic scientist (who believes God (or some higher power) set it all up and let it go and now remains hands off to the theistic position (which believes that God created everything from nothing, established natural law, sustains it, and continues to intervene within His system regularly). These are philosophical and theological questions, not scientific questions. Wherever you land on the issue of evolution, you still have to be honest enough to say that the scientific evidence in nature does not explain the ultimate issues related to origins and life after death. We have to either dismiss these issues as unknowable or rely on revelation. And I guess you know where I land on that.

Overall, great read - if you care about soundly intelligent on this issue, pick up a copy and get to work!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Websites on Origin Issues

If you're weird like me and you enjoy reading about science, history, and theology, you can dig in to some of the sites and books I'm exploring as I study on the origins debate. Of course, I am first and foremost a biblicist more than I am a scientist, so this influences the way I read the data. But, I try to be objective in the sense that I don't fear reading people who disagree with my positions. Reading widely only helps me to better understand the varying perspectives that are out there and the science, history, and people who have influenced worldwide thinking and epistemology (how we know what we know).

For starters, here are a few websites from a young-earth creationism perspective:
Answers in Genesis
Institute for Creation Research
The Creation Research Society

Here are a few websites that articulate an old-earth creationism perspective:
Reasons to Believe
God & Science
New Creationism

Here are some sites on Intelligent Design (non-committal on process, but believe evidence points to Intelligent Creator):
The Discovery Institute
Access Research Network
Intelligent Design Network
ID the Future Blog

Here are some sites on naturalistic Evolutionary theory:
Talk Origins
The Panda's Thumb
Understanding Evolution
National Center for Science Education
Talk Reason

This is enough to get a sense of the discussion, but the web is a terrible place to dig in deep on any one topic. I'll post tomorrow some of the books I'm looking through that touch on some of these same topics.



Tuesday, July 03, 2007

A Good Tired

I've been bad about posting lately, mostly because I've been so tired in the evenings when the kids get to bed and I generally like to read and blog in the evenings. This is not a sob story though about being too tired, but about a good tired. I really am having more fun and enjoying life more than I ever have. The church is getting ready to launch shortly, I am married to the greatest wife in the whole world, and my kids are becoming more awesome every day (if that were even possible). So, all in all, I've been good tired. I've still got many more quotes from my study-break reading that I hope to get to, but I've been slow about transferrring them to the blog.

On a personal note, I'm reading an interesting police memoir called Blue Blood and doing some personal study and reflection on creation/evolution and interpretation of Genesis issues. I'm not sure I've got the nerve to unload all that on the blog yet, but maybe some bits here or there as I study and read. I've done some work in this issue before, but trying to clarify my thinking again as I get ready to launch my first sermon series at the plant. We're kicking off the church with an eight-week series based on the Q8 questions that I listed earlier on the blog that we were working on at Pflugerville. And one of the questions that people are asking is, "Is the church opposed to science?" I've had two spiritual conversations in the last two weeks with people who had serious intellectual objections to Christianity because of the scientific issues. I'm working to clarify my thinking, if nothing else, because I want to speak more intelligently to a well-educated audience and lead them to embrace Jesus.

So, as usual, I'm just thinking on small things....;)