Where the Conflict Lies

The battle between creation and evolution is an element of the all-encompassing war – the ultimate war – between Biblical truth and anti-biblical falsehood, between good and evil, between God and Satan, between the Christian worldview and all others.  Evolution is merely the supposed mechanistic explanation for the philosophy of materialism, that matter and its interactions (gravity, electromagnetism, etc.) is all there is.  I prefer the term naturalism, though, which emphasizes the disdain for anything supernatural, for example, God.  Of course, there is nothing in naturalism that can possibly explain consciousness and its fruits, including free will, rational  thought, logic, meaning, hope, morality, values, integrity, love, and beauty.  Thus naturalism is an incredibly small-minded, narrow view within which nobody can actually live.   A materialist cannot open his mouth to espouse or defend his naturalistic philosophy without using logic and abstract terms which are not found in the periodic table.  How remarkable it is that so many academics write so much and work so hard to convince us that what they are saying is simply the consequence of brain chemistry . . . Why should anyone listen?

My opening statement above includes far more than naturalism among the opposition.  Anti-biblical falsehood embraces all false religions, all cults, all mystical systems that deny their Creator and Judge, the Lord Jesus Christ, whether they name Him or not . . . the test must always be the doctrines of God’s word, which He gave us so that we would have a foundation to stand on.

Alvin Plantinga

Alvin Plantinga

In this blog we’ll look at just a piece of the battle within the war, the connection between Christian theism (which should be a redundancy) and the deep roots of science.  I’ll use as a template the chapter (Ch. 9) on this subject in Alvin Plantinga’s 2011 book, Where the Conflict Really Lies:  Science, Religion, and Naturalism.  Plantinga is Professor Emeritus at Notre Dame University, considered to be one of the pre-eminent Protestant philosophers in the world.

I’ll give you some caveats up front.  Plantinga is ecumenical in mindset, not surprising for someone employed at Notre Dame for so long, and so is apparently void of discernment regarding Christian history and its trail of blood.  (See my essay “The 10 Most Deadly Heresies . . .”, Section 10.)  He is also a theistic evolutionist and a supporter of the Intelligent Design movement.  He just sees evolution as a God-directed process.  In my experience, theistic evolutionists, no matter how ‘intelligent,’ don’t know enough about evolution, which is all story and no science.  They tend to be intimidated by their academic peers who claim to know something about biology and so yield to the temptation to compromise, hoping to retain some vestige of respect from the antagonistic atheists down the hall.

This is sad and unnecessary.  Years ago when I taught engineering at Michigan Tech U., I met an old fellow in a parking lot who was having car trouble.  He turned out to be a Professor Emeritus of Biology, having taught evolution for over 40 years.  I spent an hour with him to make sure he got back on the road, and was able to ask him questions about his field.  Explaining that I was just ‘a simple physicist,’ I asked him for the best evidence for molecules-to-man evolution that he would offer to an open-minded but unconverted fellow scientist.  He stumbled for a few moments, suggesting several ideas, but then admitted they were inadequate when I challenged them.  Like . . .

Him:  “Look at the differences between us.  I’m tall, good looking . . . (etc.)”

Me:  “But that’s just simple variation within the human genome.  And there are dramatic, large scale differences between the human genome and that of any other creature.”

Him:  “Hmm.  Yeah, you’re right, that’s not a good example.”

I don’t remember all that we talked about so many years ago, but if we had discussed the fossil record or the information content of DNA or anything else, it was clear that he knew the story, which he had taught so well, but had nothing to back it up.  I had a similar experience with a Chemistry professor in conversations on six consecutive Friday afternoons, begging him to provide some substance for his atheistic / evolutionistic convictions, or else give them up as a good scientist should.

The Trail of Blood - a booklet worth reading

The Trail of Blood – a booklet worth reading

My point is that the other team has PR power, academic group-think consensus, and unlimited quantities of bluster, but nothing of substance.  Yet many “Christian philosophers” and apologetics authors yield to some form of evolutionary compromise.

Why chicken out?  Peer pressure is huge and paychecks depend on your faithfulness to the cult of evolution.  One of the most famous admissions of the previous generation was by Dr. Colin Patterson, a senior paleontologist at the British Museum of Natural History, editor of the Museum’s journal, and author of the book Evolution.  At a speech at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, November 5, 1981, he said:

“I’m speaking on two subjects – evolutionism and creationism – and I believe it’s true to say that I know nothing whatever about either of them . . . Question is:  Can you tell me anything you know about evolution, any one thing that is true?  I tried that question on the geology staff at the Field Museum of Natural History and the only answer I got was silence . . . I woke up and realized that all my life I had been duped into taking evolutionism as revealed truth in some way . . . I feel that the effects of hypotheses of common ancestry in systematics has not been merely boring, not just a lack of knowledge; I think it has been positively anti-knowledge.”

Indeed, naturalism and its child evolution generate anti-knowledge.  This is God’s universe and if you don’t start there, in fact if you deny the rationality of starting there, errors and lies erupt everywhere, particularly in the classrooms, with kids too young to imagine their teachers don’t know what they are talking about . . . or worse, lying and propagandizing.

Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History

Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History

Back to Plantinga . . . I do like much of what he writes.  The overall thesis of his book is that there is a deep concord between Christian theism and science and, therefore, a deep conflict between naturalism and science, despite what the media shrieks, claiming the exact opposite.

He cites Bertrand Russell, who believed that Christianity inhibits the growth of science, yet admitted that he was disappointed that science did not emerge in China, which had no Christian churches in centuries past.  Plantinga notes that all the great names of early Western science were serious Christian theists, including Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Boyle, Wilkins, Cotes, and many others.  The 20th century physicist C. F. Weizsacker opined, “In this sense, I call modern science a legacy of Christianity.”  This history has been well-documented, so we ask why is this so?

Science is a search for truth about ourselves and our universe.  We discover the regularities of planetary motions, the nature of electricity, atoms, and molecules, and the working complexity of biological systems, including our own bodies.  We then take advantage of the regularities we discover, which can be summarized reliably in what we call mathematics, to create technology which makes life easier . . . for the most part.

Albert Einstein insisted that a proper scientist is a “real seeker after truth.”  Yet science is severely limited.  It can’t tell us whether slavery is wrong or whether Christian Trinitarianism is true.  That’s not science’s business.  The big stuff, the important issues, are incapable of elucidation by scales and sensors.  The idea of scientism, that science explains everything, is akin, Plantinga says, to “claiming that now that we have refrigerators and chain saws and roller skates, we no longer have need for Mozart.”

Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell

One aspect of the deep concord between the Christian worldview and science is that because we are created in God’s image, we are knowers in the same sense that God is a knower, the Supreme Knower.  God knows infinitely more than we do, but He wants us to know stuff too, about the stuff He has made for us to live in, move in, and have our physical being.

For us to know stuff there must be a cognitive match between our intellectual faculties and the world we live in.  This idea has been well-established by medieval philosophers, who referred to it as the adequation of the intellect to reality (although they used Latin to say it).

A member of the opposing team, Noam Chomsky, a modern philosopher and cognitive scientist, sees this differently:  “This partial congruence between the truth about the world and what the human science-forming capacity produces at a given moment yields science.  Notice that it is just blind luck if the human science-forming capacity, a particular component of the human biological endowment, happens to yield a result that conforms more or less to the truth about the world.”

To the naturalist it’s just blind luck that our brains are able to cope with the world to understand it scientifically.  To the Christian, it’s no luck at all.  And I’ll note that Chomsky, like all naturalists, just takes for granted such principles as truth and the value of truth, which is not part of his materialistic universe!  Luck is also one of those concepts.  How can the naturalist differentiate luck from deliberate intent, indeed how can he even understand these terms if the universe is just a collection of particles bouncing around?

Plantinga asks us to consider what is involved in learning about our environment.  It includes perception, memory, and a priori insight to grasp logic and math to systematize what we perceive.  These and much more are required to construct and use telescopes, electron microscopes, accelerators, and opera glasses, instruments to extend our reach.

For science to be successful, then, there must be regularity and predictability.  When building a house we don’t expect hammers to turn into eels or nails into caterpillars.  When we travel we hope that our carriage (or car) doesn’t turn into a pumpkin at midnight.  Not only must the world be regular, we must believe the world is regular to embark on the scientific enterprise.  Alfred North Whitehead:  “There can be no living science unless there is a widespread instinctive conviction in the existence of an Order of Things.  And, in particular, an Order of Nature.

Christians are unsurprised with regularity, a feature of God’s providence.  Regularity enables and undergirds science, consistent with God’s intellect, that God has a plan that humans can comprehend to some degree.  Since ancient times debate has raged over whether God’s intellect or God’s will is primary.  If His will is primary, then caprice or arbitrary choice will be characteristics of God’s interactions with man.  Islam and Calvinism share this position, assuming that God can and does make arbitrary choices about issues as vital as the salvation of individuals . . . What could be a bigger issue? . . . even when such caprice is horrific to our own conscience, a conscience that is God-given.  The Muslim concept of God is of an intrusive, unpredictable, incomprehensible deity.  “Rodney Stark points out that a common Islamic claim has been that all attempts to formulate natural laws are blasphemous, because they would limit Allah’s freedom.”

Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton

Plantinga cites Thomas Aquinas, a fellow on the ‘intellect’ side, who taught that God’s commands and judgments derive from His very nature.  Therefore it is not possible that God could have commanded hate rather than love, cruelty over kindness, adultery over faithfulness.  I would go so far as to insist, Biblically, that God offers salvation to all, not arbitrarily electing a small fraction to bliss and the vast majority to unconditional damnation without recourse at all.  Our God-given conscience recoils at the “U” in TULIP, as it should.

The Christian does science quite happily, knowing that God operates with regularity (almost) all the time.  And so we have Maxwell’s equations for electromagnetics, Newton’s and Einstein’s equations for gravity, along with simplified expressions by Kepler . . . and so on . . . which are patterns we observe that we can discover!  No scientist really knows why or how the moon orbits the Earth the way it does; I mean what is really happening between every moon atom and every Earth atom and the space in between?  But we see the pattern and are happy with the equations that allow us to build rockets to get there.  Don’t forget the point:  What we call laws are patterns we observe and describe.  There is a deep understanding that is apparently unavailable to us.  In quantum theory, there is not even a superficial understanding of what the mathematics really means.

Kepler:  “Those laws are within the grasp of the human mind.  God wanted us to recognize them by creating us after his own image so that we could share in his own thoughts . . . and if piety allows us to say so, our understanding is in this respect of the same kind as the divine, at least as far as we are able to grasp something of it in our mortal life.”

It is reasonable to say that the laws of physics are contingent, that God could have conceivably chosen different physics that produced different laws for us to discover and describe by mathematics.  For example, the forces of gravity and electromagnetism have an inverse distance squared pattern.  Double the distance and the force falls off by a factor of four.  Triple the distance and the force you feel is reduced to one-ninth.  That “2” that represents the fall-off rate is not just 2.0, but 2.000000000000 . . . with zeroes as far as it is possible to measure.  Could not God have made the physics so that gravity or the electric force falls off as distance to the 2.1 power?  Or 3.724?  There is much that could be said about this, including the very nature of space itself.  In fact why not make the speed of light, which is 186,282 miles per second, perhaps 10% higher?  That would speed up internet traffic!

‘Things’ would change if someone monkeyed with the basic physics.  This is part of the ‘fine-tuning’ argument (too much for this present discussion) that indicates that very small changes in the physics (inverse-squared law) or the physical constants (speed of light, the electric charge of a proton) might do away with the periodic table as we know it, or carbon in particular . . . that would be trouble . . . or disturb the stability of stars.

Plantinga notes that physical laws “are not like the laws of the Medes and Persians; it is not true that once God has established or instituted them, they limit or constrain his power to act.”  We could describe the ‘rule’ perhaps, as . . .

“When God is not acting specially, no material object accelerates from a speed less than c to a speed greater than c.”  (‘c’ = speed of light)

Of course, since God made the matter and the physics, He can make it so that He can intervene and supersede the pattern we normally see.  This doesn’t happen often, at least to widespread public knowledge.  Even in Scripture we see that miracles tend to be clustered around short periods of history, for example, in Moses’ time, the ministries of Elijah and Elisha, when the Lord Jesus walked the Earth, and early in the book of Acts.  I have noticed also that when God answers prayers, He tends to do so in subtle ways even when it’s crystal clear to the believer that God intervened, if not to others.

Charlton Heston as Moses

Charlton Heston as Moses

Let’s talk math.  The well-known physicist Eugene Wigner spoke of the “unreasonable efficacy of mathematics in the natural sciences.”  The sort of math that works in science tends to be extremely challenging, yet within the powers of human beings to grasp it and to use it; nevertheless only a fraction of humanity has the talent and motivation and diligence to suffer through years of study to get that far.

Could you argue that no matter how the universe had been built you could have used math to describe it?  Plantinga suggests that a universe of atomless gunk with nothing happening might entail some math, but it would be boring and who would be around to use it?  Or there could be continual events in kaleidoscopic variety and random succession, but no patterns discernable to creatures like us.  Or there could be variety and chaos on the surface, but deep patterns, so deep as to be humanly inaccessible.

Wigner observes that the universe we live in has fascinating mathematical structures that encompass astounding complexity and deep simplicity at the same time.  Maxwell’s equations or Schrodinger’s equation can be (and often are) featured in big font on a t-shirt (simplicity) and yet can explain all sorts of incredibly complex large scale and small scale phenomena.  Discovering and using these mathematical patterns requires vast cooperative efforts that stretch our abilities.

The theistic connection is that since God created us in His own image, He wants us to learn of Him and His works and be competent stewards.  “Science requires our very best efforts – both as communities and individuals – and it delivers magnificent results.”  This all makes perfect sense within the Christian worldview.  From within naturalism, even if you ignore the brain chemistry argument which makes everything pointless, it’s all dumb blind luck.

Quantum physicist Paul Dirac once put it, “God is a mathematician of a very high order and He used advanced mathematics in constructing the universe.”

The current frontiers of physics involve mathematical explorations of great intellectual depth, “going enormously beyond what is required for survival and reproduction.  Indeed, it is only the occasional assistant professor of mathematics or logic who needs to be able to prove Godel’s first incompleteness theorem in order to survive and reproduce.”  Funny.  Furthermore, from a naturalist’s point of view, “What prehistoric female would be interested in a male who wanted to think about whether a set could be equal in cardinality to its power set, instead of where to look for game?”

The Christian understands that we are over-designed with respect to mere survival and reproduction.  Doing math, composing music, playing the piano, painting a landscape, hitting the American twist serve . . . life is far richer outside the dank little dungeon of naturalism.

Maxwell equations t-shirt

Maxwell equations t-shirt

Think about the math you learned in Kindergarten.  What is the number ‘3’?  3 can’t do anything . . . it’s causally inert.  You can’t weigh it or kick it down the sidewalk.  3 is abstract.  Yet such abstractions can cause a thinker to change his actions.  The numbers in your bank statement affect how you live your life.

Trees and galaxies are measurable objects in space that we can have relationships with, even if we perceive them only by the electromagnetic radiation that sets off an electron cascade in our retinas.  We have relationships with such objects.  You might think about cutting down a tree leaning too close to your house and you might devote an entire career to thinking about galaxies.  In any case, the thinker produces his thoughts.  The Christian sees thoughts as immaterial and willfully free, not dictated tyrannically by brain chemistry.  True thoughts are valued.  (Note that ‘true’ and ‘valued’ are immaterial concepts.)  It fits that there is ultimate truth and ultimate value and an ultimate Thinker . . . God.  Our aspirations for hope and meaning and our axiomatic certainty that we have freedom of will make perfect sense if there is Someone to aspire to, Someone to ground truth in and model our thoughts after, Someone who revealed truth to us explicitly in what we call our Bible.

At our ‘best,’ our intellectual preferences and pursuits are in sync with God.  When our behavior follows the patterns established in Scripture, our conscience is clear.  When we line up with God’s thoughts, we line up with each other.  Peace with God produces peace on Earth, but we won’t see that until the Lord Jesus returns and forces the issue.  Only volunteers, namely those who have already volunteered, will move forward from that point.  And from that point our thoughts and explorations will have no end.  The Infinite One who thinks thoughts that cannot be exhausted desires us to follow after Him in those thoughts, and in fellowship with Him and others in sync.  This quest starts when you are born again.  Eternal life is now and henceforth, not just later.  Death is just a blip in the eternal life of the believer.

Why do I wax philosophical on this?  Most of us continually lose perspective, wallowing in the cares of this world.  Yet each of us has (or can deliberately set aside) enough time in each day to ‘go big,’ to remember who God is and what He has for His children, and His desire to bring more into the family . . . which is up to us.  Do be bold enough to think the big thoughts so that when you invite someone into the family you can show some genuine energy / rapture / gravitas that conveys the reality of the spiritual.  Those afflicted by naturalism are caught in a dark and dirty prison cell.  Let them see some light.  Smile when you shine it.

  • drdave@truthreallymatters.com

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