Summarizing the Data

(6 of 11 in a series)

It is time to analyze our collected observations.  Let’s review our “data” to this point.  Observation one:  The incredibly complex and orderly universe we inhabit implies a creator.  Observation two:  Man has a desire for a relationship with a supreme being.  Observation three:  Man has an innate bent toward moral and artistic beauty.  Observation four:  Man has an incredible capacity for cruelty.

In fitting these “data” into a religion, belief system, or philosophy, I believe that the most thorough and reasonable explanation for these observations is found in the message of Christianity.  But in order to make this connection, we must set aside any preconceived notions or caricatures of what is meant by the word “Christian”.  In this blog, the Christian message has no political agenda.  It has no social agenda.  It has no theological agenda.

The Christian message that fits the reality of our experience is the simple, unadulterated message of truth as explained in Christianity’s holy book, the Bible.  In a world of political wrangling, consumerism, and mixed messages, we can easily forget that the Christian message, at its heart, is a gospel meaning a message of “good news” for all people everywhere.  It is a message of truth, goodness, and beauty.

How does the Christian message explain the reality we observe?  Let’s take them one at a time.  Observation one:  The incredibly complex and orderly universe we inhabit implies a creator.  The Christian explanation is found in the first chapter of the Bible.  “God created the heavens and the earth.”  The Bible goes on to explain the creation of the natural world, our planet, our place among the stars, our sun and moon, the plants and animals, and of course God’s crowning creation, man and woman.

Observation two:  Man has a desire for a relationship with a supreme being.  Again, the Bible offers that God, the creator, is the God we desire.  God has placed “eternity in our hearts” to quote the Scriptures.  We know someone is out there.  And we desire a relationship with Him.  We were created for relationship.  Think for a minute about the father-child relationship.  One of the anomalies of psychology is the difficulty explaining why we have such a strong desire for a relationship with our earthly fathers even when they treat us poorly or are mostly absent from our lives.  Could this be a picture of our desire to relate to our Heavenly Father?

Observation three:  Man has an innate bent toward moral and artistic beauty.  Man’s appreciation of beauty and our worth as individuals derives from another of the Bible’s teachings; our creation in God’s image.  We demonstrate that we carry God’s image when we act in ways that are morally beautiful.  The Bible teaches that God is morally perfect and when we act in beautiful ways towards our fellow man, we, the image bearers, are imitating our creator.

Observation four:  Man has an incredible capacity for cruelty.  Our God-image has been corrupted by sin.  Hence, we no longer operate only in the beauty of our creator.  Instead, we operate in cruel ways that even we have a hard time understanding.  Much has been made about the discovery of an “adultery gene” or other ways in which our sin is somehow genetically predetermined and beyond our control.  Some see this as letting people off the hook for their deviant behavior.  I see it as a confirmation of what God said a long time ago.  We all have plenty of “sin genes”.  It is part and parcel of us being human.

Capacity for Cruelty

(5 of 11 in a series)

When we observe acts of violence that illustrate the moral depravity of our nature, we often react with comments such as “that’s inhuman!”  Unfortunately, man’s inhumanity to man is all too human and is, in fact, an unchangeable condition of man being man.  One of the surprising observations at the Nazi war crimes trials was that the perpetrators of the Holocaust appeared to be normal.  The scary part is that for the most part they were.  Man’s capacity for cruelty is observation number four.

Man is sick and we know it.  From the evening news to the thoughts and intents of our own hearts, we know something is wrong.  What can explain the massacre, some years ago, of Albanians in Kosovo including a toddler with his pacifier still clipped to his winter coat?  I fell to my face and cried at the Newsweek photo.  Something is not right.  What can explain this moral disease?

And this juxtaposition of beauty and cruelty seen across the human race also exists in us, one man and one woman at a time.  Think about this with me.  I find this one of the most fascinating observations about the human condition.

There is one man that I know better than any other and when I look at him, I observe this same dichotomy between beauty and cruelty.  That man, of course, is myself.  I have seen in my own life the positive imprint of a moral code in my desire to be loyal to my wife and children and to set aside my own ambitions for the greater good of others.  However, even in the midst of these laudable goals, I have found myself bullying my family, wishing ill will on competitive co-workers, and practicing contempt for people I don’t particularly like.

Some time ago, my wife was confiding in me some of the challenges she faced in organizing the Stanford Achievement Testing for over one hundred grade school students while at the same time managing her other full time duties.  Being the servant-husband that I am, I offered to help in any way possible.  For the next two hours, Rhonda sat at the computer organizing forms, instructions, etc.  At the same time, looking over her shoulder, I offered my “help” by way of questioning – without any basis of knowledge – everything she was doing as either unnecessary or inefficient.  In a testimony to her patience, she put up with my critical chatter until I came to my senses and realized my incredible demeaning and condescending attitude.  I went to bed (probably on the couch) wondering how I could have been so rude at the very time I was trying to be a help.  Why does my corrupt side, at times, rise up to control my actions?

So when I look into my own heart, I see the same two aspects of man’s nature that I see in the world at large.  We have an innate capacity for true heroism and beauty (observation three) juxtaposed with an incredible capacity for cruelty and harm (observation four).

Artistic and Moral Beauty

(4 of 11 in a series)

When we turn our calculating scientist’s eye on ourselves, we capture observation number three.  Man has an incredible capacity for beauty.  Both in our ability to reflect on beauty and our ability to act in ways that are morally beautiful.

In the first instance, reflecting on beauty, who has not marveled at an incredible sunset or the majestic peaks of a snow-covered mountain range?  In the beauty of the natural world as well as in the work of the artist and musician, collective man does not respond with a shrug and a “whatever”.  Instead, we purchase tickets to the concert or play.  We buy pieces of art that inspire us.  We photograph nature, people, and action.  We celebrate beauty in all its forms.  This capacity completely separates us from the animal world.  What causes us, the human race, to act this way?

In the second instance, our ability to act in ways that are morally beautiful is another hallmark of being human.  Man has a moral code.  Despite centuries of ebb and flow of philosophy and human history, man has not been able to shake this sense of right and wrong that resides inside him.  Even in the midst of a world full of tragedy and disappointment (as we will soon explore), acts of moral beauty surround us.  From well known acts of heroism, courage, and mercy in times of war, famine, and disease to the smallest act of tucking our child into bed at night with an “I love you”, we have a sense of the right thing to do.  Where did this sense of right and wrong come from?  Who put in our hearts what we intrinsically know about being faithful to our wives, or teaching our children not to steal, and the idea that altruism is morally superior to selfishness?

Despite this capacity for beauty, we know that all is not well with the world.  In fact, in one of the most paradoxical observations about man, his incredible capacity for beauty is equaled and sometimes trumped by his incredible capacity for cruelty.  Man’s ability to inflict pain on his fellow man would be almost incomprehensible were it not, sadly, so recognizable.  Man’s capacity for cruelty is observation number four which we will take up next time.

Our Search for God

(3 of 11 in a series)

A second observation about the world we live in is man’s ongoing desire for a relationship with a supreme being.  Man’s belief in a deity crosses all boundaries of culture, education, and time.  The most primitive society has some sense of a “most perfect being” as does the most educated elite.

In 1916, a survey of one thousand prominent American scientists revealed that 42% believed in a personal God.  While the public was appalled at the low percentage, the authors of the survey suggested that as scientific knowledge progressed through the twentieth century the number would soon approach zero.  That conclusion proved incorrect when the study was replicated in 1997 with a new group of science luminaries.  The percentage of “believers” was 39%, not much different then eighty-one years earlier.

Remember the prediction in 1916 was that the number of believing scientists would go down to zero in a direct correlation with an increase in scientific knowledge and discovery.  But the percentage remained roughly the same, a finding that surprised the authors of the new study.  But I doubt it surprised very many theologians.  No amount of education, or lack thereof, changes the fact that man senses something within himself that argues for the existence of God.

As an aside, many respondents to the 1997 survey decried the narrow line of questioning which followed the 1916 survey word for word equating belief with the Evangelical Christian view of God.  Many participants who answered “no” to the narrow line of questions indicated a belief in a supreme being in their written comments.  In essence, not only does the complex and orderly universe we inhabit suggest a creator, but deep inside our own psyche we sense the creator’s presence in our world.


Is Someone Out There?

(2 of 11 in a series)

Let’s start our journey of discovery with some observations about the world as we know it.  Our first observation is that we inhabit an extremely complex yet orderly universe.  Many explanations for why this is so have been offered ranging from intelligent design to supernatural creation to the unguided march of evolution.  The detailed analysis of competing theories of origins has been written about in many places.  For our purposes, I ask you to trust me with this simple observation.

Just as a wedding cake implies a baker and a watch implies a watchmaker, there is nothing in my geophysical training or practice that dissuades me from the straightforward conclusion that the incredibly complex and orderly world in which we dwell implies a creator.  Call this creator “intelligent design”, or a “first cause”, or the God of the Bible.  Allow this creator the flexibility of creating over long periods of geologic time or instantaneously.  Time is not the issue here.  The issue is who made us and the world we inhabit.  The existence of a creator based on observing his creation does not require any intellectual gymnastics or a leap of faith.  To this scientist, it appears the most reasonable explanation for why we are here.

Many scientists have reached the same conclusion.  Intelligent Design advocate, John Calvert writes, “…the values assigned to the four fundamental forces of the universe, its initial conditions and many other constants that dictate its structure appear to be finely tuned for life.  Thus, life itself appears to be a purpose of the universe.  Secondly, these values all appear to be arbitrary and not dictated by any known material or natural cause.  Thirdly, the combination of all the values being set by chance to precisely the settings necessary to achieve life is considered by many to be completely implausible.”

Dr. Francis Collins says basically the same thing from an evolutionary perspective in his best-seller The Language of God.  “Altogether there are fifteen physical constants whose values current theory is unable to predict.  They are givens:  they simply have the value they have.  This list includes the speed of light, the strength of the weak and strong nuclear forces, various parameters associated with electromagnetism, and the force of gravity.  The chance that all of these constants would take on the values necessary to result in a stable universe capable of complex life forms is almost infinitesimal.  And yet those are exactly the parameters that we observe.  In sum, our universe is wildly improbable.”  Dr. Collins goes on to conclude that, “It is not a long leap to suggest that the Creator might have established the parameters (physical constants, physical laws, and so on) in order to accomplish a particular goal.”  In Dr. Collins view, the Big Bang and subsequent evolution of life on earth require a creator.

Professor Simon Conway Morris of Cambridge University is the world’s leading authority on Convergent Evolution.  He writes in The Map of Life, “Inherency refers to the extent to which features of the evolving world were effectively pre-ordained at an earlier time.  This question obviously implies an indefinite regress: if not in terms of crystallin proteins, then perhaps back to amino acids and the genetic code, or even pre-biotic processes in interstellar clouds.  But if so, why stop there?  Maybe we need to go back to the exploding stars from which carbon and the other elements necessary for life were derived.  Or back to the actual process of nucleosynthesis.  And if that is not far enough back, then what about the Big Bang?  So precise are the initial conditions necessary to produce a habitable universe that it seems perfectly sensible to argue that the emergence of intelligence (which is convergent) was inevitable from the instant of the Big Bang.  That at least is one view, and convergence certainly argues for a far greater degree of determinism in the evolutionary process than has previously been acknowledged.”

I believe the question of the existence of a creator based on examining his creation can be safely answered in the positive.  We are focusing on the big picture here, not the details.  But the more penetrating question for us is, “Does this creator have a particular interest in us, the man he has created?”