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?”

The Truth That Sets Us Free – A Geophysics Lesson

(1 of 11 in a series)

The author of this blog is a geophysicist.  Geophysicists study the physical properties of the geo, the earth, and make predictions about the composition, structure, and geologic attributes of the earth based on our observations.  With the entire earth (and beyond) as our “data set” to study, geophysicists are taught to think big picture.  Geophysicists are trained to develop both global and local theories based on sparse and sometimes conflicting data.

We measure.  We study.  We evaluate.  We postulate.  We theorize.  We do algebra in our heads.  And we test our theories against the facts.  The theories that hold up become principles and laws of nature.  In essence, it is the job of the geophysicist to discover the truth about the earth and its form that we cannot see through careful measurement and observation of what we can see.

Let me give you an example.  Have you ever thought that the continents of South America and Africa look like they fit together like pieces of a puzzle?  Well, maybe they do.  In the 1960’s, geophysicists discovered the “Mid-Atlantic Ridge”; a north-south trending ridge that bisects the Atlantic Ocean and based on magnetic measurements of the sea floor is thought to be a “spreading center” where new earth’s crust is being formed and “pushed out” such that South American and Africa were indeed being “pushed” apart.  At the same time, a new world-wide array of seismic monitors revealed that the Pacific Ocean is surrounded by a narrow band of active earthquake epicenters.

Putting these two ideas together, new crust being formed in the Atlantic and a narrow band of earthquakes around the Pacific, the theory of Plate Tectonics was born.  That is the idea that the earth is is like a giant, moving jigsaw puzzle with new crust being formed at “spreading centers” and being devoured in “subduction zones” along the margins of the continents where these earthquakes are occurring.  The east coast of Japan, home of last spring’s devastating earthquake is one example of these “subduction zones.”  Since its initial suggestion in the 1960’s, more spreading centers and subduction zones have been identified and many more geophysical observations have been taken that fit and confirm the Plate Tectonics model.

The story of the Plate Tectonics model fits the pattern of discovering truth about the world we can’t see from measurements of what we can observe.  Most geophysicists work on a much smaller scale such as identifying a single fault plane in the earth’s crust that serves as a focal point for a local set of earthquakes or finding subterranean geologic structures where oil and natural gas have accumulated.  Whatever the specifics of an individual practicing geophysicist’s job, the overarching task is always the same:  discovering truth about what we cannot see through observation of what we can.

Discovering truth through observation is what this next series of posts is about.  Can we take our scientific training and experience and our knack for observation and apply them to the broader questions of life?  Can we discover the truth that sets us free?

Keeping the Faith – A Wrap Up

For the past several months, we have been addressing the issues raised in Dr. Ruth Tucker’s book, Walking Away from Faith.  We started out by emphasizing the importance of love and humility in how we respond to our young people’s doubts and questions as they stand on the brink of leaving the faith.  And we explored these five broad reasons folks identify for walking away from faith:

  • Scientific and philosophical issues, particularly evolution and naturalism.
  • Biblical perplexities and higher criticism.
  • Disappointment with God regarding personal and wide-scale suffering.
  • Hypocrisy and lack of caring among leaders in the church.
  • Lifestyle and perspective, including homosexuality, feminism, secularism, and pluralism.

We worked our way through this list looking at biblical answers to these faith challenges, and at the risk of overly simplifying the answers, let me recap our discussion.  On point one [Oct 21, 2011 to Oct 28, 2011] we emphasized the unnecessary box we place our students in regarding the creation/evolution debate.  God is the author of all science and is not surprised or taken out of the picture by new discoveries, even in the field of old earth geology.  Does that mean God has nothing to say to us in Genesis chapter 1?  Heavens no!  Genesis 1 emphatically teaches that God created the world from nothing.  This point was very important to Moses’ audience at the time since they were surrounded by cultures that worshiped the creation – sun, moon, stars, animals, etc. – not the Creator God.

We continued through the list [Nov 1, 2011 to Nov 7, 2011] by showing that we often compound the challenge of biblical perplexities by insisting on rigid theological boundaries that are not that clear in Scripture.  In doing so, we remove the appropriate mystery of the Sovereign God and in its place set up confusion around apparently contradicting scriptures.  We also add to the perplexity challenge our young people face when we fail to teach them all that changed between the old and new covenants.  We teach a distorted message when we inadvertently or on purpose present Christianity as an add-on to the consequence, rule-keeping based model of the Old Testament rather than emphasizing all that is “new” in the New Covenant, particularly its provisions for joyfully living the Christian life.

On point three [Nov 9, 2011 to Nov 21, 2011], we stressed that God is not the author of evil.  We emphasized the work of Satan, God’s arch-enemy, in perpetuating the flow of evil and suffering in this world.  The New Testament makes clear that while not God’s equal, Satan has been given rule, for a time, over our present world.  But Satan has a flesh and blood enemy opposing his rule, and that is us; Christ’s body on earth.  Jesus enlists us to join Him in “destroying the works of the devil” (I Jn 3:8).

On issue four [Nov 28, 2011 to Jan 13, 2012], we spent a long time diving deep into the topic of love and how the new commandment to “love one another” plays out in our interactions within the body of Christ.  The lack of love problem is not confined to church leaders as I believe hypocrisy and lack of caring is a church-wide problem.  We have elevated knowledge over love.  We have elevated a preferred personality over the diversity of the body as God formed it.  We have elevated numbers over depth.  We have elevated programs over relationships.  We have elevated leadership by the professional class unconnected to the body.  We have elevated things we can measure:  attendance, budgets, small group participation, number of staff, etc. over things we can’t measure:  faith, hope, and love.  And the greatest of these is love.

Finally, we have just concluded our discussion of lifestyle issues [Jan 30, 2012 to Feb 24, 2012].  We framed the lifestyle discussion in terms of the sacred and the profane.  As holy temples – sacred dwelling places for God’s Spirit – our lifestyle is a reflection of who we are more than the rules we keep.  We also talked about separating the true biblical position on lifestyle issues from the caricatures our young people think they are being asked to embrace.

We bundle it all together by highlighting the things God highlights in the New Covenant.  The power of love, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, our confidence in God’s Word, and the strength found in the whole body working together all lift us above our doubts and help us realize the beauty of Christ and His bride.  And we invite all people, young and old, to join us on the path to discovery.  The gospel is indeed “good news” to all who seek and find it.  Remember, Christianity is not a narrow view to be defended; it is a wide open invitation to be extended.

Love: One Strategy, One Message

I personally believe that one area where Satan has really muddied the waters in the American church is on the topic of love.  I believe Satan is quite content to see our message proclaimed basically without interference here in the States while he busies himself sowing seeds of discontent and strife among the body.  As we learned last time, this disharmony takes the power right out of our message and our witness.  I can think of at least two ways Satan delights in this current situation.

First, we have taken the life out of our message because we have reduced Christianity to an adherence to a moral code (see yesterday’s excellent post on this very thought by Mark Galli at Christianity Today online).  We have failed to emphasize the finished work of Christ for not only our justification, but for our sanctification as well.  We have diminished, in our teaching, the provisions of the New Covenant for living the Christian life.  In short, we have missed the “everything is new” message of the New Testament.

Second, we focus on content over love.  Think about the miracles of Christ, for example.  The message that I have heard over and over – and have myself taught – is that the miracles of Christ are recorded to demonstrate the deity of Christ.  Their main point was to show that Jesus is indeed God and operates in God’s power.  They are a debating point to support the claims of Christ.  And they clearly do serve that purpose.

But could it also be that the miracles of Christ are meant to show the heart of Christ, the love of God as well?  As Jesus went around healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and raising the dead, do we only see the power of a deity or the loving hands of God’s rescue.  When Jesus raised the dead son of the widow of Nain – a woman grieving the death of her only son – do we see only a demonstration of God’s power or do we also see an incredible heart of love that restored this son to his mother.

The apostle Peter summarized the ministry of Jesus in Acts chapter 10 while visiting the house of Cornelius.  “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good, and healing all who were oppressed by the devil; for God was with Him” (Acts 10:38).  Peter puts the power of God in Jesus and the goodness of God in Jesus together.  Because, in His essence, God IS love.  And as His children, love should be our essence as well.

“The early Christians had one strategy, one agenda, one message, one weapon, one force with which to overwhelm the empire of the Caesars:  love.  It was Christlike love that brought the empire to its knees, and erected the symbol of the cross over the ruins of the Roman capitol.  Love was an unstoppable force in the first century AD, and it is just as irresistible today!” (Ray Stedman in Body Life).