Why Would a Loving God Punish Us?

BY STEPHEN MCANDREW – MARCH 27, 2020

By Stephen McAndrew

When I was five years old, Postman Pat was my favorite TV show. So, when I misbehaved my punishment included missing the show. I suffered, as only a five-year-old can, knowing that my siblings were watching while I was banished to my room.

Punishment involves suffering, be it big or small. Humans intuitively recognize that it is wrong to inflict suffering on someone, thus it follows that it is wrong to punish someone. So, why would an all-loving, all-good God make someone suffer by punishing them? Why would God send some people to suffer in hell as punishment?

 

Responsibility and Punishment

To address these questions, we will consider free will and how society rewards or punishes choices people make. In human society, we generally accept that it is morally justified to punish criminal behavior. When society punishes someone for committing a crime, it holds that person responsible for a free choice made. Likewise, when society praises someone for making a commendable choice, it holds that person responsible for praiseworthy behavior.

When society punishes a criminal, they are blaming that person appropriately for freely choosing to commit the crime. None of this is to say that there are not cases in the criminal justice system where we find that someone who committed a criminal act should not be held responsible because they suffer from a cognitive limitation. In these cases, we hold that the individual was not responsible for the act as they did not fully understand their actions.

Are We Humans or Animals?

Nevertheless, respecting free choice treats people as individuals who are rational and capable of exercising moral judgment. Yet some, like philosopher and political activist Bertrand Russell, have argued that we should not punish criminals, but treat their criminal actions as symptoms of a disease.1 These groups often advocate for what they believe are more “compassionate” treatments. But a world that absolves criminals of responsibility for those crimes would be highly problematic. Christian writer and intellectual C. S. Lewis wrote:

To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level with those who have not yet reached the age of reason…and domestic animals. But to be punished, however severely, because we have deserved it, because we “ought to have known better,” is to be treated as a human person made in God’s image.2

I agree with Lewis. If we don’t punish people for wrong actions they chose to do, then we are really treating them like animals. Animals are not morally responsible for their actions. If my dog relieves himself on the carpet, I work to train my dog not to do that in the future. However, if a person commits a crime, we do not merely train them not to do it again. They cannot be trained, like an animal, not to do certain things; rather they must freely choose not to do those things in the future. We cannot override their free will through training. And most people have a deep sense that it is inappropriate to treat a person in the same way we would treat an animal.

Philosopher Herbert Morris pointed out further problems with no-punishment treatments. He argued that a world that treats criminals as suffering from a disease would permit preventive detention before any offense is committed, if someone is believed to have dangerous tendencies. He wrote:

In the punishment system, because we are dealing with deprivations, it is understandable that we should forbear from imposing them until we are quite sure of guilt. In the therapy system, dealing as it does with benefits, there is less reason for forbearance from treatment at an early stage.3

It would also not allow offenders to pay back their debt to society. If you did not earn a punishment, then how can you earn back the respect of society? Morris wrote:

Infliction of the prescribed punishment carries the implication…that one has “paid one’s debt” to society, for the punishment is the taking from the person of something commonly recognized as valuable…What is clear is that the conceptions of “paying a debt” or “having a debt forgiven” or pardoning have no place in a system of therapy.4

Respect and Mercy

Punishment respects our free choices and respects us as persons capable of making moral decisions. If God holds us responsible for our moral actions, then he treats us like rational people who are responsible for our choices. In punishing those who do wrong God is not being unfair or mean, but is treating us with respect. This is the same way the criminal justice system, when properly applied, respects offenders as persons by punishing them rather than treating their offenses as something they had no control over.

The good news is that God extends mercy—even though we deserve divine punishment due to our free choices to do moral wrongs. This is not to say that God takes our moral wrongs lightly and dismisses them easily. Rather, Jesus took the punishment that we deserved by suffering and dying in our place. His righteousness (moral goodness) is imputed to us if we choose to follow and obey Him. Moreover, as Morris and Lewis pointed out, mercy only makes sense if someone deserves to be punished and punishment is not carried out. Lewis wrote: “If crime is only a disease which needs cure, not sin which deserves punishment, it cannot be pardoned. How can you pardon a man for having a humboil or a club foot?”5 Therefore, in order to be merciful, God must hold us responsible, and mercy is clearly an exercise of a loving God.6

 

Endnotes
  1. Bertrand Russell, Proposed Roads to Freedom (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1919), 125.
  2. S. Lewis, “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment,” in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2014), 287–301.
  3. Herbert Morris, “Persons and Punishment,” The Monist 52, no. 4 (October 1, 1968): 475–501, https://doi.org/10.5840/monist196852436.
  4. Herbert Morris, “Persons and Punishment,” 484.
  5. Lewis, “Punishment,” 294.
  6. This is not to say that those to whom God extends mercy will not suffer in life, as suffering can develop character (Romans 5:5). Rather, believers in Christ will not suffer the eternal punishment they deserve for sin.

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Bringing Hope to the COVID–19 Days Ahead

BY ANJEANETTE ROBERTS – APRIL 9, 2020

With everyone’s life disrupted, I find I am having many conversations with worried colleagues, friends, and family. One friend even got me to do a video interview with her to share with her coworkers and friends. She said she felt selfish having access to a SARS virologist amid a full-blown pandemic.

I want to share some reflections that I hope will encourage you and that you’ll pass on to your friends and coworkers, too.

Here’s my COVID-19 advice for daily life: Love boldly. Serve wisely. Think clearly. Pray always. Let’s work our way through these, backwards.

Pray

It’s always good to start with prayer, which includes gratitude. I have heard and read many good things for which I’m thankful: many health care professionals, reporters, scientists, and civic and religious leaders are focused on our current public health needs and are taking positive action. Join me in giving thanks for these women and men, and let’s pray daily for those who:

  • Serve others
  • Treat the sick, and
  • Work to mitigate the risk

Let’s also pray for God’s healing for the sick, comfort for the fearful, strength for caregivers and pastors, and mercy for the dying. Let’s pray that the pandemic would be abated as quickly as possible, even miraculously so, and that all of us will do what we can.

Think

We can all be proactive, adding to our prayers, actions in compliance with public health guidelines at local, state, and national levels. Precautionary behavior will help mitigate the risk and spread. It will alleviate burden on the health care system and stress on health care workers. We must think of how our choices impact the lives of our health care workers.

We can also choose to fight a culture of fear, uncertainty, selfishness, and any temptation to assign blame. All of these are easy to find in the public dialogue. As Christians, we can bring a message of compassion, hope, and mercy that will resonate deeply in contrast to the negative voices. We can look to Scripture and the lives of other Christians who have faced great adversity to find comfort as this disease crosses our homelands. Such a tact will help alleviate fear, especially when the disease is fueled by endless COVID-19 information and misinformation.

As I face a constant cascade of COVID-19 information, I’m posting frequently to Facebook and Twitter. (It’s faster and easier than blogging.) In one of my own favorite tweets, I addressed prayer and action, tweeting: “Let’s all be Lutherans this year,” and included a link to my former professor’s blog. He shared Martin Luther’s advice, made during the time of the bubonic plague:

I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.1

Serve

Other helpful advice comes from a Christian pastor, advisor, and friend. He and his wife sent a letter to each of their neighbors offering to help if they found they couldn’t get out for trips to the grocery store or to pick up prescriptions. They offered to be available for outdoor, physically distanced conversations, especially if their respective experiences in pastoral care and as a nurse practitioner could be helpful. They also extended an invitation to neighbors by offering the trails on their country property for leisurely walks anytime someone found themselves going stir crazy. These are simple, practical gestures that demonstrate care and open up possibilities for future relationships. This couple provided their email and physical addresses along with contact phone numbers. They’ve already seen some neighbors respond!

We can also serve by doing particularly practical things. Consider these three:

  • Contribute to food banks which may be depleted due to scarcity of goods in some stores.
  • Contribute to blood banks which are always in need of donations, and even more so when many who are sick can’t donate.
  • Don’t spread misinformation.

I would strongly encourage us to make the most of the days ahead for the sake of the kingdom and our neighbors’ and friends’ deepest welfare. As I’ve encouraged others to listen to and follow public health policy guidelines, I’m sometimes left with the unexpressed impression that others are thinking, “Okay, maybe . . . but I’ve never had to follow public health advice before. Maybe others should. I’ve been fine.” Well, maybe we have been fine even when disregarding public health advice before, but none of us has ever been in a pandemic before. And we all are now. We’re all in this together.

Maybe you’ve heard (or repeated) some things that aren’t true or won’t work at this point in time:

  • We know who’s most vulnerable; just isolate them and we’ll all be fine.
  • The very young and young, healthy adults are not at risk.
  • I don’t feel sick, so I’m good to go.

We know now that none of these are true. We can’t always tell if someone falls into the vulnerable category of comorbidity (having underlying disease). Many young people have become seriously ill, required ventilation, and have even died. A handful of infants have died too. Estimates of asymptomatic cases range from 50–80% and are one reason widespread serological testing is needed and should be welcomed when available. We can’t rely on misinformation to guide our actions and choices.

One other item of misinformation that I tackled on social media and in private messaging this past week involves the conspiracy theories that unfortunately always arise. One rumor claims that SARS-CoV-2 is a human construct or a lab accident gone awry. It’s not true. Others have published data to discount these theories. I couldn’t agree more with one fellow virologist, Tom Gallagher’s comment:

Suggesting that SARS-CoV-2 is a purposely manipulated laboratory virus or a product of an accidental laboratory release would be utterly defenseless, truly unhelpful, and extremely inappropriate.2

Love

Last week I finished watching Picard, the new CBS Star Trek series. It is quintessential storytelling with a strong transhumanist message in the final episode. Part of that message includes Picard’s ultimate wisdom that he shares with Soji, an advanced synthetic life-form (a la Data, the famous, self-aware android from Star Trek’s Next Generation series). Picard says that life’s purpose is that we are to save one another. It’s a deeply human message in the midst of the current pandemic, even if it reflects bad theology when left to itself. Nevertheless, your actions can save others’ lives, physically, in the days ahead. And your actions, prayers, and witness can also point others to the ultimate meaning and purpose in life: reconciliation with God, redemption and new life in Jesus, and eternal life—a transhumanist spin with flair!

Final Thoughts

A favorite meme making the rounds on social media shows an empty church and these words, “The church is not empty. The church is deployed.” In light of that, may I echo the words of one preacher from First Baptist Church in Dallas, interviewed on the news this past week. Now’s the time for Christians to act; to the church deployed: “be fearless, not stupid.”

#LoveBoldy #ServeWisely #ThinkClearly #PrayAlways

Resources

Endnotes
  1. Martin Luther in a letter to Rev. Dr. John Hess, found in Luther’s Works, Volume 43 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1968), 132.
  2. Matt Field, “Experts Know the New Coronavirus Is Not a Bioweapon. They Disagree on Whether It Could Have Leaked from a Research Lab,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March 30, 2020, https://thebulletin.org/2020/03/experts-know-the-new-coronavirus-is-not-a-bioweapon-they-disagree-on-whether-it-could-have-leaked-from-a-research-lab/.

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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What Happens to Those Who Never Hear the Gospel?

BY KENNETH R. SAMPLES – JUNE 9, 2020

What happens to people who never hear the gospel message about Jesus Christ?

This vexing question has challenged Christians for centuries, but recently a skeptic raised this inquiry with me. After all, if God is loving and good, how will he adjudicate the destiny of so many people who will never get a chance to hear the way out of their predicament?

Christian theology has offered four answers to the question of the fate of the unevangelized. However, some of these positions are fraught with serious biblical and theological challenges. As you consider each, I encourage you to see the endnote references for further reading.

4 Views on the Unevangelized

1. Universalism: This is the view that God will ultimately save all people through Christ’s sacrifice regardless of whether they believed, disbelieved, or had never heard the explicit gospel message itself.

Also called universal salvation, this position reflects what might be defined as an extreme optimism concerning the redemptive grace of God. Its defenders, though always a minority in church history,1 nevertheless insist that various biblical verses can be understood to support this viewpoint.2

Universalism has been described, at minimum, as a “revisionist challenge to orthodoxy” (including Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant) because a version of the teaching was condemned as a heresy in church history.Historic Christian orthodoxy has rejected universalism because Scripture indicates that some peoplewill suffer eternal divine judgment because they have rejectedGod and specifically Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior (for example, Matthew 25:32–33, 41, 46; John 3:36; Revelation 14:11).

2. Inclusivism: This view holds that people (among other religions and among the unevangelized) can be saved by responding favorably to God even if they have never heard of Christ. The Catholic theology of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) said people of good will who never hear of Christ could be saved by Christ as “anonymous Christians.”4 Thus, the unevangelized are not excluded merely because they have never heard the gospel. However, this view has been rejected by many traditional Christians because it fails to recognize the depth of sin’s bondage on the human will and the potential idolatrous thinking of non-Christians. Also, Scripture clearly teaches that salvation comes through hearing the explicit preached Word (Romans 10:17).

3. Exclusivism: This position is the traditional Christian view. It asserts that the unevangelized are apparently lost apart from hearing and responding affirmatively to the gospel message because they have sinned in Adam. Therefore, theyhave no right to divine grace but will be judged by the general revelation God has given to all human beings. At this point of tension, exclusivism must account for the Jews and holy pagans who were saved in the Old Testament before hearing about the explicit message of Jesus Christ. Moreover, there appear to be three versions of exclusivism:5

  • Restrictive exclusivism affirms that conscious faith in Christ is necessary for salvation and therefore the unevangelized are definitely lost.
  • Pessimistic exclusivism affirms that while the fate of the unevangelized is not known with certainty, there is no clear evidence in Scripture that God will perform an extraordinary work of grace to reach the unevangelized apart from the normal means of the preached gospel. So the unevangelized are likely lost.
  • Nonrestrictive (optimistic) exclusivism affirms that while the fate of the unevangelized is not known, Scripture seems to indicate that God may reach out to those who haven’t heard the gospel in some extraordinary way (dreams, after-death tests, etc.).

4. Agnosticism: On this view humans can’t definitively know the state of the unevangelized and their fate is God’s prerogative.

Responding to the Inquirer

The consensus view among theologically traditional Christians is some form of exclusivism. This news may not sit well with a skeptic, but here’s where empathy and bridge-building skills can help. Show the inquirer that you respect them as a person, even as you explain the gospel in its biblical details (creation, fall, redemption, consummation) that pertain to all of us.

In a practical sense, if you’re concerned about the unevangelized living in today’s world, then winsomely share your faith and support Christian missions and apologetics enterprises.

Reflections: Your Turn

How important is evangelism in your life as a Christian? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.

Endnotes
  1. Wikipedia, s.v. “History of Christian Universalism,” last edited May 21, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Christian_universalism; Contemporary Eastern Orthodox scholar David Bentley Hart defends universalism in his book That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation.
  2. Wikipedia, s.v. “Universalism,” last edited May 1, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universalism.
  3. J. I. Packer, “Universalism: Will Everyone Ultimately Be Saved?,” in Hell under Fire, ed. Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), 170.
  4. For more about religious inclusivism (Catholic and Protestant) as well as a developed critique of the view, see Kenneth Richard Samples, God among Sages (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2017), chapters 9 and 10.
  5. Samples, God among Sages, chapters 9 and 10.

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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God, Constitution And Us

By Will Myers

The Founding Fathers who etched out our Constitution were not only concerned about defending the nation against oppressive powers who might take control of our government but were concerned about individual rights which have continued to be a pattern in our Supreme Court case law for over 200 years.

Prior to the U.S. Constitution and case law, a prevailing attitude by the Pilgrims was that no power should exist between the citizen and his God whereas a citizen would have religious freedom. This is the beginning that led to our freedoms at present. But, there have always been forces attempting to move our government away from our individual freedoms and subject an individual to their oppressive actions. At present, the opposition to our Constitution is special interest groups (SIG) who collect, analyze, and distribute sensitive about a targeted private citizen. SIG is a snake, criminal enterprise in America as defined by our Constitution, and SIG is a direct threat to our individual freedoms and civil liberties.

With the advances in technology, the SIG snake organization can efficiently put in motion their operations with the goal of hyper-communism whereas they can control the thoughts of men. At present, SIG snake organization can destroy the livelihood of any private citizen.

The SIG snake organization poses as the “People” of our democracy. This could be the farthest from the truth. They have no authority in our democracy nor under our Constitution.

The sponsors of SIG are our oligarch class (Republicans) who does not believe in the spirit of the Constitution neither are they believers in our democracy. The Oligarchies are for control of the people not freedoms and liberties in order to protect their assets. If voters only knew the full agenda of Trump and the Republicans no one would vote Republican for the next 30 years. As a matter of fact, Republicans would have to change the name of their party.

SIG is depicted by Ephesians 6:12; “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

We have lost the right “To Be Let Alone;” a right that was given by our U.S. Constitution reinforced by our Supreme Court; a necessity for a free democracy with civil liberties.

If a person is targeted by SIG (Active dossier) then he is no longer enjoying the rights afforded by the U.S. Constitution; you are now living in a communistic state (Mental enslavement) in which I have labeled hyper-communism whereas ideally the government owns the minds of the citizens. Communism plus technological advance is more defined as hyper-communism. Russia and the U.S.A. is on a connecting path (One World Government) which is desired by the oligarch class of the industrialized nations.

 

“The right to be let alone is indeed the beginning of all freedom.” – William O. Douglas, U.S. Supreme Court Justice (1952)

 

 

 

 

 

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The Argument from Beauty: Can Evolution Explain Our Aesthetic Sense?

BY FAZALE RANA – MAY 13, 2020

Lately, I find myself spending more time in front of the TV than I normally would, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. I‘m not sure investing more time watching TV is a good thing, but it has allowed me to catch up on some of my favorite TV shows.

One program that is near the top of my favorites list these days is the Canadian sitcom Kim’s Convenience. Based on the 2011 play of the same name written by Ins Choi, this sitcom is about a family of Korean immigrants who live in Toronto, where they run a convenience store.

In the episode “Best Before” Appa, the traditional, opinionated, and blunt family patriarch, argues with his 20-year-old daughter about selling cans of ravioli that have expired. Janet, an art student frustrated by her parents’ commitment to Korean traditions and their tendency to parent her excessively, implores her father not to sell the expired product because it could make people sick. But Mr. Kim asserts that the ravioli isn’t bad, reasoning that the label states, “best before this date. After this date, not the best, but still pretty good.”

The assessment “not the best, but still pretty good” applies to more than just expired cans of foods. It also applies to explanations.

Often, competing explanations exist for a set of facts, an event in life’s history, or some phenomenon in nature. And, each explanation has merits and weaknesses. In these circumstances, it’s not uncommon to seek the best explanation among the contenders. Yet, as I have learned through experience, identifying the best explanation isn’t as easy as it might seem. For example, whether or not one considers an explanation to be the “best” or “not the best, but pretty good” depends on a number of factors, including one’s worldview.

I have found this difference in perspective to be true as I have interacted with skeptics about the argument for God from beauty.

Nature’s Beauty, God’s Existence, and the Biblical View of Humanity

Every place we look in nature—whether the night sky, the oceans, the rain forests, the deserts, even the microscopic world—we see a grandeur so compelling that we are often moved to our very core. For theists, nature’s beauty points to the reality of God’s existence.

As philosopher Richard Swinburne argues, “If God creates a universe, as a good workman he will create a beautiful universe. On the other hand, if the universe came into existence without being created by God, there is no reason to suppose that it would be a beautiful universe.”1 In other words, the best explanation for the beauty in the world around us is divine agency.

blog__inline--the-argument-from-beauty-can-evolution-explain

Image: Richard Swinburne Credit: Wikipedia

Moreover, our response to the beauty in the world around us supports the biblical view of human nature. As human beings, why do we perceive beauty in the world? In response to this question, Swinburne asserts, “There is certainly no particular reason why, if the universe originated uncaused, psycho-physical laws . . . would bring about aesthetic sensibilities in human beings.”2 But if human beings are made in God’s image, as Scripture teaches, we should be able to discern and appreciate the universe’s beauty, made by our Creator to reveal his glory and majesty. In other words, Swinburne and others who share his worldview find God to be the best explanation for the beauty that surrounds us.

Humanity’s Aesthetic Sense

Our appreciation of beauty stands as one of humanity’s defining features. And it extends beyond our fascination with nature’s beauty. Because of our aesthetic sense, we strive to create beautiful things ourselves, such as paintings and figurative art. We adorn ourselves with body ornaments. We write and perform music. We sing songs. We dance. We create fiction and tell stories. Much of the art we produce involves depictions of imaginary worlds. And, after we create these imaginary worlds, we contemplate them. We become absorbed in them.

What is the best explanation for our aesthetic sense? Following after Swinburne, I maintain that the biblical view of human nature accounts for our aesthetic sense. For, if we are made in God’s image, then we are creators ourselves. And the art, music, and stories we create arises as a manifestation of God’s image within us.

As a Christian theist, I am skeptical that the evolutionary paradigm can offer a compelling explanation for our aesthetic sense.

Though sympathetic to an evolutionary approach as a way to explain for our sense of beauty, philosopher Mohan Matthen helps frame the problem confronting the evolutionary paradigm: “But why is this good, from an evolutionary point of view? Why is it valuable to be absorbed in contemplation, with all the attendant dangers of reduced vigilance? Wasting time and energy puts organisms at an evolutionary disadvantage. For large animals such as us, unnecessary activity is particularly expensive.”3

Our response to beauty includes the pleasure we experience when we immerse ourselves in nature’s beauty, a piece of art or music, or a riveting fictional account. But, the pleasure we derive from contemplating beauty isn’t associated with a drive that supports our survival, such as thirst, hunger, or sexual urges. When these desires are satisfied we experience pleasure, but that pleasure displays a time-dependent profile. For example, it is unpleasant when we are hungry, yet those unpleasant feelings turn into pleasure when we eat. In turn, the pleasure associated with assuaging our hunger is short-lived, soon replaced with the discomfort of our returning hunger.

In contrast, the pleasure associated with our aesthetic sense varies little over time. The sensory and intellectual pleasure we experience from contemplating things we deem beautiful continues without end.

On the surface it appears our aesthetic sense defies explanation within an evolutionary framework. Yet, many evolutionary biologists and evolutionary psychologists have offered possible evolutionary accounts for its origin.

Evolutionary Accounts for Humanity’s Aesthetic Sense

Evolutionary scenarios for the origin of human aesthetics adopt one of three approaches, viewing it as either (1) an adaptation, (2) an evolutionary by-product, or (3) the result of genetic noise.4

1. Theories that involve adaptive mechanisms claim our aesthetic sense emerged as an adaptation that assumed a central place in our survival and reproductive success as a species.

2. Theories that view our aesthetic sense as an evolutionary by-product maintain that it is the accidental, unintended consequence of other adaptations that evolved to serve other critical functions—functions with no bearing on our capacity to appreciate beauty.

3. Theories that appeal to genetic drift consider our aesthetic sense to be the accidental, chance outcome of evolutionary history that just happened upon a gene network that makes our appreciation of beauty possible.

For many people, these evolutionary accounts function as better explanations for our aesthetic sense than one relying on a Creator’s existence and role in creating a beautiful universe, including creatures who bear his image and are designed to enjoy his handiwork. Yet, for me, none of the evolutionary approaches seem compelling. The mere fact that a plethora of differing scenarios exist to explain the origin of our aesthetic sense indicates that none of these approaches has much going for it. If there truly was a compelling way to explain the evolutionary origin of our aesthetic sense, then I would expect that a singular theory would have emerged as the clear front-runner.

Genetic Drift and Evolutionary By-Product Models

In effect, evolutionary models that regard our aesthetic sense to be an unintended by-product or the consequence of genetic drift are largely untestable. And, of course, this concern prompts the question: Are any of these approaches genuinely scientific explanations?

On top of that, both types of scenarios suffer from the same overarching problem; namely, human activities that involve our aesthetic sense are central to almost all that we do. According to evolutionary biologists John Tooby and Leda Cosmides:

Aesthetically-driven activities are not marginal phenomena or elite behavior without significance in ordinary life. Humans in all cultures spend a significant amount of time engaged in activities such as listening to or telling fictional stories, participating in various forms of imaginative pretense, thinking about imaginary worlds, experiencing the imaginary creations of others, and creating public representations designed to communicate fictional experiences to others. Involvement in fictional, imagined worlds appears to be a cross-culturally universal, species-typical phenomenon . . . Involvement in the imaginative arts appears to be an intrinsically rewarding activity, without apparent utilitarian payoff.5

As human beings we prefer to occupy imaginary worlds. We prefer absorbing ourselves in the beauty of the world or in the creations we make. Yet, as Tooby and Cosmides point out, obsession with the imaginary world detracts from our survivability.6 The ultimate rewards we receive should be those leading to our survival and reproductive success and these rewards should come from the time we spend acquiring and acting on true information about the world. In fact, we should have an appetite for accurate information about the world and a willingness to cast aside false, imaginary information.

In effect, our obsession with aesthetics could be properly seen as maladaptive. It would be one thing if our obsession with creating and admiring beauty was an incidental part of our nature. But, because it is at the forefront of everything we think and do, its “maladaptive“ character should have resulted in its adaptive elimination. Instead, we see the opposite. Our aesthetic sense is one of our most dominant traits as human beings.

Evolutionary Adaptation Models

This significant shortcoming pushes to the forefront evolutionary scenarios that explain our aesthetic sense as adaptations. Yet, generally speaking, these evolutionary scenarios leave much to be desired. For example, one widely touted model explains our attraction to natural beauty as a capacity that helped humans identify the best habitats when we were hunter-gatherers. This aesthetic sense causes us to admire idyllic settings with water and trees. And, because we admire these settings, we want to live in them, promoting our survivability and reproductive success. Yet this model doesn’t account for our attraction to settings that would make it nearly impossible to live, let alone thrive. Such settings include snow-covered mountains with sparse vegetation; the crashing waves of an angry ocean; or the molten lava flowing from a volcanic eruption. These settings are hostile, yet we are enamored with their majestic beauty. This adaptive model also doesn’t explain our attraction to animals that would be deadly to us: lions and tigers or brightly colored snakes, for example.

Another more sophisticated model explains our aesthetic sense as a manifestation of our ability to discern patterns. The capacity to discern patterns plays a key role in our ability to predict future events, promoting our survival and reproductive success. Our perception of patterns is innate, yet, it needs to be developed and trained. So, our contemplation of beauty and our creation of art, music, literature, etc. are perceptual play—fun and enjoyable activities that develop our perceptual skills.7 If this model is valid, then I would expect that perceptual play (and consequently fascination with beauty) would be most evident in children and teenagers. Yet, we see that our aesthetic sense continues into adulthood. In fact, it becomes more elaborate and sophisticated as we grow older. Adults are much more likely to spend an exorbitant amount of time admiring and contemplating beauty and creating art and music.

This model also fails to explain why we feel compelled to develop our perceptual abilities and aesthetic capacities far beyond the basic skills needed to survive and reproduce. As human beings, we are obsessed with becoming aesthetic experts. The drive to develop expert skill in the aesthetic arts detracts from our survivability. This drive for perfection is maladaptive. To become an expert requires time and effort. It involves difficulty—even pain—and sacrifice. It’s effort better spent trying to survive and reproduce.

At the end of the day, evolutionary models that appeal to the adaptive value of our aesthetic sense, though elaborate and sophisticated, seem little more than evolutionary just-so stories.

So, what is the best explanation for our aesthetic sense? It likely depends on your worldview.

Which explanatory model is best? And which is not the best, but still pretty good? If you are a Christian theist, you most likely find the argument from beauty compelling. But, if you are a skeptic you most likely prefer evolutionary accounts for the origin of our aesthetic sense.

So, like beauty, the best explanation may lie in the eye of the beholder.

Resources

Endnotes
  1. Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 190–91.
  2. Swinburne, The Existence of God, 190–91.
  3. Mohan Matthen, “Eye Candy,” Aeon (March 24, 2014), https://aeon.co/amp/essays/how-did-evolution-shape-the-human-appreciation-of-beauty.
  4. John Tooby and Leda Cosmides, “Does Beauty Build Adaptive Minds? Towards an Evolutionary Theory of Aesthetics, Fiction and the Arts,” SubStance 30, no. 1&2 (2001): 6–27; doi: 10.1353/sub.2001.0017.
  5. Tooby and Cosmides, “Does Beauty Build Adaptive Minds?”
  6. Tooby and Cosmides, “Does Beauty Build Adaptive Minds?”
  7. Matthen, “Eye Candy.”

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Are We All God’s Children?

BY KRISTA BONTRAGER – MAY 22, 2020

By Krista Bontrager

 

I frequently see comments on social media claiming, “We are all God’s children.” Generally, people intend this sentiment to mean that God has the same relationship with every human equally. The implication is that God relates to each person directly as heavenly Father. Sometimes this phrase is even used to affirm universal salvation (i.e., that everyone will ultimately be saved).

The question, however, is does the Bible actually teach that everyone is a child of God? Let’s take a closer look at some of the key Scriptures that address this question.

 

God as Creator

All humans are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26–27). Even after the fall of Adam into sin, Scripture describes God making humans “a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor” (Psalm 8:5). In fact, after Noah’s flood God declares that the warrant for capital punishment stems from humans being God’s image bearers (Genesis 9:4–6). The apostle James warns Christians not to verbally disparage someone else: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be” (James 3:9).

When we put these Scriptures together, two important truths emerge. First, humans are fallen. Second, humans maintain the image of God, inherent dignity, value, and worth amid their fallenness. Both of these descriptions are universally applied to all humans in all times and all places.

There is one reference in the New Testament where humans are universally described as being the “offspring of God,” and that is in the apostle Paul’s sermon to the philosophers in Athens. God is described as the Creator of everything, including all humanity.

From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands . . . As some of your own poets have said, “We are his offspring” (Acts 17:24–28).

Paul’s description, however, doesn’t connote a direct father-child relationship between the Creator and all humans. Rather, it is more of a generic description about the origin of humanity, like saying that George Washington was the “father of our country.”

 

God as Father

God the Father has only one begotten Son (John 3:16). However, to become one of God’s children, one must be adopted—in, by, and through—the One Who is the Son: Jesus Christ. Those who are not adopted are not children of God. Christ, and Christ alone, is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).

We get further insight into Paul’s theology on this matter when we observe how he opens many of his epistles with phrases like, “God our Father” (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3). In context, it’s clear that he is referring to Christians, not all of humanity. There are many places where Paul explicitly uses the analogy of adoption to describe the Christian’s relationship with the Father:

  • But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. (Galatians 4:4–5)
  • He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will. (Ephesians 1:5)
  • So in Christ Jesus you are all children of Godthrough faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26–28, emphasis added)
  • For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirityou received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba,” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory (Romans 8:14–23).

God has knit together a new people, consisting of Jews and Gentiles, men and women, rich and poor, slave and free. These are the people who have become the children of God.

The apostle John explains that we become God’s children through grace rather than birthright. Even though Jesus was rejected by many, “yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:11–13, emphasis added). In other words, not everyone wears the title “child of God.”

Interestingly, Jesus even goes so far to call some who are outside of his family as belonging to their “father, the devil” who carry out their “father’s desires,” including lying and murder (John 8:44). Paul makes similar statements in Ephesians, warning the church about the “prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (2:2) and again “let no one deceive you with empty words . . . the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (5:6). Who are these “sons of disobedience”? They are those who are not in a covenant relationship with the Father through Jesus.

That brings us to a critical point. While not everyone is a child of God, Jesus extends the invitation to become one to all. I pray for everyone to know what it is like to be a child of God, to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and to experience the forgiveness and love of the Father.

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Does Everyone Have Three Lives?

BY KENNETH R. SAMPLES – APRIL 28, 2020

I’ve enjoyed watching police dramas since childhood. Some of my favorites from the distant past include Streets of San FranciscoKojak, and Starsky and Hutch. Currently, my favorite television program is CBS’s Blue Bloods. It stars Tom Selleck as New York City police commissioner Frank Reagan.

A wise patriarch, Reagan often dispenses provocative quotes at the family dinner table,1 including this line from Colombian novelist and Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez (1927-2014): “Everyone has three lives: a public life, a private life, and a secret life.”2

As a philosophy instructor, I like quotes that make me think about the most important questions of life and I’m especially interested in discovering possible insights concerning the enigma of human nature. This quote struck me and caused me to want to reflect about its meaning. So, I tracked down the quote to its source and researched its potential meaning.

Some have interpreted Márquez’s quote to reflect the following, but various sources on the Web show that not everyone agrees.

1. A Public Life: This is the side of themselves that people present at work, church, civic arenas, and other public contexts. This is how people are generally seen in their daily life outside the home.

2. A Private Life: This is the side of life that people share with family and close friends. Only a person’s inner circle, so to speak, gets to see this “version.”

3. A Secret Life: This is the side of life known only to an individual. In can include one’s private thoughts and secret actions. People may be aware of their secret life, but that is not always the case. The reality of the secret life may be unknown even to the individual person himself for all of us have blind spots that stand in the way of true self-realization.

A Few Reflections

In light of this interpretation, I offer a few reflections. As I see it, Márquez’s quote has interesting psychological, philosophical, and theological implications.

Psychological: It seems common for people to compartmentalize their lives. But the sharper the divide between the compartments usually the greater chance of a deep cognitive dissonance (an inconsistency of beliefs and actions). In this case one wonders where, or if, true self-realization (growth or fulfillment) can be achieved.

Philosophical: All people at one time or another wonder about the deep questions of life. Moreover, every person has deep inner longings, yet it seems these existential yearnings are seldom revealed publicly or even privately. This disconnect could reflect an inner existential estrangement (self alienation).

Theological: Original sin has caused a powerful disorder in human beings with regard to God, to others, and to or within one’s self. There is a brokenness and fragmentation within the self. Sharp compartmentalization often works against a unified inner moral integrity. And, from a Christian worldview perspective, nothing is truly secret before God. This reality can be good news for the existentially lonely, but quite foreboding for those who seek to hide their immoral secrets.

I think Márquez’s quote is insightful and engaging. It has made me reflect about the compartmentalization in my own life. It has also caused me to consider what goes on in the inner lives of other people who may be suffering and to have empathy for them.

I like to watch television shows that make me think deeply about life. Tom Selleck’s character of Frank Reagan on Blue Bloods with his provocative quotes often provides ample inspiration for such reflecting.

Reflections: Your Turn

Do you agree that everyone has three lives? Are there television programs that you watch that make you think? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.

Endnotes
  1. Blue Bloods, season 10, episode 6, “Glass Houses,” directed by Heather Cappiello, written by Kevin Wade and Allie Solomon, CBS, aired November 1, 2019.
  2. Gerald Martin, Gabriel García Márquez: A Life (New York: Vintage, 2010), 198.

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COVID-19 Prompts Focus on Protective Action

BY HUGH ROSS – APRIL 27, 2020

COVID-19 has caused untold global suffering—deaths, debilitating illnesses, and the disruption of social structures, not to mention economic woes. As in the case of virtually all disasters, the pandemic has brought forth both the best in humanity and the worst: acts of selflessness, kindness, generosity, and compassion, as well as panic, hoarding, defiance of reasonably protective guidelines, and other expressions of selfishness. Can historical analysis and technological innovation help us minimize future outbreaks?

Embracing Our Mandate
The global recovery, to whatever extent possible, will take considerable time, but will it also awaken us to the need for a realistic assessment of both the global dangers continually before us and the actions we can take to mitigate their devastating impact? God has never rescinded the mandate given to the first creatures made in his image (Genesis 1:28; 2:15). We are given responsibility to manage the planet for the benefit of all life. It’s a responsibility that requires ongoing research and creative, collaborative, wise responses to what that research reveals.

Earth’s climate became a focus of research once we realized we had taken its stability for granted. As warming effects began to be noticed and measured, awareness of potential danger gave rise to intensive study and then to the variety of reactions—denial or panic and calls for drastic action—such as we’ve observed over the past decade. At the same time, this looming climate crisis may have distracted us from attending to and preparing appropriately for others, such as an intense solar flare, major volcanic eruption, supernova event, etc. The current pandemic is just one of these others that could have and should have been anticipated.

Pandemics Are Not New
History teaches that plagues, epidemics, and even pandemics have been with us throughout recorded history at roughly predictable intervals. However, the intervals are just long enough that they tend to drop out of memory. People alive today have mostly forgotten about the Spanish flu of 1918. What’s more, our confidence in the advances of modern medicine may have led to the presumption that large-scale deadly outbreaks were no longer a threat. And yet the history of pandemics reveals a great irony: the wealthier and more technologically advanced our civilization, the more vulnerable we are to pandemics—and, for some of the same reasons, more vulnerable to climate instability, too.

The shift from hunter-gatherer and nomadic family groups to agrarian communities and manufacturing centers greatly increased the scale and spread of diseases. As people began to cluster in villages, towns, and cities, and trade between them increased, so did exposure to disease-causing bacteria and viruses. Increasing human population and more advanced civilization led to larger and larger cities, more comprehensive trade, greater travel across longer distances, and closer contact among dense populations of people and other creatures.

All these factors combined to yield increased opportunities for bacteria and viruses to mutate and cross species, transforming from relatively benign organisms into deadly strains that could overwhelm human immune systems. These same factors also added to the challenge of isolating infected individuals, keeping them away from people who had not yet been exposed to the known or unknown pathogen.

What especially exacerbates the potential for the spread of disease in the twenty-first century is the combined speed, volume, and diversity of trade and travel. Hundreds of millions of people travel to densely populated urban centers, as well as exotic locales, all around the world all year long. In the US alone, domestic airlines and foreign airlines serving the US carried an all-time high of 1.0 billion passengers in 2019.

Recent History of Pandemics
Since the second century AD, reasonably accurate records of pandemics have been kept. The following table shows the names, dates, and death tolls of the major pandemics of the past 2,000 years.

 

blog__inline--covid-19-prompts-focus-on-protective-action

Table: Major Epidemics and Pandemics of the Past Two Millennia
adapted from Nicholas LePan, “Visualizing the History of Pandemics,” March 14, 2020, https://www.visualcapitalist.com/history-of-pandemics-deadliest/.

Diseases leading to a million or more deaths occur nearly once every century, if not more frequently. Given their relatively regular frequency, they should not catch us totally off guard. Although our advancing medical knowledge and technology have been able to reduce the death toll as a percentage of the global population, they are yet unable to prevent pandemics.

Preparing for Pandemics
During the past century, researchers have become adept at identifying the sources of pandemic outbreaks. The more recent epidemics and pandemics have most often originated from animal-to-human transmission. For example, the Russian flu arose from bird-human contact, the Spanish flu from pig-human contact, HIV-AIDS from chimpanzee-human contact, and SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) apparently from live animal markets in Wuhan.

This research implies that one way many pandemics can be prevented, or at least mitigated, is to ban live animal markets. If and where such markets are deemed necessary, they can at least be moved outside of crowded cities and the animals given appropriate space. The severe crowding of animals, which has a destructive effect on the animals’ health, runs counter to the Christian ethical principle of treating these creatures with appropriate care and kindness.

The need for less crowding of animals also applies to our human population. The last fifty years has seen an exponential increase in urbanization. Today, for the first time in history, more than half the world’s people live in large metropolitan centers, where population numbers and density are both increasing. This high population density often means people lack appropriate air circulation and independent plumbing. Such conditions present opportunities for bacterial and viral mutations as well as for amplified contagion.

The problem is further exacerbated by increased travel, especially by planes, trains, and buses. These modes of transportation represent extreme examples of human crowding. For all but the wealthier passengers, who can afford to buy extra space, crowding has only increased over time.

Practical Preparation
While these and other challenges seem daunting, they are not insurmountable. Much can be done both to prepare for and to mitigate the impact of future epidemics and pandemics. For example, since the fourteenth century, some form of quarantine has consistently proven to help limit pandemic death tolls. How much more is it needed now that humanity has become increasingly urbanized? By preparing to test, isolate, and track contacts of infected individuals, outbreaks can be effectively contained. This approach has proven effective.

By stockpiling essential supplies—test kits, masks, gloves, hospital equipment—and motivating manufacturers to pivot rapidly toward production of such supplies, we would save countless lives. We can encourage construction companies to equip condominiums and apartments with individualized ventilation and plumbing systems for each unit.

We can explore ways to equip airports and other transportation terminals, as well as planes, trains, buses, and subways, with air circulation systems that ensure passengers and workers are breathing clean, not infected, air. We can reconfigure modes of transport to make them sufficiently spacious to ensure healthier social distancing.

Ethical Preparation
Preparation for inevitable disasters—including viral and bacterial outbreaks, climate change, and all the catastrophes both history and science have shown us—may seem utterly infeasible, from an economic standpoint, but we must ask ourselves what makes it so. What if, for example, our government at all levels were to manage budgets in such a way as to maintain a healthy surplus (a disaster relief and recovery fund), rather than a hefty deficit? Such a scenario may seem impossible, but it has been done, and it can be done again if we turn to God for the wisdom to turn things around, step by step.

The job our Creator assigned to us to manage Earth’s resources for our benefit and the benefit of all other life can be done, but only as we turn to him for the insight, creativity, and fortitude to take the steps he reveals. We can know they come from him if they are morally and ethically sound and economically beneficial for all, especially for the poorest among us.

About Reasons to Believe

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Is Kepler 1649c the Long-Sought Earth Twin?

BY HUGH ROSS – MAY 11, 2020

Ever since 1995, when the first planet outside the solar system orbiting a hydrogen-burning star was discovered,1 astronomers have been on a holy grail search to find a planet sufficiently like Earth that it could possibly host life. A quarter of a century and 4,255 discovered exoplanets2 later, some people think scientists have found an Earth twin. A team of twelve astronomers led by Andrew Vanderburg published a paper in Astrophysical Journal Letters in which they announced their discovery of an Earth-sized planet, called Kepler 1649c, orbiting its star in the “habitable zone.”3

What Earth-Like Means
This paper caught the attention of science journalists around the world. Writing for USA Today, Doyle Rice quoted a NASA spokesperson, stating “This world is most similar to Earth both in size and estimated temperature.”4 The Financial Express wrote about Kepler 1649c’s “proximity to the life conditions on the Earth”5 and that “there is no exoplanet that is closer to Earth in size and temperature and which also lies in the habitable zone”6

As typically occurs with discoveries of this nature, the peer-reviewed paper on which the popular web articles were based was much more subdued and qualified in its claims. It is true that Kepler 1649c is the most Earth-like discovered to date. The planet is only 6% larger in diameter than Earth (see figure 1) and the amount of light and heat it receives from its host star is 74% of what Earth receives from the Sun. Thus, Kepler 1649c could be in the habitable zone—the distance range from its host star where liquid water could conceivably reside on its surface.

blog__inline--is-kepler-1649c-the-long-sought-earth-twin-1

Figure 1: Artist’s Rendition Comparing Kepler 1649c to Earth. Image credit: NASA/Ames Research Center/Daniel Rutter

Receiving 74% of the light and heat Earth receives from the Sun implies that its average surface temperature with no heat-trapping atmosphere (no greenhouse gases) would be -39°C (-38°F). This temperature compares with -18°C (0°F) for Earth without a heat-trapping atmosphere. The 21°C (38°F) difference means that Kepler 1649c would need an atmosphere loaded up with much more carbon dioxide and/or methane than Earth. The extra greenhouse gases needed would not necessarily rule out microbial life, but they would rule out high-metabolism terrestrial animals like us.7

Planets Need More Than a Water Zone
Something not noticed in most popular web articles on this discovery is that Kepler 1649c orbits a star with only 20 and 0.5% the mass and brightness of the Sun, respectively. Such characteristics for the planet’s host star put Kepler 1649c squarely outside of the ultraviolet habitable zone. (I wrote about this zone in my book Improbable Planet8 and in an article I wrote in 2016.9) For a planet to be truly habitable for any kind of life, it must simultaneously reside in both the liquid water habitable zone and the ultraviolet habitable zone. Kepler 1649c does not.

Vanderburg and his team acknowledged that Kepler 1649c experiences “a very different environment (an extended era of ultraviolet (UV) irradiation, tidal locking, etc.) from planets in our own solar system.”10 Indeed, planets orbiting their host stars as closely as Kepler 1649c orbits Kepler 1649 (the star) will be tidally locked. Tidal locking means that one hemisphere of Kepler 1649c will permanently face its star, much like one hemisphere of our Moon permanently faces Earth. Tidal locking implies that one hemisphere of Kepler 1649c will be blisteringly hot while the other hemisphere will be extremely cold. Furthermore, it implies that any surface water on Kepler 1649c will be transported to its cold hemisphere where it will remain permanently frozen.

The dozen astronomers also acknowledged that Kepler 1649c may suffer orbital disruptions (catastrophic to advanced life) from mean-motion resonances resulting from other planets known to exist and likely to exist in the same planetary system. Figure 2 shows an artist’s rendition of the Kepler 1649 planetary system.

blog__inline--is-kepler-1649c-the-long-sought-earth-twin-2

Figure 2: Artist’s Rendition of the Kepler 1649 Planetary System. Image credit: NASA/Ames Research Center/Daniel Rutter

Another problem for habitability is that stars like Kepler 1649 are highly variable in their luminosity. Life would be exposed to intolerable temperature changes. Stars like Kepler 1649 also frequently emit deadly superflares. For this and several other reasons, planets orbiting stars as small as or smaller than Kepler 1649 are not habitable planets.

To date, astronomers have discovered thirteen distinct planetary habitable zones. I describe and list these zones in two previous blogs.11 So far, astronomers have discovered only one planet that simultaneously resides in more than two of these planetary habitable zones, the same planet that simultaneously resides in all thirteen. It seems no accident of nature but rather purpose from nature’s Creator that we live and thrive on this favored planet.

Featured image: Artist’s Conception of Kepler 1649c’s Surface, Assuming It Possesses Water. Image credit: NASA/Ames Research Center/Daniel Rutter

Endnotes
  1. Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz, “A Jupiter-Mass Companion to a Solar-Type Star,” Nature 378, issue 6555 (November 23, 1995): 355–59, doi:10.1038/378355a0.
  2. Exoplanet TEAM, The Extrasolar Planets Encyclopaedia, The Catalog (April 24, 2020), http://exoplanet.eu/catalog/.
  3. Andrew Vanderburg et al., “A Habitable-Zone Earth-Sized Planet Rescued from False Positive Status,” Astrophysical Journal Letters 893, no. 1 (April 10, 2020): L27, doi:10.3847/2041-8213/ab84c5.
  4. Doyle Rice, “Has NASA Discovered Another Earth? Perhaps” USA Today (April 16, 2020), https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/04/15/has-nasa-discovered-another-earth/5139773002/.
  5. “New ‘Earth-Like’ Exoplanet Kepler 1649c Found! Scientists Analyze If It Can Sustain Life,” Financial Express (April 17, 2020), https://www.financialexpress.com/lifestyle/science/new-earth-like-exoplanet-kepler-1649c-found-scientists-analyze-if-it-can-sustain-life/1931902/.
  6. “New ‘Earth-Like’ Exoplanet.”
  7. Hugh Ross, “Complex Life’s Narrow Requirements for Atmospheric Gases,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), July 1, 2019, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2019/07/01/complex-life-s-narrow-requirements-for-atmospheric-gases.
  8. Hugh Ross, Improbable Planet: How Earth Became Humanity’s Home (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2016), 84–85, https://shop.reasons.org/product/283/improbable-planet.
  9. Hugh Ross, “Overlap of Habitable Zones Gets Much Smaller,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), December 27, 2016, https://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.
  10. Vanderburg et al., 5.
  11. Hugh Ross, “Tiny Habitable Zones for Complex Life,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), March 4, 2019, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2019/03/04/tiny-habitable-zones-for-complex-life; Hugh Ross, “Complex Life’s Narrow Requirements.”

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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Life after the Pandemic

BY HUGH ROSS – MAY 4, 2020

The SARS-2 virus, responsible for COVID-19, has turned life upside down in nations all over the world. As I write, regions of the United States have been hit as hard as any other nation. This historic event makes everyone wonder, “Will life ever be the same?”

I am confident that the answer is no. Just like previous major disasters of the past century unalterably changed the way everyone lives, so will the COVID-19 pandemic. Consider, for example, World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, and 9/11. These catastrophic events changed the way governments, societies, cultures, and individuals operated.

As a recent example, the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, changed the way we all live. The aftermath of that fateful day changed air travel so dramatically that it not only impacted air travelers, it altered the world economy.

The degree to which the current viral outbreak will change the way we live and how the world operates depends on how much longer the pandemic lasts, how many people it kills, and how many of those who recover from COVID-19 have lasting physical consequences, such as lung damage and damage to other internal organs. Perhaps even more consequential for the millions who have been asymptomatic yet economically impacted, is how long until or even whether they can resume their livelihoods. Many others will be vulnerable to illnesses, mental health challenges, and addictions. At the date on which I completed this writing answers to these questions were still speculative. Nevertheless, certain changes to the way we live seem inevitable no matter how the pandemic ends.

Lifestyle Changes
Some are claiming that the social practices of physical touch such as handshakes, kissing, and hugging will disappear. Humans are social creatures. It is unrealistic to say that all forms of physical touch with people outside of our families will vanish. Can you imagine two business people closing a multi-million dollar deal with an elbow bump where their elbows are covered by two layers of clothing?

What is realistic is the proliferation of hand sanitizer dispensaries and people carrying personal hand sanitizers in their pockets, purses, and briefcases. Bleach wipes are even more effective against viruses than hand sanitizers. It would not surprise me to see airlines install bleach wipe dispensers in every seat.

Before COVID-19, I never got offended when someone brought out their bottle of hand sanitizer after I shook their hand. However, I saw many other people who did get offended at such an act. I anticipate that the use of a hand sanitizer after a handshake or hug will no longer be considered offensive.

On my past trips to Asian megacities I saw a high percentage of citizens routinely wearing face masks. After this scourge I expect that this practice will no longer be limited to cities like Tokyo, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. Anywhere where strangers are densely packed together I anticipate seeing a lot of face masks.

COVID-19 has taught us how much social interaction we can achieve through virtual meetings. We have a son and daughter-in-law about an hour’s drive away here in Southern California and a son in North Carolina. With the outbreak keeping all of us in our respective dwellings, we organized family get-togethers through Zoom. There we could visually show one another the different projects we were working on. We even got our pets involved. The travel times we saved enabled us to have more meetups.

Kathy and I also have had virtual dinners with friends. They could see the food we were eating and vice versa as we talked. Once the pandemic has passed, I imagine I will return to a busy travel schedule. However, I intend to keep a lot more of my regular social engagements through virtual media technology. I don’t think I will be alone.

Economic Changes
Several pandemics of the past hundred years have had their origin in animal-human contact. After the SARS-1 outbreak two decades ago, wet markets in China were banned from holding, selling, and slaughtering live wild animals for retail customers. After COVID-19 (itself caused by SARS-2), I expect a worldwide ban on city markets holding, selling, and slaughtering live animals of any kind for retail customers.

Long before the current virus struck, we at Reasons to Believe were doing much of our speaking, training, and public interviews through such virtual media as Zoom, Skype, YouTube and Facebook livestreaming, and Google hangout. Such meetings are not as personal as face-to-face events but are much more economical and have the potential to reach much larger audiences.

COVID-19 has caused an evolution in virtual meetings. They have become more personal. For example, my home church, Christ Church Sierra Madre, has been livestreaming my Sunday Paradoxes class for the past eighteen months. Until now, we would take questions through the chat feature. Now, I can see the person who is asking the question and they can see me. Also, I now start the livestreaming a half hour before the class begins and let it run for another half hour after the class ends. Why? Participants wanted the opportunity for fellowship with one another.

The pandemic has taught us all how much transportation time we save through virtual meetings. Long after COVID-19 ceases to pose a risk I anticipate that the ratio of work done at home compared to the office or classroom will increase. Such a transition will enhance the world economy not only through saving workers’ time but also by relieving pressure on our transportation systems. However, since supervisors will no longer be able to closely monitor their employees, people increasingly will be paid by their work output rather than by the hour.

COVID-19 has impacted the clothing industry in an unexpected manner. Clothing stores have seen their sales of tops outstrip their sales of bottoms. Since a virtual workplace usually displays workers only from the waist up, there will be less need to invest in dress slacks, dresses, and skirts. Your fellow workers will not know if you are wearing sweat pants, shorts, or pajamas.

Everyone is expecting air travel to drop as virtual meetings, virtual entertainment events, virtual classrooms, and virtual conferences to some degree replace in-person events. I believe that kind of business travel indeed will drop. However, I anticipate that the cabin fever effect from increased virtual work and meetings will increase the demand for recreational air travel. National and state parks and wilderness areas likely will see an increased number of visitors. Families and social groups will want to get together more frequently.

Biblical Principles
One outcome I am praying will result from the outbreak is that many more people will appreciate and start following biblical principles that are relevant to preventing and mitigating pandemics. Not until the fourteenth century during the greatest pandemic of all time—the Black Death—did the practice of quarantining extend beyond Jews and Christians.

The principle of quarantining the sick to protect the healthy is taught in five books of the Old Testament. The most extensive instruction is in Leviticus 13–15. There we learn that people with symptoms of infectious diseases are to be isolated from the rest of the population until seven days after the disappearance of all symptoms. Furthermore, such people are not permitted to return from isolation until they have bathed and washed their clothes. Leviticus 13–15 also indicates that governing authorities are permitted to enforce quarantining laws.

Numbers 5:1–4 summarizes the quarantining and cleansing laws. Numbers 31:19–24 extends these laws to anyone who has had contact with a dead body. Deuteronomy 23:12–14 commanded the Jews to immediately bury their excrement. Today, we know that flushing a toilet with the lid up can allow microscopic particles to waft up through the immediate area (called toilet plume). Applying the principle taught in Deuteronomy 23 means that it would be wise, sick or not, to close the toilet lid before flushing.

What about animal markets? These passages (Deuteronomy 25:4, Proverbs 12:10, 27:23, Deuteronomy 22:10, and Luke 14:5) exhort us to look out for the welfare of our domesticated animals and to treat them humanely. When we overcrowd domesticated animals and subject them to stressful circumstances, such overcrowding and stress greatly enhance the probability that relatively benign viruses1 will mutate and become deadly. Likewise, when we overcrowd human beings and/or subject them to great stress, hardship, and fatigue, we create a situation where we enhance the mutation rate of viruses. Putting overcrowded and stressed-out humans into contact with overcrowded and stressed out animals increases the risk of viral mutation even more and, of course, the chance of animal to human transmission of deadly viruses.

A modern application of the biblical principle of quarantining might look like this: We would extend the quarantine beyond the infected to include reasonable social distancing, we would wash our hands, bodies, and clothes more frequently, and take steps to prevent fecal particles from getting into the air we breath. These measures would put humans at much less risk from both viral and bacterial pandemics.

To be sure, life after the pandemic will not be the same but it doesn’t necessarily mean life will be unbearable. Humans have always adjusted to changing circumstances—a trait that reminds us we are created in the image of God. By applying biblical wisdom, common sense, and love for our fellow humans, we can make life more than bearable for all. Believers in the God of the Bible can lead such efforts and point others to the ultimate assurance found in relationship with their Creator.

Endnotes
  1. I have written previously about the enormous benefits we gain from viruses. Our existence depends upon them. See Hugh Ross, “Viruses and God’s Good Designs,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), March 20, 2020, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2020/03/30/viruses-and-god-s-good-designs.

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