Does Animal Planning Undermine the Image of God?

BY FAZALE RANA – JANUARY 23, 2019

A few years ago, we had an all-white English Bulldog named Archie. He would lumber toward even complete strangers, eager to befriend them and earn their affections. And people happily obliged this playful pup.

Archie wasn’t just an adorable dog. He was also well trained. We taught him to ring a bell hanging from a sliding glass door in our kitchen so he could let us know when he wanted to go out. He rarely would ring the bell. Instead, he would just sit by the door and wait . . . unless the neighbor’s cat was in the backyard. Then, Archie would repeatedly bang on the bell with great urgency. He had to get the cat at all costs. Clearly, he understood the bell’s purpose. He just chose to use it for his own devices.

Anyone who has owned a cat or dog knows that these animals do remarkable things. Animals truly are intelligent creatures.

But there are some people who go so far as to argue that animal intelligence is much more like human intelligence than we might initially believe. They base this claim, in part, on a handful of high-profile studies that indicate that some animals such as great apes and ravens can problem-solve and even plan for the future—behaviors that make them like us in some important ways.

Great Apes Plan for the Future

In 2006, two German anthropologists conducted a set of experiments on bonobos and orangutans in captivity that seemingly demonstrated that these creatures can plan for the future. Specifically, the test subjects selected, transported, and saved tools for use 1 hour and 14 hours later, respectively.1

To begin the study, the researchers trained both bonobos and orangutans to use a tool to get a reward from an apparatus. In the first experiment, the researchers blocked access to the apparatus. They laid out eight tools for the apes to select—two were suitable for the task and six were unsuitable. After selecting the tools, the apes were ushered into another room where they were kept for 1 hour. The apes were then allowed back into the room and granted access to the apparatus. To gain the reward, the apes had to select the correct tool and transport it to and from the waiting area. The anthropologists observed that the apes successfully obtained the reward in 70 percent of the trials by selecting and hanging on to the correct tool as they moved from room to room.

In the second experiment, the delay between tool selection and access to the apparatus was extended to 14 hours. This experiment focused on a single female individual. Instead of taking the test subject to the waiting room, the researchers took her to a sleeping room one floor above the waiting room before returning her to the room with the apparatus. She selected and held on to to the tool for 14 hours while she moved from room to room in 11 of the 12 trials—each time successfully obtaining the reward.

On the basis of this study, the researchers concluded that great apes have the ability to plan for the future. They also argued that this ability emerged in the common ancestor of humans and great apes around 14 million years ago. So, even though we like to think of planning for the future as one of the “most formidable human cognitive achievements,”2 it doesn’t appear to be unique to human beings.

Ravens Plan for the Future

In 2017, two researchers from Lund University in Sweden demonstrated that ravens are capable of flexible planning just like the great apes.3 These cognitive scientists conducted a series of experiments with ravens, demonstrating that the large black birds can plan for future events and exert self-control for up to 17 hours prior to using a tool or bartering with humans for a reward. (Self-control is crucial for successfully planning for the future.)

The researchers taught ravens to use a tool to gain a reward from an apparatus. As part of the training phase, the test subjects also learned that other objects wouldn’t work on the apparatus.

In the first experiment, the ravens were exposed to the apparatus without access to tools. As such, they couldn’t gain the reward. Then the researchers removed the apparatus. One hour later, the ravens were taken to a different location and offered tools. Then, the researchers presented them with the apparatus 15 minutes later. On average, the raven test subjects selected and used tools to gain the reward in approximately 80 percent of the trials.

In the next experiment, the ravens were trained to barter by exchanging a token for a food reward. After the training, the ravens were taken to a different location and presented with a tray containing the token and three distractor objects by a researcher who had no history of bartering with the ravens. As with the results of the tool selection experiment, the ravens selected and used the token to successfully barter for food in approximately 80 percent of the trials.

When the scientists modified the experimental design to increase the time delay from 15 minutes to 17 hours between tool or token selection and access to the reward, the ravens successfully completed the task in nearly 90 percent of the trials.

Next, the researchers wanted to determine if the ravens could exercise self-control as part of their planning for the future. First, they presented the ravens with trays that contained a small food reward. Of course, all of the ravens took the reward. Next, the researchers offered the ravens trays that had the food reward and either tokens or tools and distractor items. By selecting the token or the tools, the ravens were ensured a larger food reward in the future. The researchers observed that the ravens selected the tool in 75 percent of the trials and the token in about 70 percent, instead of taking the small morsel of food. After selecting the tool or token, the ravens were given the opportunity to receive the reward about 15 minutes later.

The researchers concluded that, like the great apes, ravens can plan for the future. Moreover, these researchers argue that this insight opens up greater possibilities for animal cognition because, from an evolutionary perspective, ravens are regarded as avian dinosaurs. And mammals (including the great apes) are thought to have shared an evolutionary ancestor with dinosaurs 320 million years ago.

Are Humans Exceptional?

In light of these studies (and others like them), it becomes difficult to maintain that human beings are exceptional. Self-control and the ability to flexibly plan for future events is considered by many to be the cornerstone of human cognition. Planning for the future requires mental representation of temporally distant events, the ability to set aside current sensory inputs for unobservable future events, and an understanding of what current actions result in achieving a future goal.

For many Christians, such as me, the loss of human exceptionalism is concerning because if this idea is untenable, so, too, is the biblical view of human nature. According to Scripture, human beings stand apart from all other creatures because we bear God’s image. And, because every human being possesses the image of God, every human being has intrinsic worth and value. But if, in essence, human beings are no different from animals, it is challenging to maintain that we are the crown of creation, as Scripture teaches.

Yet recent work by biologist Johan Lind from Stockholm University (Sweden) indicates that the results of these two studies and others like them may be misleading. In effect, when properly interpreted, these studies pose no threat to human exceptionalism in any way. According to Lind, animals can engage in behavior that resembles flexible planning through a different behavior: associative learning.4 If so, this insight preserves the case for human exceptionalism and the image of God, because it means that only humans engage in genuine flexible planning for the future through higher-order cognitive processes.

Associative Learning and Planning for the Future

Lind points out that researchers working in artificial intelligence (AI) have long known that associative learning can produce complex behaviors in AI systems that give the appearance of having the capacity for planning. (Associative learning is the process that animals [and AI systems] use to establish an association between two stimuli or events, usually by the use of punishments or rewards.)

blog__inline--does-animal-planning-undermine-the-image-of-god

Figure 1: An illustration of associative learning in dogs. Image credit: Shutterstock

Lind wonders why researchers studying animal cognition ignore the work in AI. Applying the insights from the work on AI systems, Lind developed mathematical models based on associative learning that he used to simulate results of the studies on the great apes and ravens. He discovered that associative learning produced the same behaviors as observed by the two research teams for the great apes and ravens. In other words, planning-like behavior can actually emerge through associative learning. That is, the same processes that give AI systems the capacity to beat humans in chess can, through associative learning, account for the planning-like behavior of animals.

The results of Lind’s simulations mean that it is most likely that animals “plan” for the future in ways that are entirely different from humans. In effect, the planning-like behavior of animals is an outworking of associative learning. On the other hand, humans uniquely engage in bona fide flexible planning through advanced cognitive processes such as mental time travel, among others.

Humans Are Exceptional

Even though the idea of human exceptionalism is continually under assault, it remains intact, as the latest work by Johan Lind illustrates. When the entire body of evidence is carefully weighed, there really is only one reasonable conclusion: Human beings uniquely possess advanced cognitive abilities that make possible our capacity for symbolism, open-ended generative capacity, theory of mind, and complex social interactions—scientific descriptors of the image of God.

Resources

Endnotes
  1. Nicholas J. Mulcahy and Josep Call, “Apes Save Tools for Future Use,” Science 312 (May 19, 2006): 1038–40, doi:10.1126/science.1125456.
  2. Mulcahy and Call, “Apes Save Tools for Future Use.”
  3. Can Kabadayi and Mathias Osvath, “Ravens Parallel Great Apes in Flexible Planning for Tool-Use and Bartering,” Science 357 (July 14, 2017): 202–4, doi:10.1126/science.aam8138.
  4. Johan Lind, “What Can Associative Learning Do for Planning?” Royal Society Open Science 5 (November 28, 2018): 180778, doi:10.1098/rsos.180778.

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

Your support helps more people find Christ through sharing how the latest scientific discoveries affirm our faith in the God of the Bible.

DONATE NOW


U.S. Mailing Address
818 S. Oak Park Rd.
Covina, CA 91724
  • P (855) 732-7667
  • P (626) 335-1480
  • Fax (626) 852-0178

Reasons to Believe logo

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Earth’s Surface Water Percentage Is Fine-Tuned for Life

BY HUGROSS – MARCH 18, 2019

Seventy-one percent may seem like average, but when it comes to Earth’s surface water percentage, that number appears to be ideal for advanced civilization. A scientific agency like NASA recognizes that life cannot exist without liquid water—thus, their long-held astrobiology mantra is to “follow the water.”1 That pursuit leads astrobiology researchers to look for evidence of life or life’s remains on astronomical bodies where there is at least a possibility of surface liquid water.

However, NASA’s slogan is not helpful since water is the third most abundant molecule in the universe, right after the two different forms of molecular hydrogen, H2 and H3. The universe is “soaking wet.”

To add to the difficulty, two Harvard University astronomers, Manasvi Lingam and Abraham Loeb, have published a paper wherein they explain how the location and quantity of liquid water on a planet’s surface seriously constrain the possibility of life.2

Problem of Too Much Water Coverage
Where astronomers are able to measure the water content of Earth-like extrasolar planets, the vast majority possess water content far exceeding that of Earth, while the remainder are bone dry. For the majority, the water fraction by weight ranges from 8 percent to 50 percent.3Earth’s water fraction is only 0.045–0.251 percent, of which just 0.02 percent is surface water.4

Any planet with a water fraction one percent or greater, where at least some of the water is liquid, will exhibit these features: (1) they will have surfaces with deep oceans and no landmasses, or (2) they will have deep subterranean oceans and be completely covered in ice. Such worlds will lack continental landmass weathering. The lack of such weathering will limit the availability of phosphates to the tiny amount generated by submarine weathering. This tiny amount might permit the existence of a small biomass of prokaryote microbes but not the existence of animals.5

Any planet with a water fraction five percent or greater will possess an ocean that is at least 100 kilometers deep. An ocean deeper than about a hundred kilometers will permit no mineral weathering at all. At the bottom of such oceans, pressures will be extreme enough to produce tetragonal (crystal-forming) ice. Tetragonal ice has a density greater than that of liquid water.6 Thus, an ice layer will form at the ocean bottom that will create a permanent barrier between the liquid water and the minerals of the planet’s interior (see figure 1). The oceans of such worlds will lack the nutrient density to support life. They will also be acidic.7

blog__inline--earths-surface-water-percentage-1

Figure 1: Water World Cross Section
Planets with a deep surface or subterranean ocean will possess a tetragonal ice layer at the ocean bottom that will permanently separate its liquid water from its mineral interior. Such an ocean will lack the nutrient density to support life. Diagram credit: Hugh Ross

Problem of Too Little Water Coverage
Planets overwhelmingly dominated by surface landmasses will face a precipitation problem. The predominant source of precipitation onto land comes from the evaporation of ocean water and landmass precipitation is proportional to the surface area of a planet’s oceans.

Another critical factor for balanced precipitation is that the larger the percentage of a planet’s surface area that is covered by land, the more uneven is its landmass precipitation distribution. Where oceans cover less than 10 percent of a planet’s surface area, very little precipitation falls on the landmasses. Most of the landmass area receives no precipitation at all. The thin strips of land that do receive precipitation are able to sustain only a tiny fraction of the net primary biological productivity that would be typical of a present-day continent or island on Earth today.

Fine-Tuned Water Coverage
For any kind of life to be possible a planet must not be 100 percent or 0 percent covered with water. Temporary microbial life can exist on a planet that is 5–25 percent covered or 80–95 percent covered.

However, the long-term existence of plants and animals requires a planet that efficiently recycles nutrients. This necessity mandates that there must be a rough balance between surface oceans and surface landmasses. For global high-technology human civilization to be possible, a planet that is almost exactly the size of Earth is required. Today, on Earth the oceans cover 71 percent of the surface area and landmasses cover the remaining 29 percent. Less landmass coverage means less space to accommodate a large population of humans, their animals, their farms, and their technology. More landmass coverage means less precipitation falling on the landmasses and less even distribution of that precipitation—with consequences for food crop production.

Since the origin of life 3.8 billion years ago, Earth’s landmass coverage has been steadily increasing. Evidently, humans appeared on Earth at the optimal time for them to launch and sustain global civilization.

So far, astronomers have only found worlds beyond Earth that are either 100 percent or 0 percent (surface) covered with water. That we are 71 percent covered with water and 29 percent covered with landmasses appears to be no accident, but rather a testimony of purposeful design.

Endnotes
  1. NASA Fact Sheet, “Follow the Water: Finding a Perfect Match for Life,” April 16, 2007, https://www.nasa.gov/vision/earth/everydaylife/jamestown-water-fs.html.
  2. Manasvi Lingam and Abraham Loeb, “Dependence of Biological Activity on the Surface Water Fraction of Planets,” Astronomical Journal 157, no. 1 (January 3, 2019): id. 25, doi:10.3847/1538-3881/aaf420.
  3. Sheng Jin and Christoph Mordasini, “Compositional Imprints in Density-Distance-Time: A Rocky Composition for Close-In Low-Mass Exoplanets from the Location of the Valley of Evaporation,”Astrophysical Journal 853, no. 2 (February 1, 2018): id. 163, doi:10.3847/1538-4357/aa9f1e; Jingjing Chen and David Kipping, “Probabilistic Forecasting of the Masses and Radii of Other Worlds,” Astrophysical Journal 834, no. 1 (December 27, 2016): id. 17, doi:10.3847/1538-4357/834/1/17; Leslie A. Rogers, “MOST 1.6 Earth-Radius Planets Are Not Rocky,” Astrophysical Journal 801, no. 1 (March 2, 2015): id. 41, doi:10.1088/0004-637X/801/1/41; C. T. Unterborn, N. R. Hinkel, and S. J. Desch, “Updated Compositional Models of the TRAPPIST-1 Planets,” Research Notes of the American Astronomical Society 2, no. 3 (July 3, 2018): id. 116, doi:10.3847/2515-5172/aacf43; David Charbonneau et al., “A Super-Earth Transiting a Nearby Low-Mass Star,” Nature 462 (December 17, 2009): 891–94,doi:10.1038/nature08679; Linda T. Elkins-Tanton and Sara Seager, “Ranges of Atmospheric Mass and Composition of Super-Earth Exoplanets,” Astrophysical Journal 685, no. 2 (October 1, 2008): 1237–46, doi:10.1086/591433; Geoffrey Marcy, “Water World Larger Than Earth,” Nature 462 (December 17, 2009): 853–54, doi:10.1038/462853a.
  4. Richard C. Greenwood et al., “Oxygen Isotope Evidence for Accretion of Earth’s Water before a High-Energy Moon-Forming Giant Impact,” Science Advances 4, no. 3 (March 28, 2018; corrected update July 13, 2018): eaao5928, doi:10.1126/sciadv.aao5928.
  5. Jochen J. Brocks et al., “The Rise of Algae in Cryogenian Oceans and the Emergence of Animals,” Nature 548 (August 31, 2017): 578–81, doi:10.1038/nature23457; Christopher T. Reinhard et al., “Evolution of the Global Phosphorus Cycle,” Nature 541 (January 19, 2017): 386–89, doi:10.1038/nature20772.
  6. A. Levi, D. Sasselov, and M. Podolak, “Structure and Dynamics of Cold Water Super-Earths: The Case of Occluded CHand Its Outgassing,” Astrophysical Journal 792, no. 2 (August 25, 2014): id. 125, doi:10.1088/0004-637X/792/2/125.
  7. Hugh Ross, “Waterworld Planets Are Acidic, Primordial Earth Was Not,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), Reasons to Believe, May 14, 2018, https://www.reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2018/05/14/waterworld-planets-are-acidic-primordial-earth-was-not.

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

Your support helps more people find Christ through sharing how the latest scientific discoveries affirm our faith in the God of the Bible.

DONATE NOW


U.S. Mailing Address
818 S. Oak Park Rd.
Covina, CA 91724
  • P (855) 732-7667
  • P (626) 335-1480
  • Fax (626) 852-0178

Reasons to Believe logo

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Why Would God Create a World Where Animals Eat Their Offspring?

BY FAZALE RANA – MAY 22, 2019

What a book a Devil’s chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering, low and horridly cruel works of nature!

–Charles Darwin, “Letter to J. D. Hooker,” Darwin Correspondence Project

You may not have ever heard of him, but he played an important role in ushering in the Darwinian revolution in biology. His name was Asa Gray.

Gray (1810–1888) was a botanist at Harvard University. He was among the first scientists in the US to adopt Darwin’s theory of evolution. Asa Gray was also a devout Christian.

blog__inline--why-would-god-create-a-world-where-animals-eat-their-offspring-1

Asa Gray in 1864. Image credit: John Adams Whipple, Wikipedia

Gray was convinced that Darwin’s theory of evolution was sound. He was also convinced that nature displayed unmistakable evidence for design. For this reason, he reasoned that God must have used evolution as the means to create and, in doing so, Gray may have been the first person to espouse theistic evolution.

In his book Darwinia, Asa Gray presents a number of essays defending Darwin’s theory. Yet, he also expresses his deepest convictions that nature is filled with indicators of design. He attributed that design to a type of God-ordained, God-guided process. Gray argued that God is the source of all evolutionary change.

blog__inline--why-would-god-create-a-world-where-animals-eat-their-offspring-2

Gray and Darwin struck up a friendship and exchanged around 300 letters. In the midst of their correspondence, Gray asked Darwin if he thought it possible that God used evolution as the means to create. Darwin’s reply revealed that he wasn’t very impressed with this idea.

I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice. Not believing this, I see no necessity in the belief that the eye was expressly designed. On the other hand I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe & especially the nature of man, & to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance. Not that this notion at all satisfies me. I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton. Let each man hope & believe what he can.1

Darwin could not embrace Gray’s theistic evolution because of the cruelty he saw in nature that seemingly causes untold pain and suffering in animals. Darwin—along with many skeptics today—couldn’t square a world characterized by that much suffering with the existence of a God who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good.

Filial Cannibalism

The widespread occurrence of filial cannibalism (when animals eat their young or consume their eggs after laying them) and abandonment (leading to death) exemplify such cruelty in animals. It seems such a low and brutal feature of nature.

Why would God create animals that eat their offspring and abandon their young?

Is Cruelty in Nature Really Evil?

But what if there are good reasons for God to allow pain and suffering in the animal kingdom? I have written about good scientific reasons to think that a purpose exists for animal pain and suffering (see “Scientists Uncover a Good Purpose for Long-Lasting Pain in Animals” by Fazale Rana).

And, what if animal death is a necessary feature of nature? Other studies indicate that animal death promotes biodiversity and ecosystem stability (see “Of Weevils and Wasps: God’s Good Purpose in Animal Death” by Maureen Moser, and “Animal Death Prevents Ecological Meltdown” by Fazale Rana).

There also appears to be a reason for filial cannibalism and offspring abandonment, at least based on a study by researchers from Oxford University (UK) and the University of Tennessee.2 These researchers demonstrated that filial cannibalism and offspring abandonment comprise a form of parental care.

What? How is that conclusion possible?

It turns out that when animals eat their offspring or abandon their young, the reduction promotes the survival of the remaining offspring. To arrive at this conclusion, the researchers performed mathematical modeling of a generic egg-laying species. They discovered that when animals sacrificed a few of their young, the culling led to greater fitness for their offspring than when animals did not engage in filial cannibalism or egg abandonment.

These behaviors become important when animals lay too many eggs. In order to properly care for their eggs (protect, incubate, feed, and clean), animals confine egg-laying to a relatively small space. This practice leads to a high density of eggs. But this high density can have drawbacks, making the offspring more vulnerable to diseases and lack of sufficient food and oxygen. Filial cannibalism reduces the density, ensuring a greater chance of survival for those eggs that are left behind. So, ironically, when egg density is too high for the environmental conditions, more offspring survive when the parents consume some, rather than none, of the eggs.

So, why lay so many eggs in the first place?

In general, the more eggs that are laid, the greater the number of surviving offspring—assuming there are unlimited resources and no threats of disease. But it is difficult for animals to know how many eggs to lay because the environment is unpredictable and constantly changing. A better way to ensure reproductive fitness is to lay more eggs and remove some of them if the environment can’t sustain the egg density.

So, it appears as if there is a good reason for God to create animals that eat their young. In fact, you might even argue that filial cannibalism leads to a world with less cruelty and suffering than a world where filial cannibalism doesn’t exist at all. This feature of nature is consistent with the idea of an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good God who has designed the creation for his good purposes.

Resources

Endnotes
  1. To Asa Gray 22 May [1860],” Darwin Correspondence Project, University of Cambridge, accessed May 15, 2019, https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/DCP-LETT-2814.xml.
  2. Mackenzie E. Davenport, Michael B. Bansall, and Hope Klug, “Unconventional Care: Offspring Abandonment and Filial Cannibalism Can Function as Forms of Parental Care,” Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 7 (April 17, 2019): 113, doi:10.3389/fevo.2019.00113.

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

Your support helps more people find Christ through sharing how the latest scientific discoveries affirm our faith in the God of the Bible.

DONATE NOW


U.S. Mailing Address
818 S. Oak Park Rd.
Covina, CA 91724
  • P (855) 732-7667
  • P (626) 335-1480
  • Fax (626) 852-0178
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

LOOKING INTO THE “PERFECT LAW OF LIBERTY”

By Will Myers

God has laid a sure stone in the essence of things for a sure foundation, for a sure cornerstone. We now know that the sure stone is His Son, Jesus who fulfilled all the laws. Most clergies leave the physical laws out of this teaching, but the Word of God states that creation was made thru and by His Son, and this is very physical.

King Solomon was inspired to write Ecclesiastics 3:15;  “That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past.”

The heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament shows His handiworks.

Apostle Paul is inspired to write Romans 1:20; “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:”

The God Equation, UspaceVspace=Q whereas Uspace represent God’s perfect righteousness, Vspace is the nexuses with Q being the created thing that is. This shows God’s perfect righteousness. Math is the language of science. God created science; therefore, all equations are talking about His creation.

The Book Of Nature is perfect, and the Book Of Life (Bible) is perfect as created by God.  The formal book has been proved by science; the latter is the faith established by the Son of God as it grows and witnessed through experiences within the masses. The laws cannot create life; the spirit produces all life. The laws are to lead us unto our Savior, Christ Jesus.

My metaphysical equation of UspaceVspace=Q expresses the totality of God’s creation which is perfect as shown by what is made, Q. Romans 1:20; ” For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:”

Truly, Christ Jesus is our Messiah. Jesus is our Mediator unto God and our High Priest for all things (material) and all times leading unto God’s Holy Spirit; the presence of God.

James 1:25; “But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty (Son Of God), and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Are Religious Experiences Valid?

BY GUEST WRITER – MAY 10, 2019

By Francisco Delgado

When people ask me how I became a follower of Christ, I am always struck with a sudden mixture of ecstasy and caution. My story of coming to faith in Christ involves elements that are not easy to explain to an audience that may not believe in the supernatural. I love relating it, but I try not to give an initial impression of being esoteric and not describing the full picture.

Passion for Science, No Passion for Life

I grew up in a nominal Catholic family and was familiar with the rituals and traditions of the church. However, my family was discouraged from reading the Bible on our own. We were taught that we needed the guidance of a priest so that we could understand it correctly. I had tried to read some passages on my own, but they seemed dry and largely unintelligible.

During my college years at the University of Arizona I acquired a passion for science. I had started as an engineer, but my exposure to initial courses in physics and chemistry turned my interests towards medicine. The explanatory power of science was mesmerizing, and I quickly became a disciple.

My interest in spiritual things had waned, but then I took a humanities class in which the Bible was part of the world literature curriculum and I was required to read some passages. At the same time, my mother had started attending a Bible study group led by a man who had little formal education, but clear thinking. I chatted with him a few times and posed some hard questions on the Bible. He gave me coherent answers and I was intrigued.

But the pull of the world was strong. After a series of events in pursuit of my own interests and desires, I ended up literally lifting my fist at God and telling him that if he existed, that he should not bother with me. I wanted all traces of him out of my life. I told him to stay away. Shortly thereafter I fell into a severe depression, to the point of thinking seriously about suicide. I had lost all purpose in life. There was nothing to look forward to.

God Reached Me

On December 24, 1989, my mother dragged me to her church. Even though it was Christmas Eve, I cannot remember what the preacher talked about. I was not interested. Yet, he said something at the end that drew my attention, “If you have lost everything in this life, what can you lose by giving Jesus Christ a chance?” So I did. I prayed a short prayer and was taken to a room where they told me that I had made the biggest decision of my life. Not much changed. I went back home and the depression lingered and even worsened.

In my room three days later, I was flipping through the pages of a book that someone had handed me. I was not really interested in reading it, but on one page there was a verse from the Bible that stood out. It was Galatians 2:20 (NASB):

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

Immediately, the room was filled with an unusual brightness. In an instant, the deep depression that had weighed down my heart was swept away and replaced with the greatest joy I had ever known. The experience was overwhelming. I lifted my eyes and the only words that I could articulate were, “Who are you?”

Unlike the apostle Paul, I did not get an audible answer. I sat there for a long time, trying to make sense of the experience from a scientific or psychological perspective, but that was just not plausible. The only conclusion that made sense was that this experience was supernatural.

That day I decided to find out who had met me in my room. I started reading books on different religious beliefs, but after evaluating the claims of different religions it was not difficult to conclude that it was Jesus Christ who had met me in that room and transformed my life when I was at my lowest point.

Testing Religious Experiences

A fundamental question to ask regarding religious experiences is whether the experience and its associated worldview corresponds to the truth. In some worldviews the appeal to religious experiences is central to their apologetic, but Christians are called to evaluate every claim of a religious experience to see if the corresponding worldview withstands the tests for truth. The apostle John writes:

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. (1 John 4:1–2)

Tests to evaluate the truth of a worldview include experiential relevance, empirical adequacy, and logical consistency. The first test includes the religious experience itself, but it goes beyond that to include the way in which the experience blossoms in the person’s life. An experience alone does not provide a strong apologetic for a worldview.

But how do we apply the other two religious experience tests?

The empirical adequacy test requires a worldview to be empirically verifiable. But how do we bring empiricism into a religious experience? Empirical verification requires the observation of the same phenomena as well as a correspondence to reality. A commitment to philosophical naturalism will pose an a priori roadblock to the application of this test because it does not allow supernatural explanations. However, there are multiple documented instances of religious experiences by Christians throughout history. The most remarkable one is the resurrection of Christ and his appearances to over 500 people. These well-attested events provide enough empirical observations that support the Christian worldview.

But not all religious experiences affirm the Christian worldview. In fact, many of these religious experiences occur in the context of other worldviews and some may even fall in the category of hallucinations. Here, the test of logical consistency can be applied to evaluate the truthfulness of the worldview that is being promoted. Drugs and other forms of brain stimulation can cause unusual experiences, but in this instance a careful thinker can identify the stimuli that triggers such experiences. All people need to guard against a willingness to believe what we want to believe. In this case, critical examination of the claim and its correspondence to reality is crucial to determine its truthfulness.

Finally, for those of us who believe in a supernatural dimension, it is vital to remember that not all supernatural events correspond to the worldview of the one who claims to be the Truth. Jesus warned us:

For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. (Matthew 24:24, NASB)

Scripture encourages Christians to be lovers of truth, including the claims of religious experiences. Every religious experience needs to be carefully and critically evaluated before it is accepted as truth. May each of us pursue and prize the truth in all that we do.

Resources


Category
Tags

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

Your support helps more people find Christ through sharing how the latest scientific discoveries affirm our faith in the God of the Bible.

DONATE NOW


U.S. Mailing Address
818 S. Oak Park Rd.
Covina, CA 91724
  • P (855) 732-7667
  • P (626) 335-1480
  • Fax (626) 852-0178

Reasons to Believe logo

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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).

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

Your support helps more people find Christ through sharing how the latest scientific discoveries affirm our faith in the God of the Bible.

DONATE NOW


U.S. Mailing Address
818 S. Oak Park Rd.
Covina, CA 91724
  • P (855) 732-7667
  • P (626) 335-1480
  • Fax (626) 852-0178

Reasons to Believe logo

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

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

Your support helps more people find Christ through sharing how the latest scientific discoveries affirm our faith in the God of the Bible.

DONATE NOW


U.S. Mailing Address
818 S. Oak Park Rd.
Covina, CA 91724
  • P (855) 732-7667
  • P (626) 335-1480
  • Fax (626) 852-0178

Reasons to Believe logo

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment