Will Science Become “Useless”?

BY JEFF ZWEERINK – APRIL 19, 2019

“But therein, in my opinion, lies the intellectual bankruptcy of much of theology and some of modern philosophy.”

—Lawrence Krauss, A Universe from Nothing, xiv

In his book A Universe from Nothing, Lawrence Krauss makes no bones about his belief that science provides great contributions to our fundamental knowledge. By contrast, he views input from theology (and philosophy to some extent) as largely useless. Similarly, Stephen Hawking declares, “philosophy is dead,” in The Grand Design.1 Other scientists have publicly echoed these sentiments and probably many more do so privately. Will people view science as useless someday?

Science Has Developed Recently

Historians find capable scientists and traces of scientific thought a long way back in time. However, the modern scientific enterprise largely dates back no earlier than the seventeenth century. Galileo Galilei made his first telescope in 1609. Robert Boyle distinguished chemistry from alchemy in 1661. Isaac Newton put physics on the map with the publication of the Principia Mathematica in 1687.

Theology Has Existed for Two Millennia

Christian theology, on the other hand, dates to the first century. Science has been around a few centuries, Christian theology a couple of millennia!Judaism goes back even farther into human history. Archaeologists find evidence of religious practices in the remains of every human civilization. Basically, for as long as humans have existed, so too has theology. For my purposes, I’ll be focusing on Christianity.

During the first 500 years or so after Jesus Christ’s life on Earth, Christians debated, argued, and codified the basic beliefs about God, Jesus, sin, death, redemption, eternal life, and the Bible. Christians today largely take these works (both canonized Scripture and the creeds and catechisms that amplify the words of Scripture) as definitive statements about what they should believe. Another 1,500 years of scholarship accompanies our present understanding of these basic beliefs. Many ideas and interpretations have been (and continue to be) put forth, tested, and deemed wrong. Theologians know of many heretical ideas about God—ideas so wrong that they undermine a coherent, truthful picture of God and how we relate to him.

Testing Is Biblical

It might surprise some that Christianity encourages testing to discern the truth. In Acts 17:11, author Luke describes the Bereans, a group of new converts who received the gospel “with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (emphasis added). For this, the Bereans are commended as being “of more noble character.” In 1 Thessalonians 5:20–22, Paul commands the Christians in Thessalonica, “Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil” (emphasis added).

So, over the last two millennia, theologians have developed an expansive, coherent, explanatory body of knowledge describing what Christians believe and how those beliefs affect how they live. Although today’s theologians continue to fill in important details and raise new questions, a great deal of Christian theology was settled within 500 years of Jesus’s earthly ministry.

Science Has Many Questions to Answer

Meanwhile, scientists are still in their first 500 years. That raises the question of what several more centuries of research might contribute. In another 1,500 years, might science look much like theology does today?

Considering the energy involved in testing grand unified theories and any proposed theory of everything, it’s conceivable that scientists may never achieve the experimental verification of a unified theory. Some scientists take a rather sour view of the progress over the last few decades on this matter. Neil Turok, director of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics made this provocative assessment:

“All of the theoretical work that’s been done since the 1970s has not produced a single successful prediction . . . [Physicists] write a lot of papers, build a lot of [theoretical] models, hold a lot of conferences, cite each other—you have all the trappings of science,” he says. “But for me, physics is all about making successful predictions. And that’s been lacking.”3

Turok specifically notes that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) produced data showing that the Higgs boson exists (based on theoretical work before 1970) but none that would affirm or invalidate supersymmetry (theoretical work since 1970). Given the lack of data, some scientists have argued that perhaps beauty and elegance have effectively replaced experimental verification for advancing models.4 I take a more optimistic attitude and think that the tremendous scientific gains of the last few centuries will continue into the future. Perhaps experiments over the next 100 years will reveal a theory of everything. At that point, science won’t simply stop. Rather, many details will emerge and new questions will arise.

With all the advances, the amount of data available will grow exponentially. Scientists of the past could make contributions in multiple disciplines, but scientists today must specialize. As advances increase, so too will specialization. Even now, much of science education is taught by decree—because the basic science is already settled. Further specialization will exacerbate this issue.

What Does the Future Hold?

It is not hard to envision a day in the not too distant future when most people appreciate the results of past scientific work but see it as a somewhat esoteric discipline that provides little use for daily living. And it would happen for the same reason that people such as Krauss and Hawking view Christianity similarly—that is, irrelevancy—today. Christianity has been so successful in addressing the big questions—and perhaps science will be too—that people can enjoy the fruits without understanding the roots.

Endnotes
  1. Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York: Bantam Books, 2010), 5.
  2. Putting a definitive date on the start of either theology or science (or philosophy) is a difficult task. My point here is to simply illustrate that the bulk of scientific advance has occurred since 1700 and that Christian theology started at the time of Christ.
  3. Dan Falk, “Why Some Scientists Say Physics Has Gone off the Rails,” NBC News, (June 22, 2018), https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/science/why-some-scientists-say-physics-has-gone-rails-ncna879346.
  4. For one account of this phenomenon, see Sabine Hossenfelder, Lost in Math (New York: Basic Books, 2018).

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Finding Water Everywhere in the Search for Life

BY JEFF ZWEERINK – APRIL 12, 2019

What comes to mind when you think of water? Personally, water reminds me of some of my favorite activities: canoeing down the spring-fed rivers of southern Missouri, bass fishing in Ozark lakes, watching the torrential downpours of thunderstorms, and deep-sea fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. Beyond the fun and enjoyment water provides, it also plays a critical role in Earth’s capacity to host life (as well as the biochemical processes required by life). Consequently, astronomers ardently search for planets capable of hosting water—and those searches have paid dividends.

Water Detections

Using the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), astronomers made detailed observations of a Neptune-sized planet, HAT-P-26b, orbiting a star 400 light-years away from Earth. HAT-P-26b makes a revolution around its host star every 4.2 days and it transits across the face of the star once per revolution. As the exoplanet starts to transit, light from the host star passes through its atmosphere. The HST’s sensitivity allows astronomers to analyze this light and determine what gases exist there. The measurements reveal the presence of water vapor in quantities that exceed those found in the solar system by a factor of 5.1

Another team of astronomers detected an atmosphere around a low-mass exoplanet. The exoplanet, named GJ 1132 b, orbits an M-dwarf star about 40 light-years away and has a mass of 1.6 times the mass of the Earth, making the exoplanet a super-Earth. Using an instrument called GROND, the team observed GJ 1132 b during 9 transits to look for transmission features indicative of water in the exoplanet’s atmosphere. Along with finding unusually large radii for both the exoplanet and its host star, the observations showed a transmission band consistent with atmospheric water. This was one of the first low-mass exoplanets with a temperature below 1000K to show any spectral features. Although an exciting discovery, additional studies “found that the presence of H2O implied either an H2 envelope or low UV flux from the host star early in the lifetime of the system, and the ongoing presence of a magma ocean on the planet’s surface.”2 Consequently, this exoplanet has no hope of hosting life.

Closer to home, the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn found evidence of water/rock interactions on Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons. Past observations of the moon revealed a large liquid ocean below a thick layer of ice. More recently, astronomers detected plumes of material escaping from the surface of Enceladus. The Cassini probe flew directly through one of these plumes and detected molecular hydrogen, H2. Although not definite, the most probable source of the hydrogen in the plumes is chemical reactions of water with rocks bearing minerals and organic material.3

Life Requires More Than Liquid Water

It may seem like finding water everywhere we look is a sign that life pervades the universe. That may be true, but one should remember that water ranks as the third most abundant molecule in the universe (behind two forms of molecular hydrogen), in part because hydrogen and oxygen are two of the most abundant elements in the universe. Additionally, water on an exoplanet (or a moon) does not automatically make the exoplanet habitable. It seems like life requires far more than just liquid water. Even early Genesis describes an early Earth covered in water, yet hostile to life.

From a scientific perspective, if we ever want to assess what makes a planet truly habitable, astronomers must find a wealth of planets with varying degrees of similarity to Earth and then determine if life actually exists on any of those planets. As I said nearly a decade ago,

The commonly assumed model . . . is that life arises easily in environments that meet a rather small set of criteria. I will refer to this as the “minimalist” model. In contrast, RTB’s creation model argues that life requires a planet exhibiting numerous parameters fine-tuned to exacting specifications. Planets that meet some, but not all, of these criteria serve as test-beds to distinguish which model best describes reality. The more planets astronomers find, the more powerful tests may be conducted.4

Let the testing begin.

Endnotes
  1. Hannah R. Wakeford et al., “HAT-P-26b: A Neptune-mass Exoplanet with a Well-Constrained Heavy Element Abundance,” Science 356, no. 6338 (May 12, 2017): 628–31, doi:10.1126/science.aah4668.
  2. John Southworth et al., “Detection of the Atmosphere of the 1.6 M Exoplanet GJ 1132 b,” Astronomical Journal 153, no. 4 (April 2017): 191, doi:10.3847/1538-3881/aa6477.
  3. J. Hunter Waite et al., “Cassini Finds Molecular Hydrogen in the Enceladus Plume: Evidence for Hydrothermal Processes,” Science 356 no. 6334 (April 14, 2017): 155–9, doi:10.1126/science.aai8703.
  4. Jeff Zweerink, “What to Think of the Latest Habitable Planet Find,” Today’s New Reason to Believe(blog), Reasons to Believe, October 5, 2010, https://www.reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/tnrtb/2010/10/05/what-to-think-of-the-latest-habitable-planet-find.

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Life Requires Galactic and Supergalactic Habitable Zones

BY HUGH ROSS – APRIL 8, 2019

Zones where advanced life can exist in the universe just became stricter. Astronomical researchers have discovered that livable neighborhoods must include not only favorable planet-to-star conditions but also galactic and supergalactic features.

Almost all the research and speculation on habitability in the universe has focused on circumstellar habitable zones. Research on these zones attempts to determine at what specific distances from a host star a planet could conceivably maintain conditions which would make the survival of life possible. Though research on circumstellar habitable zones has largely focused on the liquid water habitable zone—the distance from the star where water could conceivably exist in a liquid state—another ten circumstellar habitable zones are known to be critical for the survivability of life to date. I have written about these eleven habitable zones here,1 here,2 and here.3 For a planet to be truly habitable it must reside simultaneously in all eleven of these circumstellar habitable zones.

Circumstellar habitability, however, is not the only requirement for habitability. For a planet to possibly host life it must also reside in the cosmic temporal habitable zone, the galactic habitable zone, and the supergalactic habitable zone. Astronomer Paul Mason has been studying and writing on this subject and has explained his findings.

Cosmic Temporal Habitable Zone
At the January 2017 meeting of the American Astronomical Society, Mason first addressed the subject of cosmic, galactic, and supergalactic habitability in a paper titled “Habitability in the Local Universe.”4 Therein, he pointed out that long-term habitability on the surface of a planet requires a prerequisite minimum abundance of several different elements. Animals, for example, require certain minimum abundances of twenty-two different elements in the periodic table. Mason explains that it takes a minimum amount of time for star formation and ongoing star burning within a galaxy to generate (through nucleosynthesis) the requisite abundances of these life-critical elements.

That minimum time is about nine billion years after the cosmic creation event. Though not mentioned by Mason, there is also a maximum time. Relatively aggressive ongoing star formation is necessary to sustain the spiral structure of a galaxy. When that star formation ceases, the spiral structure collapses and then the average separation between stars becomes too small for life to survive. Furthermore, virtually all planets within such a galaxy become exposed to the deadly radiation from one or more supermassive black holes.

Another problem for life is that the more time that passes, the more merger events with small and large galaxies will occur. Inevitably, one or more of these merger events will be devastating for life within the galaxy.

The window on life in the universe will close when the universe is about 15 billion years old. Since it takes time—over three billion years—for the first life in the universe to prepare a planetary environment for advanced life, the cosmic time window (less than a billion years) for advanced life is much briefer than it is for microbial life (about six billion years).

Galactic Habitable Zones
In a subsequent paper coauthored with Peter Biermann5 and in a paper delivered at the January 2019 American Astronomical Society meeting,6 Mason discussed galactic habitability conditions in addition to the galactic habitable zone. The galactic habitable zone refers to a narrow distance range from the center of a spiral galaxy where a star revolves around the center of the galaxy at virtually the same rate that the galaxy’s spiral structure rotates (see figure 1). Only within this narrow distance range does a star and its system of planets cross spiral arms infrequently enough (less than once per billion years) that it becomes possible for advanced life to exist on one of the star’s planets.

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Figure 1: The Galactic Habitable Zone. Only a star and its system of planets located very near the red annulus will experience very infrequent crossings of spiral arms. The yellow dot represents the present position of the solar system. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt; Diagram credit: Hugh Ross

Mason and Biermann point out that thanks to a relatively high rate of supernova eruption events, our galaxy maintains a relativistic galactic wind. This wind shields our solar system from deadly extragalactic cosmic rays. However, if the supernova eruption rate in our galaxy were any higher, radiation from the supernovae would prove deadly to advanced life on Earth. Fortunately, the supernova eruption rate in our galaxy is just right.

Mason and Biermann also explain how the activity level of our galactic nucleus must be fine-tuned. It takes small dwarf galaxies being regularly absorbed into the nucleus of our galaxy to sustain the ongoing star formation that is critical for maintaining our galaxy’s spiral structure. However, if our galaxy were to absorb or merge with a large dwarf galaxy, that absorption or merger could activate our galaxy’s nucleus. That activation would shower the entire extent of our galaxy with deadly radiation. Fortunately, our galaxy is absorbing dwarf galaxies of the just-right size and at the just-right rate to make possible the survival of advanced life on Earth.

Supergalactic Habitable Zone
Only in a cluster of galaxies will a galaxy like ours have a sufficient supply of dwarf galaxies to sustain its spiral structure for many billions of years. Our galaxy cluster, the Local Group (see figure 2), has the distinction of possessing many dwarf galaxies but no giant galaxies. Our Local Group also has the distinction of residing on the outer fringe of the Virgo Supercluster of galaxies.

blog__inline--life-requires-galactic-and-supergalactic-habitable-zones-2

Figure 2: The Local Group, Our Galaxy’s Galaxy Cluster. The Milky Way Galaxy is to the lower right. Above it are the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. To the upper left are the Andromeda Galaxy and its system of dwarf galaxies. Below Andromeda is the Triangulum spiral galaxy. Image credit for the galaxies: NASA/ESA/ESO/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt; Map credit: Hugh Ross

Mason and Biermann explain how the giant galaxies near the center of the Virgo Supercluster pour out such intense deadly radiation as to eliminate the possibility for advanced life residing in any of the galaxies near the center of the Virgo Supercluster. Fortunately, our Milky Way Galaxy is far enough away from the center of the Virgo Supercluster and it possesses a strong enough relativistic galactic wind that advanced life on Earth is not harmed by the deadly radiation emanating from the giant galaxies in the Virgo Supercluster.

Layers of Design
A star and its system of planets must be exquisitely designed in many different ways for advanced life to be possible on one of the star’s planets. Thanks to the findings of researchers Mason and Biermann, we now appreciate more than we have before that it also takes exquisite fine-tuning of the universe, the planetary system’s host galaxy, the host galaxy’s galaxy cluster, and the host galaxy cluster’s supercluster of galaxies for advanced life to possibly exist and thrive. As the agnostic astronomer Paul Davies wrote in his book The Cosmic Blueprint, “the impression of design is overwhelming.”7

Featured image: Giant Galaxies in the Center of the Virgo Supercluster of Galaxies. The black dots block out foreground stars. Image credit: European Southern Observatory

Endnotes
  1. Hugh Ross, “Tiny Habitable Zones for Complex Life,” Today’s New Reason to Believe, (blog), Reasons to Believe, March 4, 2019, https://www.reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2019/03/04/tiny-habitable-zones-for-complex-life.
  2. Hugh Ross, “Astrosphere Habitable Zones Display Fine-Tuned Characteristics,” Today’s New Reason to Believe, (blog), Reasons to Believe, July 7, 2014, https://www.reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/tnrtb/2014/07/07/astrosphere-habitable-zones-display-fine-tuned-characteristics.
  3. Hugh Ross, “Overlap of Habitable Zones Gets Much Smaller,” Today’s New Reason to Believe, (blog), Reasons to Believe, 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. Paul Mason, “Habitability in the Local Universe,” American Astronomical Meeting #229 (January 2017), id. 116.03.
  5. P. A. Mason and P. L. Biermann, “The Large-Scale Structure of Habitability in the Universe,” Habitable Worlds 2017: A System Science Workshop, held November 13–17, 2017 in Laramie, Wyoming, LPI Contribution No. 2042, id. 4149.
  6. Paul Mason, “The Dawn of Habitable Conditions for Complex Life in the Universe,” American Astronomical Society Meeting #233 (January 2019), abstract id. 432.06.
  7. Paul Davies, The Cosmic Blueprint: New Discoveries in Nature’s Creative Ability to Order the Universe(Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation Press, 2004), 203.

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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Earth, an Extraordinary Magnet for Life

BY HUGH ROSS – APRIL 15, 2019

We might take it for granted, but our planet’s magnetic field is no sure thing. A just-published research paper by three Australian astronomers shows that a strong, long-lasting magnetic field is essential for the survival of advanced life and that such magnetic fields must be extremely rare among rocky extrasolar planets.1

Magnetic Field Benefits 
Earth has sustained a strong magnetic dipole (North and South Pole) moment for at least the past four billion years of its history. Such has not been the case for Earth’s companion rocky planets: Mars, Venus, and Mercury. Mars and Venus possess no measurable internal magnetic field and no magnetosphere. Mercury’s magnetic field is only 1 percent the strength of Earth’s magnetic field. Its magnetospheric cavity is 20 times smaller than Earth’s. Furthermore, Mercury’s magnetic field is often extremely leaky.2

Earth’s magnetosphere deflects charged particles in the solar wind away from Earth (see figure 1). It also acts as a protective bubble shielding life on Earth from both deadly solar and cosmic radiation.

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Figure 1: Earth’s Magnetosphere. Exposure to deadly radiation occurs beyond the outer red lines. Image credit: NASA

Earth’s magnetosphere not only protects Earth’s life from deadly radiation, but also prevents solar particles from sputtering away much of Earth’s atmosphere. It is particularly critical for maintaining liquid water on Earth’s surface. Without that liquid water, life cannot survive on Earth.

Exoplanet Magnetic Fields
Since a strong, long-lasting magnetic dipole moment is so critically important for life, and especially for advanced life, the astronomical team set out to determine just how likely it is that Earth-like planets outside the solar system will possess such a magnetic dipole moment. They used a mathematical model developed by physicists Peter Olson and Ulrich Christensen3 to estimate magnetic dipole moments for all known rocky exoplanets. The researchers assumed that these exoplanets had convection-driven planetary dynamos and then modeled the maximum possible magnetic dipole moments for each of these exoplanets. Given these parameters, they found that half of the rocky exoplanets—at distances from their host stars where liquid water could conceivably exist on their surfaces—had negligible magnetic dipole moments.

Only one of the exoplanets, Kepler 186f (see figure 2 below), could possibly have a magnetic dipole moment as large or larger than Earth’s. Kepler 186f was the first discovered planet with a diameter roughly similar to Earth’s orbiting another star at a distance where liquid water could conceivably exist on its surface.

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Figure 2: Artist’s Conception of the Kepler 186 System. Kepler 186f is in the foreground. The host star Kepler 186 is the bright dot at lower left. The other four known planets of Kepler 186 all orbit Kepler 186 closer than does Kepler 186f. Image credit: NASA/Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech

However, Kepler 186f is not a candidate for hosting life. It orbits an M-type star with a mass = 0.54 times the Sun’s mass and a luminosity = 0.05 times the Sun’s luminosity. M-type stars, unlike stars as massive as the Sun, spew out frequent deadly flares.

Because Kepler 186f orbits such a dim star, its surface temperature in the absence of an atmosphere containing abundant greenhouse gases is only -85°C (-121°F), which would make it a little colder than Mars. For Kepler 186f to possibly possess liquid water on its surface, it would need to have an abundance of carbon dioxide in its atmosphere at least 1,300 times greater (if accompanied by 10 times as much nitrogen as Earth’s atmosphere presently possesses), and at least 13,000 times greater (if accompanied by negligible nitrogen in its atmosphere), than what presently exists in Earth’s atmosphere.4 Such a thick atmosphere of carbon dioxide and nitrogen may not rule out microbial life, but it would rule out the possibility of animal life.

The conclusion that Kepler 186f may possibly possess a magnetic dipole moment as strong as Earth’s assumes that Kepler 186f rotates about as rapidly as Earth does. This assumption is unlikely given that the tidal interaction between Kepler 186f and its host star is about 21 times stronger than it is between Earth and the Sun. Because of this tidal interaction, there is a 50 percent chance that Kepler 186f is tidally locked. Tidal locking means that Kepler 186f’s rotation period is the same as its orbital revolution period of 130 Earth days. If Kepler 186f is not tidally locked, its rotation period most probably will range from 10–100 Earth days. A rotation period of 10–130 days would generate day-night temperature differences that would rule out the possibility of plant and animal life. It would also rule out the possibility of a strong, enduring magnetic field.

Rare Earth
The three astronomers conclude their paper by noting that “planetary magnetism is an important factor” for determining the possible habitability of any exoplanet.5 Their calculations establish that, for rocky planets, a magnetic dipole moment strong enough and long-lasting enough to make life as advanced as plants and animals possible must be extremely rare.

Earth’s magnetic field now ranks as additional evidence for the rare Earth doctrine, the conclusion that Earth is rare, if not unique, in possessing all characteristic features necessary to make possible the existence of advanced life. The sum total of the known features and the degree to which each must be fine-tuned yields a powerful argument that the cause for all these fine-tuned features is a super-intelligent, supernatural Being.

Featured image: Computer Simulation of Earth’s Magnetic Field in a Period of Normal Polarity. Image credit: NASA

Endnotes
  1. Sarah R. N. McIntyre, Charles H. Lineweaver, and Michael J. Ireland, “Planetary Magnetism as a Parameter in Exoplanet Habitability,” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 485, no. 3 (May 2019): 3999–4012, doi:10.1093/mnras/stz667.
  2. Bill Steigerwald, “Magnetic Tornadoes Could Liberate Mercury’s Tenuous Atmosphere,” NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (June 2, 2009), https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/messenger/multimedia/magnetic_tornadoes.html.
  3. Peter Olson and Ulrich R. Christensen, “Dipole Moment Scaling for Convection-Driven Planetary Dynamos,” Earth and Planetary Science Letters 250, nos. 3–4 (October 30, 2006): 561–71, doi:10.1016/j.epsl.2006.08.008.
  4. Emeline Bolmont et al., “Formation, Tidal Evolution, and Habitability of the Kepler-186 System,” Astrophysical Journal 793, no. 1 (September 20, 2014): id. 3, doi:10.1088/0004-637X/793/1/3.
  5. McIntyre, Lineweaver, and Ireland, “Planetary Magnetism,” 3999.

About Reasons to Believe

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Apologia Sophia: “Apologetics Wisdom” 2—Christian Foundations

BY KENNETH R. SAMPLES – MARCH 5, 2019

In part 1 of this series, we noted that Apologia Sophia (Gk: ἀπολογία σοφία) transliterates the Greek word endings and roughly translates to “apologetics wisdom.” In this second (of six) installment, I hope to offer more apologetics wisdom for our noble task. Here are three points that apply equally to both professional and lay Christian apologists. These points relate to connecting apologetics to Christian foundations.

  1. Recognize that apologetics is a branch of Christian theology.

In church history the enterprise of apologetics was viewed as a branch of Christian theology. Since one was called to defend or contend for the truth of historic Christianity, then theology was considered the queen of the sciences. As such, other disciplines like philosophy, science, history, literature, etc. serve theology. Thus, apologists with backgrounds in various fields should work to be sophisticated in Christian theology. A basic familiarity with the different areas within theology (biblical, systematic, historical, philosophical, practical) can be very helpful to the Christian apologist.

2. Frame your apologetic in accord with authoritative sources of historic Christianity.

Ensure that your basic apologetics approach is in accord with the final Christian authority of sacred Scripture. But also inform your defense of the faith by utilizing sound sources of Christian tradition such as the ecumenical creeds, church councils, and Christendom’s finest orthodox theologians. Consider defending a classical or historic Christianity that is affirmed by all of conservative Christendom before moving to a defense of one’s specific branch or denomination within the faith.

3. Conjoin the rational defense of the faith with the practice of Christian devotion and values.

Rational and nonrational factors influence persuasion. Thus, Christians would do well to present cogent reasoning for the truth of the faith that reflects a Christian moral conscience, is accompanied by prayer, and is presented in a winsome, loving manner. The Christian apologetics enterprise functions best when its presenters reflect the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love.

The apostle Paul utilizes what many New Testament scholars consider an ancient Christian creed that dates from the earliest period of the Christian era:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

1 Corinthians 15:3–8

This “death, burial, resurrection, and personal appearance” strategy is instructive. Paul defends a historic Christianity that should influence how we frame our apologetic endeavors today.

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God’s Genuine Love for All

Does God genuinely and savingly love everyone? Many theologians say no. However, there are good and substantial biblical reasons to think that God not only loves everyone (in the sense that he does good things for all), but also that he authentically desires every human to enter into a loving and eternal relationship with himself. This blog post will explore two good reasons to embrace the universal divine love. Also, we address one objection1 and offer a practical application of this wonderful truth.

Biblical-Theological Arguments for Universal Divine Love

Scripture tells us:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16–17, NRSV)

Notice also the following passage:

Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. (1 John 4:20, NRSV)

True, in context, John is speaking about a Christian’s love for fellow Christians; yet in his Gospel he illustrates how Christ loved unbelievers (John 4:7–42). Jesus’s idea of loving one’s neighbor is to love literally anyone who comes across our path (Luke 10:29–37; cf. Leviticus 19:18). Thus, consider the following argument:

  1. We emulate God only insofar as we love (1 John 4:7–12; 16–17);
  2. When we hate anyone, the love of God is not in us (1 John 4:20–21; cf. 1:5–2:6);
  3. But a God who hates specific persons while commanding us to love everyone we encounter is a God who wants us to be more loving than he is! (1 John 4:8, 10, 16); therefore,
  4. God loves everyone and hates no one.

God Genuinely Desires Every Person to Be Saved

Our first argument establishes the fact that God genuinely loves everyone. However, it does not secure the idea that God genuinely desires the salvation of every person. Of course, there are quite a few texts that speak of God’s desire that everyone experiences salvation (see Ezekiel 18:23, 32; 33:11; 1 Timothy 2:1–4; 2 Peter 3:9). Let us consider what is perhaps the best example among the texts cited: “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). This verse seems clear enough—God does not want anyone to perish, and he wants everyone to come to repentance and, thus, be saved.

What Does “Any” Mean?

Of course, some theologians have pointed out that the major issue in interpreting this text is establishing the antecedent of “any,” as in, “. . . not wanting any to perish.” In the words of theologian R. C. Sproul:

What is the antecedent of any? It is clearly us.2 Does us refer to all of us humans? Or does it refer to us Christians, the people of God? Peter is fond of speaking of the elect as a special group of people. I think what he is saying here is that God does not will that any of us (the elect) perish. If that is his meaning, then the text [of 2 Peter 3:9] . . . would be one more strong passage in favor of [Augustinian] predestination.3

This reading of the text is accepted by a good number of other scholars and writers, including James White.4 White argues that the letter is written to those who have “received a faith of the same kind as ours” (2 Peter 1:1, NASB), indicating that believers (not unbelievers) are the recipients of the epistle. Also, in the immediate context of the third chapter of the epistle, Peter contrasts those who scoff at the coming of Christ with those who look for the coming of a new heavens and a new earth (3:13), indicating that the “any” and “all” of 3:9 is “you” (i.e., the recipients of the letter).5 White concludes: “There is no reason to expand the context of the passage into a universal proclamation of a desire on God’s part that every single person come to repentance.”6

What Does “You” Mean?

We have the utmost respect for this common interpretation, along with the scholars who endorse it, for it has much to commend it. The strongest argument in its favor is that the antecedent of “any” is “you”—presumably, the recipients of Peter’s second letter. There are two ways to interpret “you” in this context. First, one could follow the exegesis of writers such as White, agreeing that the “you” here refers to the elect. But on that assumption, we have good reason to think God’s desire is that everyone, elect and nonelect, repent. In other words, the reason God is patient toward the elect is the same reason he is patient toward everyone—he does not want anyone to perish but desires the salvation of all. Similarly, one could see Peter’s promise as an a fortiori (stronger) argument—to wit, since God is patient toward literally everyone, how much more should you trust in his patience toward you, his own people? At the very least, these insights suggest that, even if this interpretation of the passage is correct, it in no way mitigates the conviction that God wants literally everyone to be saved.7

A second approach, which is our own understanding of the passage, is to insist that the “you” is not limited to the elect, but literally refers to anyone who comes across the epistle. Indeed, why would Peter emphasize the fact that he doesn’t want the elect to perish? That would be redundant, to say the least! In other words, Peter seeks as wide a readership as possible, implying that anyone who receives this letter is to know that the reason the Lord waits is because he is patient, not wanting anyone to perish but for all people to come to repentance. Or, in the words of New Testament scholar Thomas Schreiner, “A thousand years are like one day to Him, and in any case, the interval before Christ’s coming gives people opportunity to repent.”8 Thus, according to Schreiner’s interpretation of 2 Peter, God’s delay allows people in general—not just the elect—to have an opportunity to repent.

And so theologian Samuel Storms concurs with us when he insists that 2 Peter 3:9 is “universal in scope, encompassing every person, both elect and non-elect.”9 Not only so, but even John Calvin agrees with our interpretation, writing:

So wonderful is his love towards mankind, that he would have them all to be saved, and is of his own self prepared to bestow salvation on the lost. But the order is to be noticed, that God is ready to receive all to repentance, so that none may perish; for in these words the way and manner of obtaining salvation is pointed out. Every one of us, therefore, who is desirous of salvation, must learn to enter in by this way.10

Does God Hate Some People?

Perhaps the best argument against the universal saving love of God is that the Bible contains several texts suggesting that God actually hates specific persons. Indeed, there are no less than sixteen places in Scripture where we are told explicitly that the “boastful will not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers” (Psalm 5:5, NRSV), and the “Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and his soul hates the lover of violence” (Psalm 11:5, NRSV).11

What, then, do we do with texts like these Psalms, which speak explicitly of a hatred that God has toward some persons? Medieval theologian St. Thomas Aquinas answers in the following way:

Nothing prevents one and the same thing being loved under one aspect, while it is hated under another. God loves sinners in so far as they are existing natures; for they have existence, and have it from Him. In so far as they are sinners, they have not existence at all, but fall short of it [since the sin or evil in them is a privation of the good or nature]; and this in them is not from God. Hence, under this aspect, they are hated by Him.12

The fact that most of us have heard of love-hate relationships may illustrate Thomas’s point. Indeed, “hatred” and “love” are not contradictory ideas, and so God can love and hate every sinner at the same time as long as he does it in different ways. In light of what we have established so far, we maintain that God loves all people insofar as he creates them, sustains them, and genuinely desires their salvation; and yet he hates them insofar as he allows many to perish: “They are like a dream when one awakens; on awaking you despise their phantoms” (Psalm 73:20, NRSV).

Thus, I think it is truly appropriate to say, with most modern Christians, that God loves the sinner and hates his sin. As Thomist philosopher Peter Kreeft says,

God practices what He preaches to us: love the sinner and hate the sin. God loves even the being He created in the devil, but not the lack of being in the devil’s sin. St. Thomas is not saying that sinners have no existence, but that they lack the fullness of existence that comes from loving the good. Vice and virtue have an ontological dimension as well as a moral one; we diminish our being when we sin and augment it by the virtues.13

How Does God Love Us?

God loves everyone. And he genuinely desires their salvation. This should come as a wonderful message for anyone who is honest with himself about his immoral actions and sinful heart. God need not love us. After all, he is an eternal and triune being, whose love for himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is self-sufficient and infinite. Hence, God loves us wholly and solely from his grace.

There are many points of relevance and application we can walk away with in this brief study. Here we will concentrate on two. First, because Scripture and sound reason confirm for us that God truly loves everyone and desires their salvation, each one of us can be assured of God’s genuine and saving love for us. That is, if God loves everyone, I must conclude that God loves me. Hence, we should never conclude that, whenever we sin, doubt, or even fall away from the faith for a season, that God is in any way causing us to do this. Indeed, he tempts no one to sin (James 1:13), and wishes no one to doubt (James 1:5–8). Thus, whenever we sin, doubt, or fall away, we must recognize that these actions are wholly self-determined on our part.

Second, because God truly loves everyone and desires the salvation of all, the Christian should never see a nonbeliever as his enemy, but as someone God wants to be saved. As apologists, we ought to recognize that there are many different types of people and, because God desires their salvation, he has reasons available to draw them to himself. To the rationalist, we offer rational arguments for the faith; for the empiricist, we offer science; for the historian, we offer evidence from the Bible; for the artist, we offer beauty. The universal love of God should encourage us to be ready to offer different kinds of reasons for the hope within us (1 Peter 3:15).

Endnotes
  1. More than one objection to this proposal can be raised, but for purposes of brevity and to focus on the universal aspect of God’s love, I chose to address only one. For a fuller development of these arguments for the universality of God’s saving love, see Travis James Campbell, The Wonderful Decree: Reconciling Sovereign Election and Universal Benevolence (Lexham Press; forthcoming). For a slightly different approach, see D. A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway; 2000). Dr. Carson also has helpful lectures on this topic that can be found here and here.
  2. Technically, the antecedent of the word “any,” in 2 Peter 3:9, is “you.” But Sproul’s question remains valid. Is God not wanting any of you to perish? Well, what does he mean by “you”? Is God not wanting any of you humans to perish? Or is God not wanting any of you readers of my epistle to perish? Or is God not wanting any of you elect persons, chosen unto salvation, to perish?
  3. R. C. Sproul, Chosen by God (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1986), 197.
  4. James R. White, The Potter’s Freedom: A Defense of the Reformation and a Rebuttal to Norman Geisler’s Chosen But Free (Amityville, NY: Calvary Press, 2000), 145–50.
  5. White, The Potter’s Freedom, 150.
  6. White, The Potter’s Freedom, 149.
  7. I am grateful to Dr. Paul Owen for giving me these insights (via personal correspondence).
  8. Thomas R. Schreiner, “Notes on 2 Peter,” in The Apologetics Study Bible, ed. Ted Cabal et al. (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007), 1860.
  9. Sam Storms, Chosen for Life: The Case for Divine Election (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007), 197.
  10. John Calvin, Commentaries on the Second Epistle of Peter in Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles; vol. 22 of Calvin’s Commentaries; trans. John Owen (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1974), 421.
  11. See Leviticus 20:23; 26:30; Deuteronomy 32:19; Psalm 53:5; 73:20; 78:59; 106:40; Proverbs 6:16–19; 22:14; Lamentations 2:6; Hosea 9:15; Zechariah 11:8; Malachi 1:3; Romans 9:13. The KJV usually translates these texts using the word “hate,” and indicating that the object of divine hate is specific persons or entire groups of people. Where “hate” is not used, “abhor,” “reject,” or some such equivalent is used to denote God’s denouncement of those under judgment. The same is true of the NRSV.
  12. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica Ia.20.2, trans. the Fathers of the English Dominican Province (New York: Benziger Bros., 1948), page?.
  13. Thomas Aquinas, Summa of the Summa, ed. and annotated by Peter Kreeft (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990), 166 (n. 160).

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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 »

Support Reasons to Believe

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Solar and Lunar Tides Designed for Complex Life

BY HUGH ROSS – MARCH 25, 2019

In August 2017, Reasons to Believe organized a conference on the fine-tuned design of the Sun and Moon that makes advanced human civilization possible. We held the conference on a site and at the time of a total solar eclipse. We not only witnessed a spectacular solar eclipse but also learned in several different ways how the Sun and Moon are exquisitely designed to enable the existence of human beings on Earth.

At that conference we did not, by any means, exhaust all the known ways the Sun and Moon are designed for advanced life. One we did not discuss was how the nearly equal, but not exactly equal, tidal forces that the Sun and Moon exert on Earth play an important role in enhancing the biocomplexity, biodiversity, and biomass of Earth’s life. This role was the subject of a research paper published in the British journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society A.1

Complex Strongly Modulated Tides
Earth orbits close enough to the Sun to receive a strong solar tidal force. The Moon orbits close enough to Earth to exert an even stronger tidal force. The Moon’s mass and current distance from Earth is such that it exerts about twice the tidal force on Earth as does the Sun.

The Sun modulates tides on Earth with a periodicity of 24 hours while the Moon does so with a periodicity of 29.53 days. The fact that tidal forces exerted by the Sun and Moon are comparable—but not equal—while the periodicities are less comparable, generates resultant tides on Earth’s oceans that exhibit strong, complex temporal modulation (tidal amplitude variation with respect to time).

Once every 14.77 days, the Sun and Moon line up with Earth so that their tidal forces on Earth augment one another (see figure 1). This arrangement generates the exceptionally high spring tides. But not all spring tides are the same. The Moon’s distance from Earth varies from 356,400 to 406,700 kilometers (221,457 to 252,712 miles). A spring tide where the Moon is at its closest distance to Earth can be up to 0.2 meters (8 inches) higher.

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Figure 1: Spring tides. Diagram credit: Hugh Ross

Once every 29.53 days, the Sun and Moon line up on opposite sides of Earth (see figure 2). Here, the tidal force of the Sun on Earth cancels out about half the tidal force of the Moon. On these days, the neap tide days, the difference between low and high tides can be a third to a half the difference between the low and high spring tide days.

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Figure 2: Neap tides. Diagram credit: Hugh Ross

On other days in the Moon’s 29.53-day orbital period about Earth, the difference between low and high tides can be anything in between the differences between neap tide days and spring tide days. The result is complex, temporally modulated tides.

Benefits for Coastal Shore Life
Strong, complex temporal modulation of Earth’s ocean tides produces networks of tide pools on the shorelines of Earth’s continents, where different tide pools in the network become isolated from wave action at different times and for different durations. Such networks of tide pools produce habitats for creatures distinct from those on the land and those in the oceans. Furthermore, because tidal actions manifest a wide range of amplitudes depending on the geography of Earth’s shorelines, the kinds of tide pool networks vary greatly. Some shoreline regions possess a difference between low tide and high tide of only about a meter (3 feet)­­­, while the difference between low and high tide in Nova Scotia’s Bay of Fundy can be up to 17 meters (56 feet) in height. This wide amplitude range for Earth’s tides extends the diversity of Earth’s shoreline creatures.

Figure 3 shows a few of the plants and animals uniquely designed for taking advantage of ocean shorelines that experience strong, complex temporal tidal modulation. The plants pictured here thrive under conditions of regular periods of both dehydration and saltwater inundation. Air-breathing animals designed to feed in both underwater and above water environments can scurry from inundated to dehydrating pools. Water-breathing animals, also designed to take advantage of both underwater and above water food sources, can scuttle about similarly.

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Figure 3: Tide pool plants and animals. Image credit: Brocken Inaglory, Creative Commons Attribution

Note that these animals are designed for motility both in underwater and above water environments. While not as capable of mobility on land as tetrapod animals or as capable of swimming as marine-environment fish, they are wonderfully designed for mobility on shorelines where, because of strong, complex temporally modulated tides, they can take advantage of habitats experiencing semiregular, alternating inundation and dehydration.

Figure 4 shows a common shore crab and figure 5 a tidal oyster reef. Shore crabs and oysters are designed to thrive in tidal regions where they alternate between spending many hours on dry land and many hours under water. The eight legs and pincer claws of shore crabs enable them to capture prey in both underwater and above water environments. They can scurry from above water shore areas to underwater shore areas to avoid capture by land-dwelling predators. They can also do the reverse to avoid capture by marine predators.

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Figure 4: Shore crab. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Figure 5: Oyster reef at mid-tide. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Oysters’ mobility is limited to being moved around by wave action. Like most shoreline animals, oysters are wonderfully designed to take advantage of regular supplies of fresh nutrients being pumped in by the strongly modulated tides. Because the difference between low and high tides varies so much over a month and over a year, oysters and other shoreline shellfish can inhabit a wide swath of a shoreline. Where I grew up in coastal British Columbia, I visited beaches where oysters and clams populated more than a mile of sand and rock perpendicular to the shoreline.

Benefits for Continental Shelf Life
Shallow water continental shelves surround much of Earth’s continents and islands. They can extend hundreds of kilometers or miles out from the shorelines, where tidal forces from the Sun and Moon cycle nutrients throughout these shelves in a highly modulated complex manner. These cycling nutrients sustain a tremendous abundance and diversity of microbial, plant, and animal life. The richest fisheries on Earth, for example, exist on these continental shelves.

Benefits for Human Beings
Shorelines provide a huge abundance of easy-to-harvest food for human consumption. This abundance facilitated the rapid migration of humans thousands of years ago along the southern shore of Asia and the western shores of North and South America. Humans were able to colonize the world shortly after the time of their creation thanks largely to strong, highly modulated complex tides.

Today, the diet of a large fraction of humans strongly depends on food harvested from shorelines and continental shelves. This abundance of food exists thanks to strong, highly modulated complex tides.

Tides can also help meet energy needs. Certain regions of the world, like Nova Scotia’s Bay of Fundy, possess exceptionally strong tides. These tides can be so high and so strong that a man on horseback is not able to outrun them. Canada is now exploiting the Bay of Fundy tides to generate electric power.

Perfect Tidal Designs
The tidal forces exerted by the Sun and Moon on Earth are not so strong as to slow Earth’s rotation rate to a period too long for humans and other complex life to tolerate. On the other hand, the tidal forces from the Sun and Moon are not so weak as to do little to slow down Earth’s rotation from its primordial 3–5 hours per day. Thanks to the Sun and Moon’s tidal forces on Earth, Earth has the optimal rotation rate for humans and human civilization at the just-right time in Earth’s history for humans to exist on Earth.

The difference between the tidal forces exerted by the Moon and the tidal forces exerted by the Sun, both in magnitude and timing, is optimal for enhancing the biomass, biodiversity, and biocomplexity of Earth’s life. We humans benefit especially from this optimization.

The required fine-tuning to get such perfect-for-complex-life tides is such that, in spite of the observable universe containing as many as 50 billion trillion planets, the Sun-Earth-Moon system likely stands alone in generating such optimal tides for its planet. When combined with all the other fine-tuned features of the Sun-Earth-Moon system2, nothing short of supernatural, super-intelligent designs comes close to offering a reasonable explanation.

Featured image: Tide pools and sleeping seals at Point Lobos, California.
Image credit: Hugh Ross

Endnotes
  1. Steven A. Balbus, “Dynamical, Biological, and Anthropic Consequences of Equal Lunar and Solar Angular Radii,” Proceedings of the Royal Society A 470, no. 2168 (August 8, 2014): id. 20140263, doi:10.1098/rspa.2014.0263.
  2. Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 4th ed. (Covina, CA: RTB Press, 2018), 243–66; Hugh Ross, RTB Design Compendium (2009).

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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