The Necessity of God

Philosophically there are only three reasons for existence or action: necessity, chance and design.

Everything in the physical realm has a beginning, an end and a cause.  Nothing physical is permanent.  Everything changes as a result of causes and are thus contingent on preceding events.  If everything has a cause, then an endless series of causes into the past is the result.  Of necessity, there must have been a beginning of the series of causes and effects.  But what started the series?  If everything in the physical universe has a cause, then something outside of the physical universe, by necessity, must have started the series of causes.  Why is there something instead of nothing?  Why does anything exist?  It must have been caused by something.  God or The Creator, by whatever name you wish to use, is the necessary first cause, the uncaused cause and everything else is contingent on it.   Therefore God is a necessary being that is eternal, having no cause, no beginning, and no end.

Since something outside the physical universe necessarily started the series of cause and effect, it also voids the assumption of the materialists that the physical universe is all there is; that the non-physical or spiritual only exists in our imagination. Of necessity, there must be a spiritual realm because, of necessity, something outside the physical must have started the series of causes.  This is a very old, but very valid argument for the necessary existence of God.  Atheists and materialists will dismiss it as “old news” but it is as valid today as it was when St. Thomas Aquinas included it in his Summa Theologica as one of the proofs of God.

If God started the whole thing, including existence, was it a singular act of creation which was then left to develop by itself without guidance? It can be argued that the present form of the universe is a matter of chance and only LOOKS designed.  It can also be argued that life came about by chance through some undefined “Life Principle” and only LOOKS designed.  Neither of these chance occurrences holds up to scientific or statistical scrutiny.  The physical universe is so finely tuned that if any of the fundamental forces or particles were changed by an infinitesimal amount, then stable galaxies, stars, planets and life would not have formed.

Life is a particularly complex and fine-tuned process and we are only just beginning to explore the workings of living creatures. For example, the probability of assembling one specific protein chain of 200 readily available amino acid units, from the 20 left-handed amino acids used in living systems is 1 in 20200.  To be plausible, the number of attempts must be in the ballpark of the odds.  If the universe is 13.7 billion years old, there have been 4.32 x 1017 seconds since it began. We would need to make 231.4 x 10180 attempts each second since the beginning of the universe to make the random assembly of even this one specific protein plausible.

If we assume that life molecules were assembled on Earth, which is thought to be only 4.5 billion years old, and evidence of life was present 3.8 billion years ago, then the number of attempts per second rises to even more impossible levels. And that is just for one protein enzyme assembled from readily available units, excluding interfering molecules, and under the ideal conditions for assembly and preservation. Already we are seeing the extreme odds against a specific enzyme being produced. If we look at what it would take to produce by chance the thousands of different specific enzymes necessary for metabolism, the probability of random assembly of the correct mix would be (20200)3000 for a simple bacterium with 3,000 enzymes, or 1 in 10780,000; that’s a 1 with 780,000 zeros after it. The terms impossible and miracle come to mind.

If chance is so improbable, then design or intent is a more plausible explanation for life and, indeed, the universe. The argument for intelligent design is that of impossibly high odds against the specified complexity we find.  A design necessarily implies a designer.  Not just any enzyme would perform the metabolic functions of even the simplest living being.  It must be a specific mix of specific enzymes with specific functions. That does not even address the formation of a living being, which is many orders of magnitude more complex than the formation of simple enzymes or structural proteins or DNA.

Conclusions:

  1. God necessarily exists.
  2. The spiritual realm really exists.
  3. God has remained involved in the universe.

Opening Scientific Exploration

What do we really know about our world? What is fact and what is opinion? What is knowledge and what is belief, and can we know the difference? Isn’t science about facts and religion about faith? Well, not entirely. Science, with all of its trappings of mathematics, still is subject to interpretation, ie, belief, based on assumptions. There is as much faith in science as in anything else we do. Consensus and computer models do not change a belief into a fact.

DO WE KNOW:

  • that there was a Big Bang that started the universe?
  • that black holes, parallel universes, exotic dark matter or dark energy exist ?
  • how all of the elements and physical laws originated?
  • how the galaxies, stars, the solar system, planets, the Earth or the moon were formed?
  • the true distances to other galaxies?
  • the age of the universe, our galaxy or the Earth?
  • that the universe, including space itself, is expanding?
  • that the fourth dimension or multiple dimensions exist?
  • that a dimension known as space-time exists?
  • what gravity is?
  • what time is?
  • what life is?
  • that life spontaneously arose from a soup of chemicals?
  • that all species evolved gradually from a common ancestor?
  • that the mind is just a program created by the brain?
  • what consciousness, thought or memory are?
  • what sleep is?
  • what instinct is?
  • why we have free will and are not just robotic slaves to our genes?
  • why we have abilities and skills that are not necessary or are detrimental to survival?

The answer to most of these and many other questions about science and our understanding of our world is MAYBE, NO, or PROBABLY NOT.

The bad news is that we don’t know as much as we thought we knew.

The good news is that we don’t know as much as we thought we knew.

Bringing some accepted scientific “facts” or the evidence supporting them into question will not tear down our knowledge base. On the contrary, it will open doors to more exciting discoveries, unconstrained by fixed paradigms[1] or established systems into which they must be fitted. By questioning everything, we can look at all things with fresh eyes and with minds open to all possibilities, regardless of established beliefs. This should lead to more scientific study and discoveries, not less. Robust scientific theories and real facts will be strengthened by such questioning.

Only the theories without proper basis or support will suffer. Even those will benefit from fresh approaches that may come closer to solving some of the remaining mysteries than is currently possible. It is to our benefit that true understanding can develop unconstrained by dogma[2]. Fixed dogma tends to constrain and inhibit new knowledge, especially if the new knowledge does not fit neatly into the established picture.


 

“Michael Faraday warned against the tendency of the mind ‘to rest on an assumption’ and when it appears to fit in with other knowledge to forget that it has not been proved.”

W. I. B. Beveridge, The Art of Scientific Investigation


 

[1] Paradigm – A picture or view of reality into which all facts and beliefs must fit.

[2] Dogma –established opinion put forth as authoritative, especially without adequate grounds.

Materialist versus Transcendental Views

The apparent movement of sun and planets with Earth as center Giovanni Domenico Cassini, 1625–1712
The apparent movement of sun and planets with Earth as center
Giovanni Domenico Cassini, 1625–1712

Behind all other philosophies, there are two basic ways of looking at the universe, the materialistic and the transcendental views.


NOTE: Do not confuse transcendental as used here with the so-called Transcendentalism movement of the nineteenth century which was really a Naturalistic or agnostic philosophy.


NOTE: Materialism, in the philosophical sense, is not the love of things as the term is used today, having been corrupted by the popular culture. It is really the denial of the existence of anything beyond the material world.


The materialist view says the physical universe that we see and interact with is all that there is, and it is its own explanation for being. The transcendent view says there must be something more behind and above it all, an overarching force that is responsible for existence itself and the physical laws that give order to the universe. This blog reflects my transcendental beliefs that there must be something beyond the material that is beyond the reach of science. As a transcendentalist and a scientist, I have no reservations about science and religion being compatible.

      “Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible concatenations, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable.”                                                       

                                                                                    Albert Einstein

Since materialists only believe in what they can see and touch, pure materialists are necessarily atheists and have a great deal of reservations about religion, especially as it relates to science. Even the agnostic, who is uncertain about a transcendent quality to the universe, is not comfortable with the notion that science and religion are compatible, since he believes that there is no way for us to know about anything outside the material world.


Joke: What do you get when you cross an insomniac agnostic and a dyslexic?   Answer: A person who stays up all night wondering if there is a Dog.

                        Chico Marx (often attributed to Groucho Marx)


 

Science is the pursuit of truth about the predictable, repeatable and measurable aspects of the universe with which we can or could conceivably interact[1].

Anything beyond that is not science but philosophy, no matter how much mathematics or “supporting” data is attached. A one-time event that cannot be tested or repeated, such as the origin of the universe or the origin of life cannot be elucidated purely through science.

Materialists/atheists sometimes use the fact that we can only observe and test the physical world as proof that there is nothing else beyond that. Although science, in its truest sense, is an unbiased quest for the truth, that does not mean the people in the sciences are always unbiased or have no hidden agendas outside of science. Similarly, although religion seeks answers from a God centered perspective, man’s interpretations of God’s revealed truth may at times lead to error through misunderstandings or cultural bias.

As a Christian, I believe God’s revelations in the Bible are true, but I also believe that man’s interpretations can sometimes be wrong. An example of this from history is the supposed flat-Earth belief in the European Middle Ages, (which, by the way, is a nineteenth century myth[2]). Those few holding this belief had interpreted “… the four corners of the earth,” in Isaiah[3] and Revelation[4] to mean the Earth had four literal corners and was thus flat. What was obviously meant were the four directions.

Even at that time, the belief in a flat Earth was not widespread and a spherical Earth had been common knowledge[5] especially for sailors who clearly saw the curvature of the horizon and saw sails appear over it before the ships appeared. It was evident in earlier ages that the Earth cast a circular shadow on the moon, especially during lunar eclipses. The ancient Greeks and other cultures in antiquity knew the Earth was a sphere and actually calculated its circumference by triangulation.

     “The discovery of truth is prevented more effectively, not by the false appearance things present and which mislead into error, not directly by weakness of the reasoning powers, but by preconceived opinion, by prejudice.”

                                                                        Arthur Schopenhauer

Contrary to what you may have been taught, true science and Christianity are thoroughly compatible, and Christians have contributed greatly to the foundations of science. Anyone who believes in God must also believe that God invented science and gave us the ability to understand the laws of the universe. More than any other religion, Christianity taught that God had created an orderly, understandable universe that obeys natural laws. In this view, it is left to individuals to discover what that order and those laws are.

  • Science seeks the truth of WHAT, WHERE, WHEN and HOW things happen.
  • Religion seeks the truth of WHY things happen, WHO might have caused them and for “what” ultimate Purpose.

Therefore, we would not expect science to say anything at all about the why and who of religion, or for religion to necessarily seek spiritual answers in the what, where and how of science. The two are separate but complementary parts of the whole picture. They both seek to understand our “world” but approach it from different directions. Some agenda driven scientists who campaign against a belief in God have stepped beyond science into what amounts to a religion of evangelical atheism, which is also based on faith. Just because science can only study the material world does not mean there is nothing else outside it that is beyond the reach of science.

Because they choose not to believe in God or miracles, materialist atheists choose to define a miracle as breaking the physical laws of the universe. However, it is not necessary for God to break and act outside of his own physical laws to do things we don’t understand based on our limited knowledge and beliefs.  Based on superior knowledge of a system he invented, God can use the natural laws in unique ways to do things seemingly impossible perhaps even including manipulating time and space.  Similarly, magic acts appear to break the laws of logic but are really doing something else that is hidden from the audience.

A closed minded, dogmatic scientist is an oxymoron[6] and is not a true scientist at all regardless of her credentials. Science is a developing discipline where new knowledge sometimes radically changes accepted theories. The universe is filled with mysteries and unanswered or unanswerable questions. A true scientist must keep an open mind about all possibilities and admit that some things are not known or not even knowable. It is not necessary to make up clever stories to compensate for the missing knowledge, much less teach such speculative beliefs as settled science. It is OK to say “I don’t know” unless you are pushing an agenda other than truth. When scientists fill in gaps in knowledge with clever “just-so” stories, it is a Science of the Gaps[7] and is not science at all.

As a scientist, I use the tools of science to search for truth about our world. I think it is safe to say that there are prejudices and fiercely held beliefs on both sides. But beliefs are not facts no matter how many are convinced that they are true. It makes no sense to hold on to a view that has been shown to be in error, simply because it is “accepted and established.” Nor is it useful to stoop to name calling, slurs and other put-downs of those on the other side of an issue. Consensus is alien to science and is only properly used for opinions, not facts, in cultural and political settings. Consensus can lead into egregious errors. Remember, before Copernicus and Galileo the consensus was that the entire universe revolved around the Earth. Truth is never the result of a popular vote.

     “To be a faultless member of the flock, first one must be a sheep.”

                                                                           Albert Einstein

Nowhere is it more evident today than in the subjects of evolution and the origins of life and the universe. Both sides of these questions are often so steeped in their own emotional capital that their judgment and willingness to honestly debate may be clouded. For some, there are no grounds for discussion, much less any compromises. The other side is often viewed as either evil, ignorant or having sinister hidden motives. Science by definition is the quest for truth about our world; it has no business being closed minded and dogmatic to the point of preaching against religious belief or God based on materialist beliefs and prejudices.

The actions of a scientist are closer to a religion than true science when he insists that religion is bad and that everyone must believe as he does. Unfortunately, evangelical atheism has often used science to further its “religion.” This has also been true of the Progressive and Socialist political agendas that often go hand in hand with it. Both philosophies have effectively used the all too gullible press as a weapon in their war on both religion and truth. It is impossible to separate science, politics, popular culture, religion and the role of the press in the search for truth. They are all irreversibly entangled.

Because evolution is such an emotionally charged subject, when I started to write my book I was inclined to give it a minor role compared to other mysteries. However, when I studied it further from all sides, I realized that evolution was the beginning of and the role model for promoting most of the later dogma disguised as science, and belief disguised as truth. Its presentation in the popular press rather than peer reviewed scientific journals[8], the political style of rhetoric used to promote it, and the types of defensive arguments employed, taught later generations how to promote their points of view in other fields. In many areas, science has been hijacked by materialists who promote progressive and anti-God views through philosophical story-telling disguised as science.

Evolution is also a good example of entrenched dogma that the adherents insist must be accepted without question. As such, it is closer to myth than science. Science is never chiseled in stone. It is a changing discipline where nothing and no one are held sacred or inviolable. New knowledge is always to be encouraged and should never be seen as a threat. If any area of science does stifle dissenting views, it is not science anymore; it is a religion or at least a strongly held philosophy. Unfortunately, the fields of evolution, origin of life, cosmology and particle physics have become so dogmatic that dissent or differing views are attacked, defunded and blocked from publication in scientific journals.

   “In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what makes me really angry is that they quote me for support of such views.”

                                                                                Albert Einstein

[1] The Capricious Cosmos by Joe Rosen, 1991, Macmillan, New York.

[2] Popularized in A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, 1828, by Washington Irving.

[3] Bible: Isaiah 11:12 – “And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.” (King James version)

[4] Bible: Revelation 7:1 – “And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree.” (King James version)

[5] Bible: Isaiah 40:22 – “It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants therof are as grasshoppers; that streatcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in.” also Job 26: 7 – “He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing.” (King James version)

[6] Oxymoron – a combination of contradictory or incongruous words such a “cruel kindness”

[7] A takeoff on the God of the Gaps claim of atheists to characterize any belief in a creator or design.

[8] Except for the original verbal presentation of a paper on the subject to the Linnean Society.

Darwinian Evolution: Science or Philosophy? part 2

michelangelo-sistine-chapel-adam
Adam by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel

To be scientific, a theory must deal only with the matter or processes with which we can or possibly could interact, it must be verifiable, falsifiable and testable, and it should predict future outcomes based on experimental data. What question could possibly be asked to make Evolution falsifiable? Until recently we would say None. As we have seen, Evolution allows for survival of Panchronic species throughout time, but also allows for change through slight modifications. Neither can falsify the philosophy, so it is not science by this criteria.


“If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find out no such case.”

— Charles Darwin


“If it could be proved that any part of the structure of any one species had been formed for the exclusive good of another species, it would annihilate my theory, for such could not have been produced through natural selection.”

— Charles Darwin


What about the biochemical complexity? If you include that, and allow that some structures or processes could not possibly be built up through generations of gradual change, could that falsify Evolution? Potentially, yes. The almost infinitely complex biochemistry of the cell, rather than supporting Evolution, is the greatest challenge to it. The more that we discover about the biochemistry of processes within living things, the less likely it is that undirected Evolution is the only or any explanation at all. Since each gradual step in a series of changes would have to make the organism more fit than its predecessors many generations before the resulting structure fills the function it will ultimately perform, any step that is not advantageous would not be selected, according to the theory.

OK, then if each step would exist well before the ultimate function, wouldn’t there be in each organism on earth a lot of junk DNA or nonfunctioning proteins or organs? The answer seems obvious: yes. Do we find this?   No. As for the proteins that perform all of the functions of the cell, useless or interfering material is usually only found in defective cells causing disease, e.g. PKU or Sickle Cell. Useless enzymes are quickly destroyed if they are formed at all. Enzymes are only produced in response to current needs as defined by a complex system of feedback communication within the cell.

As for DNA, we don’t know yet whether there are actual proto-genes lurking there. Genes, which are sections of DNA wrapped around companion proteins (Histones), are separated by sections of so-called “junk” DNA (Introns) for which we, as yet, know next to nothing about their functions. Could Introns be the missing nonfunctioning proto-genes? Possibly, and that is the assumption of some Evolutionists. But remember that any “junk” must also have a survival advantage over predecessors, so it must function in some way. Regardless of what you may have read in the popular press, we are just scratching the surface on understanding the DNA code (or codes).

The only sections we really know anything about are those that encode for proteins ( about 1%) used as either structural elements or enzymes that perform various cell functions, along with certain signals such as start, stop, zip and unzip used in replication or repair. We don’t even understand why the units encoding for certain enzymes are broken up into sections, sometimes on separate genes along the DNA strand or why the RNA that is assembled from the DNA template is usually cut and/or rearranged before it carries the instructions from the nucleus to the ribosomes where the proteins are assembled from component amino acids. Development is another important area where we lack understanding. How does a fertilized egg differentiate to form a complete creature? We can describe what happens at each step, but have yet to formulate a comprehensive theory of how the instructions are timed, given and received. Much research is being done in this area, but results are sketchy and incomplete at this time.

Intelligent Design and Creationism(s)

If Evolution is a philosophy or belief system and not fully science, what about Intelligent Design, and what is it anyway? Intelligent Design (ID), like Evolution, is a philosophy that uses science as its basis. It is a theory that the very complexity and improbability of the universe and life processes necessarily implies an intelligence or greater principle behind it all. ID does not say what (or who) that intelligence is or connect it with any particular faith based belief system. ID proponents accept the possibility that some of Evolution’s claims are true, but challenge the validity of other conclusions, particularly unguided chance as the only source of biological progress.

If gradual assembly, step by step, of complex systems, from DNA to hearts, by random chance is statistically impossible or implausible, it rules out chance as a cause. That leaves necessity and design as possible causes. ID contends that the very implausibility and complexity strongly imply that some intelligence (design) or as yet undiscovered guiding principle (necessity) must be at work to overcome the statistical barriers. Necessity fits in with the Progressive philosophy of inevitable progress built into the universe. NeoDarwinian Evolution states that life and the universe only LOOK designed[1]. ID is the most significant challenger to Evolutionary theory at this time and some of the observations and experimentally derived facts could eventually lead to falsification or at least modification of Evolution as it is defined today.

The media tend to lump ID and Creationism together because the Evolutionists associate them in an attempt to discredit ID. ID accepts all scientific facts, whether it is the age of the universe and the ages assigned to the fossil record or biochemical or astronomical knowledge. ID acknowledges the appearance of design and infers that it necessarily implies an intelligence or guiding principle. The implication is that of purpose, not blind purposeless chance. This teleological[2] view is one of the things that makes ID a philosophy, not a hard science. However, most of the proponents are competent scientists who use valid scientific principles in scientific studies into the validity or lack of validity of Darwinian Evolution’s random chance claims. Whether Darwinian Evolution or ID is (more) valid, is a matter of opinion at this point. Expressed differently, ID could be an attempt to falsify Evolution as arising only from random chance.   Statistical arguments of the improbability of random processes explaining life and complexity are quite convincing. Note that progressivism, espoused by Darwinians, also implies teleology because everything is believed to be naturally progressing toward perfection.

Biblical Creationism comes in two major forms: Young Earth and Old Earth. Young Earth Creationism declares that the universe and the earth were created some 6000 years ago in seven twenty-four hour days by a strictly literal interpretation of Biblical Genesis. Old Earth Creationism accepts the ages of the universe, the earth and the fossil record and interprets the Biblical Genesis account somewhat more figuratively than literally. As such, it is closer to Intelligent Design, but specifies the God of the Bible as the intelligence responsible for it all. A subdivision within Old Earth Creationism is one that assumes a literal seven day creation (or seven epochs) after the initial billions of years needed to form the universe and prepare the earth for that event. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” – Genesis 1:1 is assumed to contain all of the history of the universe, the earth and the fossil record that had already taken place before the creation event that formed modern humans. This is sometimes called the Gap Theory, especially by its opponents. I tend to fall into the Old Earth camp, based on scientific probabilities and evidence, while leaving the length of the seven “days” as an open question. The same word is used for a 24 hour period and for an indefinite time period as “in the day of Moses.” “These are the Generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.” – Genesis 2:4. Also, in 2 Peter 3:8[3] it is obvious that they did not limit a “day” to 24 hours.

It is easy to see that Creationism, based not on science but Biblical texts, is different from both Evolution and Intelligent Design. While it is true that some who believe in Intelligent Design are also Old Earth Creationists, it is not true for many of ID’s technologically and scientifically astute proponents. As a matter of fact, many proponents of Creationism, especially Young Earth Creationists, oppose Intelligent Design as a distortion and means of explaining away the literal interpretation of Biblical texts that they hold to be infallible. Questioning the literal interpretation of Genesis in this way is seen by them as opposing all of God’s truth in His word. In their opinion, rejection of literal seven day creation ex nihilo (from nothing) is tantamount to saying the Biblical texts, in their entirety, cannot be trusted to be true.   In their opinion, rejection of literal seven day creation ex nihilo (from nothing) is tantamount to saying the Biblical texts, in their entirety, cannot be trusted to be true. However, the actual text does not exclude longer periods or preparatory periods occurring before the seven days described except by assumptions of interpretation.  As a Christian, I believe in the literal interpretation as God’s inspired word, but recognize that our own understanding may be biased by preconceived assumptions not actually in it. As a scientist, I have to believe reliable scientific data, but question its reliability and some of the projections and philosophical assumptions.

Conclusions:

So, where does that leave us? We have three basically different philosophies for the development of the complexities of life, at least two of which base their beliefs on scientific inquiry and knowledge. Which is correct? The jury is still out. Neo-Darwinists see Intelligent Design, with its underpinnings of biochemical complexity and probability theory, as the greatest threat to their beliefs and rightly so. Rather that embrace Evolutionary philosophy and all its claims, ID proponents critically examine the evidence for and against guided and unguided development, including the incredibly complex biochemical nature of life and statistical probabilities of unguided or chance development of complex molecules, structures and functions. If Evolution is a robust theory and the aim is truth, such a challenge should be welcomed as a further development of understanding Evolution. The vitriol with which Evolutionists attack ID proponents can only be interpreted as religiously defending dogma that they feel may be vulnerable.

[1] Richard Dawkins defines biology as “… the study of complicated things that give the appearance of being designed.”

[2] Teleological definition: (Gk tele or telos = end, purpose) 1a: the study of evidences of design in nature; a doctrine that ends are immanent in nature; 1c: a doctrine explaining phenomena by final causes; 2: the fact or character attributed to nature or natural processes of being directed toward an end or shaped by a purpose; 3: use of design or purpose as an explanation of natural phenomena.

[3] “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” 2 Peter 3:8

Why Science and Religion are Compatible

 


“Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible concatenations, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable.”                                                    

                                                                                          — Albert Einstein


 


“In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what makes me really angry is that they quote me for support of such views.”

                                                                                          — Albert Einstein