Debating Denominational Differences while Non-Christians Watch

BY KENNETH R. SAMPLES – OCTOBER 30, 2018

Christian unity is very special to me as a believer in Jesus Christ. In fact, I feel called by God to promote truth, unity, civility, and charity among all who embrace the historic Christian faith. Personally, I would much rather talk about what all historic Christians affirm theologically than discuss the doctrinal distinctives of my particular theological tradition. I guess that is one reason I find the ecumenical creeds of Christendom (Apostles’ CreedNicene CreedAthanasian Creed) so appealing.

Nevertheless, I am well aware that there are critical—perhaps intractable—theological differences among the three conservative branches of Christendom (Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism). The most challenging differences lie in the areas of authority (Scripture and tradition) and soteriology (salvation, specifically the relationship between grace, faith, and works). And yet, while the Protestant denominations share more doctrinal common ground together, there are also some very strong theological disagreements present within the Protestant ranks. For example, the differences between the Reformed and Wesleyan traditions over God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are quite evident.

Yet even with all of the ecclesiastical differences and debate over the centuries, I agree with C. S. Lewis that, “When all is said (and truly said) about the divisions of Christendom, there remains, by God’s mercy, an enormous common ground.”This enormous theological common ground of which Lewis speaks is reflected in the Nicene Creed. All conservative branches of Christendom affirm this ecumenical statement of faith, and the creed is also accepted among the many Protestant denominations.

The Appearance of Disunity

In reality, much more agreement exists among the churches of Christendom than disagreement, but I think non-Christians view the divisions, and particularly the frequent bickering among Christians, as a huge turnoff. Thus, I think the appearance of a fractured and divided Christendom seriously hurts the Christian witness to an unbelieving world. As one skeptic said to me, “Why should I seriously consider Christian truth claims when Christendom is so deeply divided?”

Consider C. S. Lewis’s comment about how the doctrinal differences among Christian bodies affect the non-Christian’s openness to the faith:

I think we must admit that the discussion of these disputed points has no tendency at all to bring an outsider into the Christian fold. So long as we write and talk about them we are much more likely to deter him from entering any Christian communion than to draw him into our own. Our divisions should never be discussed except in the presence of those who have already come to believe that there is one God and that Jesus Christ is His only Son.2

A Proposal for Unity

In order to promote unity and protect the integrity of evangelism, I have a proposition for my Christian friends on social media and on the web. When non-Christians are present and watching, I strongly advise to avoid debating the denominational differences within Christendom.

Because social media and the internet involve a community of believers and nonbelievers, I suggest finding a more private and appropriate venue for such important and needed interactions among Christians to take place. I recognize that Christians need to discuss different doctrinal points of view within the faith, but why not do so on pages and within groups on social media dedicated to that very purpose apart from a public venue?

When Christians do find it necessary to publicly discuss, debate, or clarify issues over which Christendom is divided, then be aware that non-Christians may be observing. In such cases, it may be prudent to first insist upon discussing what all historic Christians affirm (mere Christianity, ecumenical creeds) before moving to the distinctive denominational differences. It is also important for believers in Christ who engage in ecumenical dialogue to consider how they can express their affirmation of Christian truth claims with genuine civility, unity, and charity toward others within Christendom.

Non-Christians need to know that while Christians don’t hold everything in common, they know how to disagree in a respectful, gracious manner. Unfortunately, many Christians—especially on social media and the web—show that they don’t know how to disagree with grace and respect.

Even if you disagree with my proposal, as a Christian I hope you’ll think about the challenge that the appearance of disunity poses for the faith and consider how to address it appropriately. A watching world stands to benefit greatly from our civil, unified engagement.

Resources

For further study of both the unity and disunity within Christendom, listen to my Straight Thinking podcast, “The Idea of Mere Christianity.”

Endnotes
  1. S. Lewis, Christian Reflections(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,1967), vii.
  2. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity(New York: Macmillan, 1952), 6.

-end-

About Reasons to Believe

RTB’s mission is to spread the Christian Gospel by demonstrating that sound reason and scientific research—including the very latest discoveries—consistently support, rather than erode, confidence in the truth of the Bible and faith in the personal, transcendent God revealed in both Scripture and nature. Learn More »

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Complex Life Requires a Lot of Energy

BY HUGH ROSS – JANUARY 13, 2020

Have you ever had one of those mornings where you wonder where your get-up-and-go went? It takes a lot of energy to face the challenges of modern civilization. The difficulties facing humanity have differed over the millennia, but have always demanded a lot of energy expenditure.

Now, in a paper published in Astrobiology, astronomer Jacob Haqq-Misra at the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science in Seattle explains how it takes a lot of energy to sustain humans but also a whole lot more energy to prepare the necessary conditions and history of life to make human existence or any other conceivable intelligent physical life possible.1

Requirements for Complex Intelligent Life
The requirements for complex intelligent life are much more stringent than those for microbial life. For example, microbes do not need much, if any, atmospheric oxygen. Intelligent life needs it at a fine-tuned level—any less atmospheric oxygen would limit activity; any more would generate uncontrollable wildfires and would shorten the life spans of intelligent life. On Earth, it took 3.7 billion years for atmospheric oxygen to accumulate to a level conducive for intelligent life. It would have taken much longer if not for Earth’s being continuously packed with an enormous quantity of photosynthetic life.

Intelligent life also requires aggressive, long-lasting plate tectonics. Without such, the ratio of surface continents to oceans would either be too high or too low to sustain intelligent life. Geophysicists cannot conceive of the necessary ratio being achieved in less than 3.7 billion years.

Several biogeochemical cycles must be sustained at high levels for billions of years in order to compensate for the brightening of a planet’s host star. I have written about these cycles in previous blog posts.2

Host Star Constraints for Intelligent Life
Several life-critical chemical reactions require a fine-tuned level and spectral range of incident ultraviolet light from its host star.3 All the life requirements listed above also require a minimum energy flow from the planet’s host star. Haqq-Misra calculated that, for multicellular life to be possible, the planet must receive at the top of its atmosphere 1034 joules of energy in the spectrum range between 200 and 1,200 nanometers (2,000 to 12,000 angstroms).4

This energy requirement poses a problem for planets orbiting stars less massive than the Sun. The energy output of hydrogen-fusing stars (main sequence stars are the only possible candidates for hosting a life-harboring planet) is proportional to the 3.9 power of its mass. At 13.8 billion years old the universe is too young for any star less than 70 percent the Sun’s mass, regardless of when it formed, to have expended enough energy between 200 and 1,200 nanometers for animal life to exist on any of its planets.5

It was at this point of considering requirements for multicellular life that Haqq-Misra ceased his analysis. He concluded that planets orbiting stars less than 70 percent the Sun’s mass—which includes 80 percent of all existing stars—are noncandidates for hosting multicellular life.

For the equivalent of animal life and especially human life the constraints are more stringent. Stars that are birthed early in the universe’s history (the first 8 billion years) lack the heavy elements needed to form planets on which the equivalent of human beings could conceivably exist. Conservatively, stars less than 90 percent the Sun’s mass are eliminated as candidates.

What about stars more massive than the Sun? Such stars burn their nuclear fuel at much more rapid rates than the Sun. The faster a star fuses hydrogen into helium the brighter it becomes. Life cannot tolerate more than about a 2 percent increase in incident stellar radiation on the host planet’s surface. Over the 3.8-billion-year history of life on Earth, the Sun has brightened by a little more than 20 percent.6 Earth’s extremely efficient biogeochemical cycles have continuously removed greenhouse gases from the atmosphere at rates sufficient to compensate for the brightening of the Sun.7 Stars more massive than the Sun will brighten by a whole lot more than 20 percent over the course of 3.8 billion years. Any conceivable set of biogeochemical cycles will not be able to sufficiently compensate for such stars’ brightening.

The rare earth doctrine8 states that only planets virtually identical to Earth in its characteristics will be possible candidates to host complex life. Haqq-Misra’s research provides more evidence for the rare Sun doctrine—the idea that only stars virtually identical to the Sun will be possible candidates to host planets on which complex life could exist. The only plausible explanation for the rare Earth, rare Sun,9 rare Moon,10 rare planetary system,11 rare galaxy,12 rare galaxy cluster,13 and rare supercluster of galaxies14 is that a supernatural, super-intelligent, super-powerful Being purposely designed and manufactured all these things for the specific benefit and purpose of human beings.

Endnotes
  1. Jacob Haqq-Misra, “Does the Evolution of Complex Life Depend on the Stellar Spectral Energy Distribution?”, Astrobiology 19, no. 10 (October 3, 2019): 1292–99, doi:10.1089/ast.2018.1946.
  2. Hugh Ross, “Carbon Cycle Requirements for Advanced Life, Part 1,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), November 18, 2019, https://www.reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2019/11/18/carbon-cycle-requirements-for-advanced-life-part-1; Hugh Ross, “Carbon Cycle Requirements for Advanced Life, Part 2,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), November 25, 2019, https://www.reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2019/11/25/carbon-cycle-requirements-for-advanced-life-part-2; Hugh Ross, “Weathered Bedrock: Key to Advanced Life on Earth,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), May 7, 2018, https://www.reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2018/05/07/weathered-bedrock-key-to-advanced-life-on-earth.
  3. Hugh Ross, “Overlap of Habitable Zones Gets Much Smaller, Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), December 27, 2016, https://www.reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2016/12/27/overlap-of-habitable-zones-gets-much-smaller.
  4. Haqq-Misra, “Evolution of Complex Life,” 1292.
  5. Haqq-Misra, 1292.
  6. Hugh Ross, Improbable Planet (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2016), 143–59, https://shop.reasons.org/product/283/improbable-planet.
  7. Ross, Improbable Planet, 159–64; Ross, “Carbon Cycle, Part 1,”; Ross, “Carbon Cycle, Part 2,”; Ross, “Weathered Bedrock”; Hugh Ross, “Thank God for Sand,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), December 3, 2012, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/tnrtb/2012/12/03/thank-god-for-sand.
  8. Ross, Improbable Planet: 16–219; Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 4th ed. (Covina, CA: RTB Press, 2018), 199–222, 243–66, https://shop.reasons.org/product/599/the-creator-and-the-cosmos-fourth-edition; Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee, Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe (New York: Copernicus Books, 2003).
  9. Hugh Ross, “Rare Solar System, Rare Sun,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), December 13, 2009, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/tnrtb/2009/12/13/rare-solar-system-rare-sun; Hugh Ross, “Sun’s Rare Birth,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), September 3, 2012, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/tnrtb/2012/09/03/sun-s-rare-birth; Hugh Ross, “Our Sun Is Still the One and Only,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), April 17, 2017, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2017/04/17/our-sun-is-still-the-one-and-only.
  10. Hugh Ross, “Rare Moon Just Got Rarer,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), June 5, 2017, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2017/06/05/rare-moon-just-got-rarer; Hugh Ross, “Yet More Reasons to Thank God for the Moon,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), November 22, 2016, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2016/11/22/yet-more-reasons-to-thank-god-for-the-moon; Hugh Ross, “Confirming the Moon’s Vital Role,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), November 10, 2008, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/tnrtb/2008/11/10/confirming-the-moon’s-vital-role; Hugh Ross, “Design of Moon’s Mass,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), February 20, 2005, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/tnrtb/2005/02/20/design-of-moon’s-mass
  11. Hugh Ross, “Rare Solar System Gets Rarer,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), November 5, 2018, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2018/11/05/rare-solar-system-gets-rarer; Hugh Ross, “More Evidence for Rare Solar System Doctrine,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), December 11, 2017, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2017/12/11/more-evidence-for-rare-solar-system-doctrine; Hugh Ross, “Rare Planetary System,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), June 12, 2017, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2017/06/12/rare-planetary-system; Hugh Ross, “How Unlikely Is Our Planetary System?“, Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), August 3, 2009, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/tnrtb/2009/08/03/how-unlikely-is-our-planetary-system; Ross, “Rare Solar System, Rare Sun.”
  12. Hugh Ross, “Our Galaxy’s Heart: No Longer Bubbling Deadly Radiation,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), October 7, 2019, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2019/10/07/our-galaxy-s-heart-no-longer-bubbling-deadly-radiation; Hugh Ross, “Spiral Arms Designed for Life,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), June 3, 2019, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2019/06/03/spiral-arms-designed-for-life; Hugh Ross, “A Supermassive Black Hole Like No Other But Optimal for Life,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), May 20, 2019, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2019/05/20/a-supermassive-black-hole-like-no-other-but-optimal-for-life; Hugh Ross, “The Milky Way Galaxy’s Midlife Crisis,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), October 3, 2011, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/tnrtb/2011/10/03/milky-way-galaxy-s-midlife-crisis; Hugh Ross, “The Milky Way: An Exceptional Galaxy,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), July 30, 2007, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/tnrtb/2007/07/30/the-milky-way-an-exceptional-galaxy.
  13. Hugh Ross, “No Nearby Nasty Supermassive Black Holes,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), May 13, 2019, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2019/05/13/no-nearby-nasty-supermassive-black-holes; Hugh Ross, “Life Requires Galactic and Supergalactic Habitable Zones,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), April 8, 2019, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2019/04/08/life-requires-galactic-and-supergalactic-habitable-zones; Hugh Ross, “Your Galaxy’s Diet Is Important for Your Health,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), September 7, 2015, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/tnrtb/2015/09/07/your-galaxy-s-diet-is-important-for-your-health; Hugh Ross, “Strangulation Efficiency in Galaxy Clusters,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), February 18, 2008, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/tnrtb/2008/02/18/strangulation-efficiency-in-galaxy-clusters.
  14. Hugh Ross, “Supercluster Design, Part 1, Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), October 14, 2019, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2019/10/14/supercluster-design-part-1; Hugh Ross, “Supercluster Design, Part 2, Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), October 21, 2019, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2019/10/21/supercluster-design-part-2.

About Reasons to Believe

RTB’s mission is to spread the Christian Gospel by demonstrating that sound reason and scientific research—including the very latest discoveries—consistently support, rather than erode, confidence in the truth of the Bible and faith in the personal, transcendent God revealed in both Scripture and nature. Learn More »

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Suicide: An Unpardonable Sin for Christians?

BY KENNETH R. SAMPLES – SEPTEMBER 24, 2019

Throughout my professional career as both a college professor and a Christian scholar I have been asked thousands of questions. However, whenever I’m asked about suicide it always strikes an emotional chord deep within me. A close member of my family died by suicide more than 40 years ago when I was just a teenager. My wife also lost a member of her family in the same tragic way.

In this post I’ll make four points about the tragedy of suicide. My central focus will be on the question of whether God forgives this act.

  1. The Serious Nature of Suicide

To intentionally take one’s life is indeed a sin of great magnitude. Why? Because suicide is self-murder. And what makes murder such a horrific act is not just the stealing of innocent life, but also the fact that all human beings are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26–27). Therefore, murder constitutes an attack upon God himself (Genesis 9:6). To murder another person or one’s self is a serious sin against both human beings and God.

2. Suicide and Mental Illness

According to mental health professionals, taking one’s life is often connected to some form of mental illness. Because of these challenges, those who die by suicide are often not in complete or balanced control of their mental state. This instability factor brings the degree of volitional responsibility for the suicide into question. Christians are not immune to mental health struggles and are susceptible to thoughts of suicide just like anybody else.

3. Suicide and Youth

There is a serious problem in the Western world when it comes to suicide among teenagers and young adults. Unfortunately, for far too many troubled young people, suicide becomes a permanent solution to temporary problems such as substance abuse or untreated depression. “At risk” young people who show signs of suicide risk should receive swift help from parents, doctors, counselors, and pastors.

4. Suicide and Divine Forgiveness

Suicide is unique among the sins of humanity because the person who commits this sin cannot confess it and repent. But does God forgive the sin of suicide?

Nowhere in Scripture does it state or imply that suicide is the unpardonable sin. The only unpardonable sin is committed by those who willfully and permanently reject God’s offer of love in Jesus Christ (John 3:36). Without faith (confident trust and reliance) in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, a person will face God’s just wrath in the afterlife (1 Timothy 2:5–6).

I argue, on the basis of Scripture, that God can and does forgive his children who take their lives. This affirmation of forgiveness in no way condones suicide, which is a great sin. Nevertheless, Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death atones for all the sins of his people—past, present, and future (Romans 3:25). And God will not remove his forgiving love because a mentally ill person in a state of desperation commits a terrible self-destructive deed (Romans 8:38–39). Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ enjoy God’s enduring and complete forgiveness for all their sins (2 Corinthians 5:18–19).

Resources

  • If you are contemplating suicide, someone at the Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) is available to chat with you right now (24/7).
  • Here’s a helpful article on the topic of suicide especially for Christians, “The Truth about Suicide.”
  • For more about Christianity and mental health, I recommend Mark P. Cosgrove and James D. Mallory Jr., Mental Health: A Christian Approach.

About Reasons to Believe

RTB’s mission is to spread the Christian Gospel by demonstrating that sound reason and scientific research—including the very latest discoveries—consistently support, rather than erode, confidence in the truth of the Bible and faith in the personal, transcendent God revealed in both Scripture and nature. Learn More »

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Will Technological Development Bring Us To God?

By Will Myers

One of the uttermost questions in theology is how far will God allow mankind to develop technology because everything has an end. Mankind can develop into a situation that is conducive to receiving God’s Holy Spirit who is Christ Jesus. God is infinite and mankind can not overtake God. There must be a final judgment by God to place mankind into its final state in Heaven.

Regarding our personal faith, can technology make easy to believe in God and His Son? Yes, but the problem is believing in His Son, Jesus. Satan shall continually work to be a god and denounce Jesus in this world.

Will technology reveal our justification from God as technology continuously reveal what is right unto a state of perfect righteousness? NO. Technology shall develop toward the perfect book of nature; although, it shall help to correct false interpretations in the perfect book of life. The book of matter can not give life, only the spirit.

Is there a long period of development unto man reaching heaven? In other words, can we work ourselves to heaven? NO. Selfness, secular man shall prevail until the Savior comes who establishes our eternal spiritual state. All things must end. We live in a temporary existence.

Do we go into a spiritual state at the end or do we have a new heaven and earth with us existing in a utopia on earth? There can not be earth without heaven. The spiritual state necessarily must exist because the Spirit creates earth. I believe that, in the end, the eternal heaven shall exist and the earthly state is up to God. If God so desires He can certainly create another universe even with different laws of physics.

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Quantum Mechanics and the Laws of Logic, Part 2

BY KENNETH R. SAMPLES – JUNE 18, 2019

Do the experimental results of the incredibly small and unusual quantum world undermine our traditional understanding of reason and the laws of logic? In part 1 of this three-part series I described a social media dialogue I had with a scientist on why the results of quantum mechanics (QM) need not be interpreted to invalidate the law of noncontradiction (LNC). Here’s a summary of what I briefly argued:

The law of noncontradiction cast metaphysically (in terms of being) states the following: “Nothing can both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect.” And light (a subatomic object) is not a particle that is also a nonparticle or a wave that is also a nonwave; rather, light under certain experimental conditions behaves as a particle and under other experimental conditions behaves like a wave. Thus, light appearing as both a particle and a wave is understood in different logical respects and does not undermine the law of noncontradiction’s statement of A cannot equal A and equal non-A.

Trying to Understand God’s Creation

My social media interaction about quantum mechanics and the laws of logic with the scientist continued into a second phase. This time the topic shifted to a person’s comprehension of the world and God.

Here is the scientist’s rejoinder:

You may be right about the relationship between QM & LNC, but I remain skeptical. I have been transparent about my doubts as I do not think faith and doubt are incompatible. I think that, given an infinite God, we should not expect, in our finitude, to fully comprehend either God or the universe he created. This notion is not without biblical precedent (Isaiah 55:8Proverbs 3:5). Don’t get me wrong, there is much we can know (Romans 1:18–20) and I am all for pushing our understanding to its limits. But, there ARE limits and I am OK with that. Perhaps God created us in such a way to increase the likelihood we stay humble.

In my reply, I stated that I agreed that finite creatures will never fully fathom God nor the amazingly complex cosmos. I concurred that many profound mysteries remain in life and in the world. I also think reason, faith, and doubt are compatible. But affirming the laws of logic does not rule out mystery nor does it affirm a dogmatic rationalism. Rather, the laws of logic make cognitive thought possible. So a denial of the LNC would mean no knowledge is possible. I said that logicians have made a powerfully convincing case that the laws of logic are ontologically real, cognitively necessary, and irrefutable.1

A Takeaway

In historic Christianity, “faith” has been defined as confident trust in a reliable source. Thus for the Christian, faith involves knowledge and is compatible with reason. Yet knowledge of God, including his creation, continues to include mystery because the finite creature will never fully comprehend the infinite Creator and Lord. But the laws of logic are still considered necessary and inescapable because all thought, correspondence, and action presuppose their truth and application.

Reflections: Your Turn

Christian thinkers St. Augustine (354–430) and St. Anselm (1033–1109) affirmed “faith seeking understanding.” How can faith involve knowledge and be compatible with reason? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.

Resources

Endnotes
  1. For more on this point, see Peter A. Angeles, “Laws of Thought, The Three” in The HarperCollins Dictionary Of Philosophy (New York: HarperCollins, 1992), 167.

About Reasons to Believe

RTB’s mission is to spread the Christian Gospel by demonstrating that sound reason and scientific research—including the very latest discoveries—consistently support, rather than erode, confidence in the truth of the Bible and faith in the personal, transcendent God revealed in both Scripture and nature. Learn More »

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Quantum Mechanics and the Laws of Logic, Part 1

BY KENNETH R. SAMPLES – JUNE 11, 2019

Having worked at science-faith apologetics organization Reasons to Believe for more than 20 years, I’ve observed that scientists and philosophers often think differently about the world. With the types of specialized training in their academic backgrounds, scientists and philosophers tend to ask different kinds of questions about reality and truth. Unfortunately, they also have a tendency to talk past one other. Recently, I had a social media interaction with a scientist about whether the findings of quantum mechanics invalidate the logical law of noncontradiction.

Here, in part 1 of 3 in this series, I’ll provide a little background on the laws of logic and the theory of physics known as quantum mechanics. Then I’ll share some of my interaction with the scientist about the relationship between the two topics.

Three Foundational Laws of Logic

The study of logic recognizes three laws of thought as bedrock principles: the law of noncontradiction, the law of excluded middle, and the law of identity. Their importance to human thought and discourse cannot be overstated. These logical anchors, so to speak, can be stated to reflect a metaphysical perspective (what is or is not—being) or an epistemological perspective (what can be true or not true—truth).1

Here are the three logical laws stated and explained:

1. The law of noncontradiction: A thing, A, cannot at once be and not be (A cannot equal A and equal non-A at the same time and in the same way); they are mutually exclusive (not both). A dog cannot be a dog and be a non-dog.

2. The law of excluded middle: A thing, Ais or it is not, but not both or neither (either A or non-A), they are jointly exhaustive—one of them must be true. There is no middle ground between a dog and a non-dog.

3. The law of identity: A thing, Ais what it is (A is A). A dog is a dog.

Law of Noncontradiction (LNC)

To help explain further, here is an example of a logical contradiction from the claims of two world religions:

A. Jesus Christ is God incarnate (Christianity).

B. Jesus Christ is not God incarnate (Islam).

According to the LNC, these two statements (represented as A and B) negate or deny one another. In other words, if statement A is true, then statement B is false, and conversely. Thus, logically, both of these statements cannot be true. So contradictory relationships reflect a “not both true” status.

Quantum Mechanics (QM)

For a basic understanding of quantum mechanics, Live Science defines it this way:

Quantum mechanics is the branch of physics relating to the very small.

It results in what may appear to be some very strange conclusions about the physical world. At the scale of atoms and electrons, many of the equations of classical mechanics, which describe how things move at everyday sizes and speeds, cease to be useful. In classical mechanics, objects exist in a specific place at a specific time. However, in quantum mechanics, objects instead exist in a haze of probability; they have a certain chance of being at point A, another chance of being at point B and so on.2

The challenge of QM in the context of the LNC is that light (a subatomic object) seems to be both a wave and a particle simultaneously, thus A and non-A.

Logical Interaction

Here is what a scientist said to me on social media:

The law of noncontradiction is violated by solid empirical science. At the quantum level, a subatomic particle can be in multiple locations at the same time. A particle can be both a wave and a particle. At the quantum level, cause may occur after effect. If this is true at the molecular base of our reality, how strongly can we hold on to the law of noncontradiction?

I responded by thanking the scientist and saying that philosophers and scientists need to dialogue with each other more on these kinds of topics. I then offered my brief take on the issue.

The LNC cast metaphysically (in terms of being) states the following: “Nothing can both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect.” I don’t think quantum mechanics actually denies the law of noncontradiction. What we can say is that under certain experimental conditions, light (a subatomic object) appears as a wave. But under other experimental conditions, light appears as a particle. So subatomic objects are not particles that are also nonparticles or waves that are also nonwaves; they are objects that behave sometimes like particles and sometimes like waves. Light behaves as a wave and a particle in different experimental conditions and, thus, in different logical respects. Hence, the experimental results of QM do not invalidate the LNC (A cannot equal A and equal non-A at the same time and in the same relationship).

The fundamental problem with any denial of the LNC is that the laws of logic make rational thought possible. In this very case, both a scientist and a philosopher exchanged ideas under the assumption of existing laws of logic. Thus, philosophers need input from scientists just as scientists need input from philosophers. And Christians would do well to populate both critical disciplines.

Summary

If I were to summarize the issue so you can use it on social media, I would say that quantum mechanics is counterintuitive to our ordinary notion of how larger objects react, but it is not a genuine violation of the law of noncontradiction. The laws of logic are considered necessary and inescapable because all thought, correspondence, and action presuppose their truth and application.

Reflections: Your Turn

Can you concisely state and explain the three laws of logic? Have you used them in your interactions? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.

Resources

For studies in logic in the context of the Christian worldview, see Kenneth Richard Samples, A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), chapters 3 and 4.

Endnotes
  1. Kenneth Richard Samples, A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test(Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 42–44.
  2. Robert Coolman, “What Is Quantum Mechanics?” Live Science, September 26, 2014, https://www.livescience.com/33816-quantum-mechanics-explanation.html.

About Reasons to Believe

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Is Supernatural Causation Compatible with Science?

BY PAUL LORENZINI – OCTOBER 11, 2019

When defenders of naturalistic evolution state their case, they frequently begin with the claim that their theory is “scientific.” Alternative views, especially those that would invoke supernatural causation, are pejoratively dismissed as “pseudoscience,” pseudo because they falsely claim to have scientific legitimacy. Given science’s respected status, this becomes a powerful rhetorical device to marginalize Christian claims that life on Earth involved the supernatural intervention of God.

This view played a critically important role in the 2005 case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District.1 Attempts to require the teaching of “Intelligent Design” (ID) were opposed by many parents who claimed it was a subterfuge for bringing religious teachings into the classroom. Ruling in favor of the plaintiffs, Judge John E. Jones of the District Court in the Middle District of Pennsylvania concluded that ID should not be taught in the public schools because, among other reasons, “ID is not science.” Why? Because it “violates the age-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation.”

But are there any such “age-old ground rules”? Can science not legitimately consider the possibility of supernatural causation? It turns out this so-called “age-old rule” has been discredited, leaving science no basis for excluding supernatural causation.

Development of Science’s “Ground Rules”

When thinker Francis Bacon conceived of what we now call the scientific method in his Novum Organon (1620), it is correct to say he believed any testable hypothesis must be derived from our physical sense experience. This is what we call the method of induction. One starts with data and generalizes toward a hypothesis from the data, then tests the hypothesis. It is a methodology that would, indeed, seem to exclude supernatural causation.

During the next two centuries the notion grew that science, grounded in this methodology, could purge humanity from the distortions of religion and superstition. In the nineteenth century, this idea took the form of positivism, a view vigorously embraced by a group of like-minded scientists and philosophers in the early twentieth century known as the Vienna Circle. Positivism is based on the claim, following Bacon, that the only source of positive knowledge of the world is information we derive from our physical senses. No scientific hypothesis is valid, on this view, unless it is derived from data that can be directly observed, measured, or reproduced. These ideas, having been stirred through much of the nineteenth century, were influential enough that as they spread during the early twentieth century, “an intellectual hegemony of positivism was beginning to be established” in American universities.2

By the mid-twentieth century, however, it became clear that the positivist model was running into problems. It was neither defensible philosophically, nor did it accurately describe how scientists function in practice. As philosopher Richard Bernstein wrote in 1976: “There is not a single major thesis advanced by either nineteenth-century positivists or the Vienna Circle that has not been devastatingly criticized when measured by the positivist’s own standards for philosophical argument.”3 In commenting on Berstein’s remarks, Donald Schon observes “[a]mong philosophers of science no one wants any longer to be called a positivist.”4

The underlying problem goes back to Bacon’s assumption that science operates exclusively on the principle of induction, the idea that any testable hypothesis must be derived from our sense experience. It doesn’t. Induction is certainly one way to form a hypothesis, but it is not exclusive. In practice there is no prescribed method scientists use for developing hypotheses—they are often products of our imaginative and creative minds.

The alternative to induction is the method of deduction. Here one starts with a generalized hypothesis and works toward specifics. Philosopher Karl Popper, a critic of induction, argued “[t]here is no logical method of having new ideas . . . every discovery contains an ‘irrational element’, or a ‘creative intuition.’” He reinforced his argument with quotes from Einstein: “There is no logical path leading to these . . . laws. They can only be reached by intuition, based upon something like an intellectual love of the objects of experience.”5 Popper’s assertion is that the hypotheses scientists test are not products of some disciplined method of organizing data, but rather products of the creative human mind.

Bertrand Russell expressed the issue more pointedly:

Bacon’s inductive method is faulty through insufficient emphasis on hypothesis. He hoped that mere orderly arrangement of data would make the right hypothesis obvious, but this is seldom the case . . . so far no method has been found which would make it possible to invent hypothesis by rule.6

 

The Essence of Science Is Testing Hypotheses

Science does not really care about the source of the hypothesis. It is concerned about testing ideas once they take the form of a hypothesis. The hypothesis is then tested by the rigid standards of science to determine if it fits what we observe in the surrounding universe. These methods cannot always prove the hypothesis is true—science cannot prove God, for example. But testing can determine if a particular hypothesis is false.

Yet old ideas die hard. In his historical review of positivism, the late German philosopher Oswald Hanfling writes:

… even if the parent plant is dead, many of its seeds are alive and active in one form or another. In an interview in 1979, A.J. Ayer, a leading philosopher of our time, who had been an advocate of logical positivism in the 1930s, was asked what he now saw as its main defects. He replied: ‘I suppose the most important . . . was that nearly all of it was false.’ Yet this did not prevent him from admitting shortly afterwards that he still believed in ‘the same general approach.’7

Thus positivism remains a foil, if a flawed one, used by defenders of naturalistic evolution to discredit Christian views of creation.8

When Reasons to Believe offers its testable creation model, the “test” is a scientific one: is the model consistent with that which we observe in the universe? If it is not, the model can be said to be falsified. If it is, it does not mean the model is proven (verified), but it does mean it cannot be discarded as inconsistent with that which we observe through legitimate science. The more tests the model passes, the more one can say it is grounded in good science.

When advocates of naturalistic evolution offer their model, they too are operating in this realm. They propose a hypothesis then test it by comparing its predictions with that which we observe in the universe. Both approaches employ sound science in the way we want science to operate—as a tool for finding truth and testing truth claims against observations of the natural realm. To be sure, that process itself is fraught with its own complications as philosophers of science debate what ultimate truths can or cannot be asserted once one forms a hypothesis.9 But the starting point is always the hypothesis.

Naturalistic evolution and the RTB creation model are two competing hypotheses that differ in many fundamentals. Science, functioning properly, can and should be willing to test both hypotheses against our observations of the universe in an effort to understand which model better explains the whole of reality. To discard the RTB model because it permits supernatural causation is both irrational and “unscientific” in that it excludes possible answers to big questions with no justification in science for doing so. Perhaps it’s time to discard the “age-old ground rules” of science in favor of a new ground rule for testing all hypotheses.

Endnotes
  1. Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District400 F. Supp. 2d 707 (M.D. Pa. 2005).
  2. Donald A. Schon, The Reflective Practitioner (New York: Basic Books, 1983), 32–34.
  3. Richard J. Bernstein, The Restructuring of Social and Political Theory (San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976), 207, quoted in Schon, The Reflective Practitioner, 48–49.
  4. Schon, The Reflective Practitioner, 49.
  5. Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (New York: Routledge Classics, 2002, originally published in 1935), 8–9.
  6. Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy (London: Routledge Classics, 1996, first published in 1946), 529.
  7. See Oswald Hanfling, chap 5, in Routledge History of Philosophy, Volume IX: Philosophy of Science, Logic, and Mathematics in the Twentieth Century, ed. Stuart G. Shanker (New York: Routledge, 1996), 193–94.
  8. The misuse of positivism is not exclusively a problem for Christians. See Allen S. Lee, “Positivism: A Discredited Model of Science Still in Use in the Study and Practice of Management,” SSRN (September 1987), doi:10.2139/ssrn.2622718.
  9. See Kyle Stanford, “Underdetermination of Scientific Theory,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2017), ed. Edward N. Zalta, https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2017/entries/scientific-underdetermination/.

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About Reasons to Believe

RTB’s mission is to spread the Christian Gospel by demonstrating that sound reason and scientific research—including the very latest discoveries—consistently support, rather than erode, confidence in the truth of the Bible and faith in the personal, transcendent God revealed in both Scripture and nature. Learn More »

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