Other Cautions with the Design Argument

This is the eighth in a series of guest blogs on science, religion, and design by Dr. Ben Clausen of the Geoscience Research Institute, based near the campus of Loma Linda University. The words that follow are his.

(1) Design arguments are good, but not an air-tight case for a Designer. Although I believe that the universe, Earth, and life were designed by God, I am careful (often uncomfortable) about using design arguments. Looking at the natural world and universe as a believer, I can see the evidence for God’s direct design; but looking from a scientist’s perspective who uses methodological naturalism, I realize that other explanations are often possible and at times may be better (Young and Edis, 2004; Stenger 2011). The design argument is a good one, but it must be used carefully. Dependence on it can be like Israel depending on Egypt (Isa 36:6). Using design to encourage faith in the believer is well-intentioned and probably useful; using design as an anti-evolution polemic to convert the unbeliever has pitfalls.

(2) Design arguments often use marketing flair and rhetoric over academic rigor and full intellectual honesty. Arguments that need to be used carefully are: chance and incredulity (how could this complexity have occurred randomly?) and the cool factor (it’s so neat that God must have done it); they appeal to the non-scientist by not giving the full set of data and interpretations.

(3) The design argument may leave one with a God who designed the evil in the world, or at least allows it. Weinberg (1992, p.250) says, “Although I understand pretty well how brightly colored feathers evolved out of a competition for mates, it is almost irresistible to imagine that all this beauty was somehow laid on for our benefit. But the God of birds and trees would have to be also the God of birth defects and cancer.” Are the catastrophes in the universe designed – colliding galaxies, exploding supernova, and what at times appears to be chaos? Does God use stellar evolution to design the necessary elements for the universe? Did plate movement form the continents before life existed on earth? Are the catastrophic earthquakes and volcanoes directly associated with plate tectonics part of the design?

(4) Design arguments do not necessarily require the God of the Bible. They can also lead to various other metaphysical philosophies: New Age, Eastern mysticism, pantheism, theosophy, Hare Krishna, etc (e.g., Bhaktivedanta Institute). The design argument can also leave one with a deistic God – a God who sets things up correctly at the beginning to have the right fine-tuned constants, habitable planets, and life-developing properties and then just lets history take its course without further intervention. Projecting from methodological naturalism to philosophical naturalism in its extreme form is insufficient, but in some modified form it appeals to some, e.g., Howard van Till (1995).

(5) One cannot prove the existence of God and shouldn’t feel the need for science to prove the Bible. That may be like expecting proof of Jesus’ Messiah-ship by asking for signs and wonders (John 4:48). The design argument is not a silver bullet; humans have a choice. As observed by Blaise Pascal in his Pensées:

“We have an incapacity for proving anything which no amount of dogmatism can overcome. We have an idea of truth which no amount of skepticism can overcome.” — frag. 406

 “God wishes to move the will rather than the mind. Perfect clarity would help the mind and harm the will.” — frag. 234

To be concluded. . .

Caution: Design Not Really a Science Argument

This is the seventh in a series of guest blogs on science, religion, and design by Dr. Ben Clausen of the Geoscience Research Institute, based near the campus of Loma Linda University. The words that follow are his.

While design is evident to our senses, the appeal to a Designer moves beyond methodological naturalism to something more, something beyond. To be science, the design paradigm should present a better alternative working scientific model, rather than just attacking the standard cosmological model; however, that may be difficult because the design paradigm appeals to actions from outside the realm of repeatable, ongoing processes.

Scientists trust the ongoing processes of nature just as all of us do in our everyday lives. Methodological naturalism works so much of the time that one has reason to trust the method: aerodynamic theory gets us around in airplanes, quantum mechanics theory gives us computers, and seismic theory can reduce the devastating effects of earthquakes and volcanoes. Since methodological naturalism works so well today, it makes sense to use it to explain the past with plate tectonics and stellar evolution, and there it also works amazingly well. Weinberg (1992, p.247) says, “… the only way that any sort of science can proceed is to assume that there is no divine intervention and to see how far one can get with this assumption.” Modern science developed in a Christian culture with many of the founding fathers being devout Christians, but the scientific principle had within itself the seed of atheism. The more that is understood of nature, the less need there seems to be for supernatural intervention to explain it.

Actually, no one would want God to be continually intervening in unpredictable ways. If one expects God to be continually intervening, it would not be useful to study how the world works. There would be no incentive to try to find patterns and laws that govern on-going processes.

Thus, design arguments are encouraging for the believer, but not so logically convincing for the unbeliever. That is not because most scientists are anti-God, at least not the ones I have worked with, but because it doesn’t provide a scientific explanation that is better than what science currently provides. Although one may believe that the universe was designed by a supernatural intelligence, that doesn’t make the design argument a scientific argument; it is more than that. In most cases, methodological naturalism’s use of natural law works well without a need for God to continually step in and adjust the universe, but that still leaves open the possibility that God designed and upholds those natural laws.

To be continued. . .

Caution: Design Can Be a God-of-the-Gaps

This is the sixth in a series of guest blogs on science, religion, and design by Dr. Ben Clausen of the Geoscience Research Institute, based near the campus of Loma Linda University. The words that follow are his.

These naturalistic explanations for design have their problems, but an appeal to a supernatural being also has its problems as pointed out in the book 36 Arguments for the Existence of God by Goldstein (2010). The design argument can easily degenerate into a god-of-the-gaps argument (McGrath 2014; Luskin 2014): Anything humans can’t explain, must have been by God’s specific intervention.

Before Sir Isaac Newton, God was thought to be directly responsible for making sure the sun rose every morning. Then Newton explained the motion of the sun, moon, and Earth using the laws of gravitation, while still attributing the laws to God’s design. Because of these natural laws, the observation of Halley’s comet in 1682 resulted in a predicted return in 1757; a yet to be observed planet (Neptune) was used to explain what would otherwise be slight gravitational irregularities in the orbit of Uranus. However, equations for a solar system with more than two bodies could not be solved exactly, and perturbations could accumulate and disrupt the order. So Newton felt that God (a god of the gaps) had to occasionally intervene to adjust the orbits because they were unstable and could become chaotic.

Eventually it was found that the perturbations averaged to zero and planetary motions were stable, so that equilibrium in the solar system could be explained without some supernatural intervention. Pierre Simon de Laplace further developed the theory of cosmology and carried naturalistic determinism to the point of saying that the future behavior of the universe is absolutely predictable, given the present position and motion of every particle today. He believed that nature was so well designed, that there was no need for a “god-of-the-gaps”. Tradition has it that Laplace gave his 1798 book, Mécanique Céleste to Napoleon, who said: “M. Laplace, they tell me you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its Creator.” LaPlace responded, “Je n’ai pas besoin de cette hypothèse” … “I have no need of that hypothesis.”

Now theists seem comfortable accepting that God works through natural law to keep the solar system working without occasionally intervening in some “supernatural” way not amenable to scientific study. Over time the need for God seemed to decrease and this god-of-the-gaps design argument has fallen into disrepute. Thus, using the design argument as a god-of-the-gaps argument can be dangerous, because further evidence can refute the argument. Intelligent design arguments can do religion a disservice. One who makes a proof for God on the evidence of design today must be prepared for a possible disproof tomorrow.

To be continued. . .

Suggested Naturalistic Explanations for Design

This is the fifth in a series of guest blogs on science, religion, and design by Dr. Ben Clausen of the Geoscience Research Institute, based near the campus of Loma Linda University. The words that follow are his.

The evidence of fine-tuning has been explained naturalistically in various ways:

(1) Perhaps the fine-tuning of the constants is the only possible way that the laws of nature could exist (Weinberg 1992). Natural design happens all the time; take the intricate frost patterns for example, just based on the properties of water molecules.

(2) Perhaps it is not so much that the universe is finely adapted for life, but that life adapted itself to the universe through evolution, natural selection, and survival of the fittest. Organisms adapt to conditions, so perhaps other conditions than those on Earth could be adapted to by some form of life. The designer is just the environment.

(3) The Anthropic Principle is a suggested alternative to requiring a Designer (Carr and Rees 1979; Carter 1974; Barrow and Tipler 1986; Greenstein and Kropf 1989). The weak form of the principle states that: if the laws of the universe weren’t such as to allow life, we wouldn’t be here to notice, i.e., what we expect to observe is restricted by the conditions necessary for the presence of an observer. The Strong Anthropic Principle states that the laws of the universe necessarily must be such as to allow life. To many this explanation is lacking in appeal; it is like explaining why you can see an elephant in your living room by saying that you wouldn’t see it there if it wasn’t there.

The anthropic principle suggests that the laws are the way they are by chance and low probability events happen all the time. For example, the chance of you having your parents, being born where you were, and having the characteristics that you have is very small, but it happened. Any calculations concerning the likelihood of chance events are based on assumptions and changing the assumptions can profoundly change the calculated chances. Many features are necessary for life to exist on a particular planet, but with many planets orbiting many stars, it is possible that some might have the right conditions. In The Grand Design, Hawking and Mlodinow (2010) say, “In the same way that the environmental coincidences of the solar system were rendered unremarkable by the realization that billions of such systems exist, the fine-tunings in the laws of nature can be explained by the existence of multiple universes.”

(4) Infinite time and space have been suggested as possible explanations for the chance coincidences. Infinite time could be provided by multiple universes in series. Infinite space could be provided by having multiple universes in parallel. Perhaps many different universes exist in different spaces with different physical laws and we just happen to live in the one universe with the laws that make life possible. A multiverse was suggested by Hugh Everett in the 1950s to remove the strangeness of the observer effect in quantum mechanics. A non-observable universe has been suggested beyond what we can see out to 14 billion light years. And general relativity suggests additional dimensions beyond the three space dimensions that we observe. The multiverse concept is interesting, but beyond what science can observe.

Hawking explains the multiverse theory as Richard Feynman explains the quantum mechanical nature of light – just as light particles take multiple, in fact all possible, paths in the double slit experiment, the presence of “all possible universes” best explains the many options for choices in quantum theory (Bortz, 2010). M-theory allows 10500 universes, which would then allow for the possibility of different theories for each of the different universes. In The Grand Design, Hawking and Mlodinow (2010) explain that “according to quantum theory, the cosmos does not have just a single existence, or history, but rather that every possible history of the universe exists simultaneously … [Hawking and Mlodinow] question the conventional concept of reality, posing instead a ‘model-dependent’ theory of reality … the laws of our particular universe are extraordinarily finely tuned so as to allow for our existence … quantum theory predicts the multiverse–the idea that ours is just one of many universes that appeared spontaneously out of nothing, each with different laws of nature.” A universal inflation is continuing and verified, but the spawning of bubbles of space-time to make the multiverse is not really science, because it cannot be tested.

Physical laws can never provide a complete explanation of the universe. Laws themselves do not create anything; they are merely a description of what happens under certain conditions. Naturalistic theory would tell us not to confuse law with agency (Lennox 2010). “Science doesn’t do ‘why’ – it does ‘how’” as Feynman warned (Turner 2010).

To be continued. . .

A Designed Universe

This is the fourth in a series of guest blogs on science, religion, and design by Dr. Ben Clausen of the Geoscience Research Institute, based near the campus of Loma Linda University. The words that follow are his.

The evidence for a beginning to the universe points to a beginner, or designer to get things started. Evidence for an expanding universe was observed in about 1930 by Edwin Hubble, but the idea did not take hold in the scientific community for more than thirty years because it seemed to point to the need for more than naturalism, the need of a “Beginner/Designer” (Gribbin 1976). This is a limit to scientific explanation because of an effect without apparent cause.

The second law of thermodynamics is tied to this concept of a need for a creator. As formulated by Lord Kelvin, the law indicates that the amount of useful energy in the universe is decreasing. One can find local increases in useful energy, order, or design, such as in crystal structures, living systems, or the source of hydroelectric energy, but only at the expense of a greater loss of useful energy elsewhere. Kelvin believed that the universe required a Creator/Designer to wind it up at the beginning with sufficient useful energy: “a necessary diffusion of energy which only God Himself could restore to its original concentration (Smith and Wise, p.332).

All of this leads to another concept of fine tuning in the Universe. If the Big Bang is assumed, the mass of the universe seems to be finely tuned. A little more mass at the early stages of the universe would have caused a rapid gravitational collapse; a little less mass would have resulted in too little gravitational attraction for clumping of matter into galaxies and stars. Much of the apparent fine-tuning seems to be related to a variety of fundamental constants that keep our universe powered. One of the most intriguing is the cosmological constant which remains difficult to explain within the naturalist construct.

In 1915 Einstein put into his general relativity equation a cosmological constant. He assumed a static universe and needed this constant to provide a repulsive force to keep the universe from gravitational collapse. Once evidence for an expanding universe became available fifteen years later, the constant appeared to no longer be necessary. Einstein later lamented that inserting the constant was the biggest mistake of his life, for without it, his equation could have predicted an expanding universe. The cosmological constant needs to be exactly zero to 120 decimal places, an unexpected specificity that appears to require design. Weinberg (1992, p.223) recognizes that the constants of nature are well suited for the existence of life, but believes that a final theory would be able to prescribe values for these constants without any surprising coincidences. However, even he recognizes that a cosmological constant of exactly zero to 120 decimal places may still require some kind of anthropic principle for explanation. Though no longer needed for a static universe, the constant seems to be important for other reasons. Silk (2010) notes that the acceleration of the universe is produced by dark energy, but yet the governing cosmological constant is 10120 smaller than predicted by particle theory.

The nucleus of an atom is another example where the forces of nature appear balanced beyond coincidence (Rees 2000). For most atoms, the nucleus contains many positively charged protons. Due to the electromagnetic force, like charges repel each other. How then do all the protons with the same charge stay inside the nucleus without flying apart? Apparently, some stronger force holds them together. For want of a better term, physicists call this force the “strong force.” To get the range of light-to-heavy elements necessary for life, the ratio between these two forces must be finely tuned. If the electromagnetic/strong force ratio were larger, protons would not be able to clump together. No heavier elements necessary for life, such as carbon and oxygen, would be stable. If the ratio were smaller, protons would too easily clump together to form the heavy elements, but no single-proton hydrogen atoms would remain for water or life. There might be plenty of gold and platinum, but no one to enjoy it.

Here are some other fine-tuned constants: (1) The mass of the neutron is slightly greater than the proton. If the relative masses were very much different than they are, the burning of stars and stellar evolution wouldn’t work. (2) The relative electron and proton masses need to be balanced in a particular combination, in order to have the chemical bonding forces combine to give the molecules important for life. (3) The number of positive protons and negative electrons needs to be balanced to cancel to zero, or else the electromagnetic force would dominate the much weaker gravitational force in the universe. (4) The great excess of matter over anti-matter is an unexpected and perhaps designed necessity after the Big Bang occurred. (5) Other examples are listed in The Creation Hypothesis by Moreland (1994) if you wish to read more. Notice that these fine-tuned forces are related to radioactive decay, so that a suggestion of change in decay rates would also suggest a change in the fine-tuning of the forces, thus making life impossible.

The universe seems to be designed with an abundance of the right elements for life to exist – carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, etc. The relative abundances of the elements in the universe can be explained as due to stellar evolution. With a beginning material of hydrogen (single protons), stars produce helium and energy by combining protons into a helium nucleus with two protons and two neutrons in a process similar to how hydrogen bombs produce energy. Once the hydrogen is used up, three helium nuclei can combine to form carbon and the interaction of additional helium nuclei can make the heavier elements such as neon, magnesium, silicon, etc. up to iron. All of these reactions give off energy to fuel the sun or star, but elements heavier than iron require a different process that consumes energy. To form these heavier elements such as lead or gold or uranium requires additional energy from a stellar explosion called a supernova. (Chown 2001) If the elements were formed in this way, it lead to several questions: Was it by fiat or process? How long did it take? Is such creation continuing?

One physicist working in the 1950s made a prediction in regards to the abundance of the elements. In general it would be difficult to get three helium nuclei close enough together all at the same time to make carbon inside a star. Two helium nuclei could group together briefly (with a 10-16 sec half-life) to make beryllium-8, but to easily add another helium nucleus would require carbon to have a resonance (an excited state) with just the right energy for combining beryllium-8 plus helium-4. Fred Hoyle suggested the need for this carbon resonance to a fellow physicist. Fowler discovered that in fact there was such a resonance and received a Nobel Prize for its discovery. Hoyle’s 1959 response: “I do not believe that any scientist who examined the evidence would fail to draw the inference that the laws of nuclear physics have been deliberately designed with regard to the consequences they produce inside the stars.” (Mitton 2011)

To be continued. . .

A Designed Earth and Solar System

This is the third in a series of guest blogs on science, religion, and design by Dr. Ben Clausen of the Geoscience Research Institute, based near the campus of Loma Linda University. The words that follow are his.

This Earth has a unique set of conditions necessary for life. According to Ward and Brownlee (2000) in their book, Rare Earth, planets with conditions necessary for life are rare in the universe.   However, the on-going search for planets similar to Earth that could support life and for other intelligent beings (SETI) is engendered by the belief that although Earth is rare, it is not impossible to have such conditions elsewhere in the universe (Kasting 2010; Elkins-Tanton 2013).

Here are several examples of Earth’s unique features that make life possible: It rotates fast enough on its axis to give an equitable climate over much of Earth, but not so fast as to give a merry-go-round effect; The force of gravity on a much larger planet would be too great for humans to withstand its force but a smaller Earth with less gravitational attraction would not hold the atmosphere from escape; The molten nature of the interior of Earth creates a magnetic field that shields radiation from space; Earth has an abundance of the correct elements for life (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorous), has the necessary atmosphere (nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, ozone), and has abundant water.

Another frequently mentioned design feature of Earth is the need for plate tectonics to sustain life. A planet with moving plates makes possible the formation of continents and the recycling and concentrating of the elements and nutrients necessary for life at the surface of Earth by the processes of volcanism, erosion, and subduction.

The unique properties of light in behaving both as a wave and a particle are important for life. Light can be reflected from a mirror and refracted, or bent, as it passes through a pair of glasses or a microscope lens. Light displays interference patterns as seen in the colors of a peacock wing or the hologram on a credit card. Some of the light spectrum is visible as red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet, but most light frequencies are greater or smaller than those in the rainbow, just as most sound frequencies are smaller or greater than those from a piano. Beyond violet are sunburn-causing ultraviolet and the even more energetic X-rays. Below red is infrared felt as heat, microwaves used in ovens, and radio and TV waves. Light behaves as a particle of energy when it hits a solar panel, or in photosynthesis. It has mass and is bent in strong gravitational fields. It sets the speed limit for the universe, 300,000 kilometers/second. According to special relativity, this speed is a constant and everything else is relative. This high speed is the “c” in Einstein’s famous equation, E=mc2. When the mass “m” of even a very small atom is multiplied twice by the speed of light, it results in a very large amount of energy.

Earth’s fluid covering of air and water make life possible. The 20% oxygen and 80% nitrogen of Earth’s atmosphere are ideal. More oxygen would make fire control difficult, whereas less oxygen would be insufficient for life. Ozone, made up of three oxygen atoms, shields Earth from radiation coming from space. Air is “strong” enough to support an airplane and “heavy” enough to exert hundreds of pounds of pressure on our body surface. Water covers 70% of the planet. Its high heat capacity decreases Earth’s temperature fluctuations to a range acceptable for life. Unlike most substances, water expands on freezing; thus ice has a lower density than water and will float. If this were not the case, ocean basins would fill with ice from the bottom up. Water is as important for chemistry as light is for physics. It is a basic ingredient in biochemical reactions in our bodies, which are more than half water.

In 1913 Lawrence Henderson, a professor of biological chemistry at Harvard University, wrote The Fitness of the Environment, providing numerous examples of design from chemistry. A number of properties of water are essential to life: specific heat, freezing point, latent heat of fusion, latent heat of vaporization, thermal conductivity, expansion before freezing, solvent power, dielectric constant, ionizing power, surface tension. The chemical properties of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen are also essential to life: number, variety, and complexity of compounds, number, variety, and complexity of reactions, evenness and lack of energy change of the process of hydrolytic cleavage, chemical relationship of carbonic acid and water to the sugars, instability of the sugars, variety and reactions of the sugars, and on and on.

Our solar system is uniquely able to sustain life. The distance to the moon is ideal to provide tides that keep the oceans from stagnating, but not so large as to inundate the land areas. Earth’s orbit is nearly circular giving a constant distance to the sun and constant heating for Earth. The sun is the right distance from Earth to provide the necessary light, but not too much heat. Thus water can exist in abundance as liquid, as well as ice and vapor. The other giant planets are far enough away to not disturb Earth’s orbit, but yet close enough to protect Earth from life-extinguishing extra-terrestrial impacts. The solar system is in the ideal location in the galaxy: closer to the edge of the Milky Way galaxy stars have too few metals and closer to the center extreme energy processes occur.

To be continued. . .

The Wish for Design

This is the second in a series of guest blogs on science, religion, and design by Dr. Ben Clausen of the Geoscience Research Institute, based near the campus of Loma Linda University. The words that follow are his.

Evidence of design for life counters the trend of the Copernican revolution where there is nothing special about this planet, and the Darwinian revolution that says there is nothing special about life. Being designed or planned for, not just some accident, gives an individual worth. Perhaps this is the reason for the disgrace attached to being an illegitimate child—one who is an accident and wasn’t planned. We want to have purpose.

Even though Steven Weinberg’s writings (1992) emphasize a lack of evidence for design, he points out some emotional reasons for wanting to believe in a Designer.

“It would be wonderful to find in the laws of nature a plan prepared by a concerned creator in which human beings played some special role. I find sadness in doubting that we will.” — p.256

 “The lessons of religious experience can be deeply satisfying, in contrast to the abstract and impersonal worldview gained from scientific investigation. Unlike science, religious experience can suggest a meaning for our lives, a part for us to play in a great cosmic drama of sin and redemption, and it holds out to us a promise of some continuation after death. For just these reasons, the lessons of religious experience seem to me indelibly marked with the stamp of wishful thinking.” — p.255

 “… religion did not arise in the minds of men and women who speculated about infinitely prescient first causes but in the heart of those who longed for the continual intervention of an interested God.” — p.248

 “I do not for a minute think that science will ever provide the consolations that have been offered by religion in facing death.” — p.260

 To be continued. . .

Design in the Physical Universe

Increasing attention is being given to the relationship between science and religion. How do these two ways of knowing relate to each other? Does a belief in science, which is grounded in the five human senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell), nullify knowledge claimed on the grounds of religion? Is there scientific evidence that the universe was designed and didn’t just happen by chance? A friend of mine, Dr. Ben Clausen, has spoken eloquently to these issues for many years. I thought I would share some of his best work as a guest blog over the next month. If you are at all interested in these issues, I highly recommend his work. I will do some light editing for the sake of my own blog format. Otherwise, the rest of this series are the words of Ben Clausen of the Geoscience Research Institute, based near the campus of Loma Linda University. The last in this series will include a bibliography of important works in this field.

Several years ago my wife and I were hiking in Utah at Arches National Park. The area was desert, so it wasn’t easy to pick out the trail, but we saw these little piles of rocks. If there had only been a couple piles and the piles contained only a couple rocks, we wouldn’t have particularly noticed or at least would have thought it was just a natural coincidence. However, the piles contained several rocks, stacked on top of each other, and occurred on a line every 100 feet or so. The piles (cairns) appeared to be designed by humans, and we took them to represent trail markers.

This article will describe evidence for what appears to be physical design on Earth, in the universe, and in the basic laws of nature. Some have used the examples of design as arguments for the God of religion as the intelligent designer; others have explained the design naturalistically. Some pros and cons of the arguments will be outlined along with cautions in using the arguments. Design in the universe is a reasonably good argument for an Intelligence behind nature; however, it is important to know the strengths when using the argument as well as some cautions. Each individual has a choice in how they interpret the evidence. As for me, I choose to believe that the God of the Bible is the Intelligent Designer and praise Him for his wisdom.

Everyone recognizes design in nature. The question is how to interpret it: what is its source? what does it mean? The Greeks saw design in nature and used the golden ratio (that we can see in nature’s spirals such as the chambered nautilus) in building the Parthenon (Livio 2003).

The founding fathers of science believed in a God of law and order and expected His creation to obey natural laws, to follow cause and effect relations, and to demonstrate design (Gingerich 1995). A number of these scientists used natural theology to demonstrate how intricately God had designed nature. A series of books was published in the early nineteenth century by William Pickering of London to provide evidence for the existence of God and examples of design by an all-wise Creator. They were titled the “Bridgewater treatises on the power, wisdom, and goodness of God, as manifested in the creation”. William Whewell (1794-1866) wrote on: Astronomy and general physics considered with reference to natural theology. William Paley wrote on: Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature. His classic example is, “The watch must have had a maker [who] designed its use, … [and] every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature.”

Today, a small but growing Intelligent Design group of scholars, with William Dembski as a leading proponent, find evidence for God in the design of the universe and in the design of living organisms. This group is providing rigorous criteria for making design inferences and elaborating the advantages of adopting intelligent design as a scientific research program. A number of them met at Biola University for a Mere Creation Conference, and eventually produced the book, Mere Creation: Science, Faith & Intelligent Design (Dembski 1998).

This ability to see design is not restricted to those who are religious. Richard Dawkins (1987, p.1), the famous biologist and opponent of religion, says in The Blind Watchmaker that “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” Stephen Hawking, the atheist physicist, says in A Brief History of Time that the beginning of the universe was designed for beings like us. In a later book, The Grand Design, he gives options for how this design could happen naturalistically. However, he still says, “Our universe and its laws appear to have a design that is both tailor-made to support us and, if we are to exist, leaves little room for alteration. That is not easily explained, and raises the natural question of why it is that way” (Hawking and Mlodinow 2010).

Options for Unity

Continuing a series on the Bible, ordination, and the upcoming General Conference in San Antonio.

That leaves two options for attaining unity. One is being proposed by David Newman. He asserts that ordination as generally practiced is a tradition inherited from the Middle Ages. The word “ordination,” after all, is derived from Latin, it is not found in the Greek of the NT. Given that reality, Newman suggests we not ordain anyone and solve the problem in that way. I could live with such a position, but since the Adventist pioneers adopted ordination as a practical necessity rather than a biblical mandate, something like “ordination” is probably needed in the church.
I suggest, therefore, one other option. The simplest approach to honor the Bible and yet preserve unity is to affirm that the Bible does not directly address the question of women’s ordination. It neither mandates the ordination of women to the gospel ministry nor forbids it. Neither party would have to give approval to a theology they disagree with. Let’s just agree that the Bible doesn’t directly address the question and that, therefore, differences of opinion on how to apply the Bible to ordination today are to be expected. When differences like this are the norm, unity requires that decisions about ordination be driven by other evidences than the direct teachings of Scripture. Divisions and unions should be allowed to ordain women or not ordain them, based on the leading of the Spirit and the demands of mission in those territories. Circumstances alter cases.
Some might ask: Won’t such a policy itself destroy the unity of the church? Similar differences in policy did not destroy the unity of the New Testament church. Another question. What will happen if an ordained woman is called to a union that doesn’t ordain women? The same thing that happens now with female church elders. If an ordained female elder moves to a church that doesn’t ordain females as elders, she should not expect to be an elder in that church (for better or for worse). If an ordained female pastor receives an invitation to pastor in a union or division that doesn’t ordain women, she should understand that her ordination will not be recognized there, and respond to the invitation with that in mind. If an unordained female pastor is invited to a region that ordains women, she should not be compelled to accept ordination. While there will be relational challenges in the process, the overall unity of the church need not be destroyed on the basis of such an arrangement. Practical arrangements in one local church need not affect arrangements in another. Circumstances alter cases.
The good news is that this very outcome is a real possibility this coming July. According to the document recommended unanimously by top church leadership and voted overwhelming by the Annual Council, the delegates to the GC session can vote to allow “division executive committees, as they may deem it appropriate in their territories, to make provision for the ordination of women to the gospel ministry.” A “yes” vote on this question respects the years of study that have failed to settle the question on the basis of the Bible. A “yes” vote on this question recognizes that the church in many parts of the world already calls women to fill pastoral roles, recognizing the Holy Spirit’s call to them. A “yes” vote on this question acknowledges that the Bible often allows circumstances to alter cases. A “yes” vote on this question allows the mission of the church to flow in each territory, while respecting the differences in the way we read Scripture. As Ellen White herself often said, “Circumstances alter cases.”

Concluded.

Proposed Solutions

Continuing a series on the Bible, ordination, and the upcoming General Conference in San Antonio.

As TOSC continued, the North American Division of the Adventist Church produced a remarkable document in favor of ordaining women (an even larger document was produced by the Trans-European Division). By way of contrast, divisions of the church opposed to women’s ordination seem to have done little fresh study. The one exception to this is the minority report of the North American Division, which broke some new ground. It suggested that male “headship” was a core element of biblical theology that limited ordination only to men. This was a new theological approach that had never been seen in Adventism before the mid-1980s (Sam Bacchiocchi) or even in Christianity generally before the 1970s. That doesn’t make it wrong by itself, but Adventism historically is rightly skeptical of such radical theological departures. I find it interesting that headship arguments were used against the ministry of Ellen White in the 19th Century. With that in mind, the faculty of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary has concluded that headship theology takes a dangerous turn away from the Adventist understanding of the Bible, and I think they are right.
Here’s where the story gets interesting. Instead of one “solution” to the division in the church on women’s ordination, TOSC came up with three. In short, the first proposal denies ordination of women to the gospel ministry and rescinds the ordination of women to positions of local elder. If accepted, this proposal would return the church to the position it was in before 1970. The second proposal affirms that the Bible supports the ordination of women to the gospel ministry, but that it should not be imposed in regions where it would be detrimental to the church’s mission. The third proposal affirms that the Bible exhibits a pattern of male leadership, but that such biblical patterns can be adapted to changing circumstances. Entities of the church that feel mission requires the ordination of women could apply to do so. The second and third proposals allow circumstances to alter cases. But I don’t think any of these three “solutions” would lead the church to unity. We have got to do better than these.
Two possible approaches favored by some seem almost guaranteed to destroy the unity of the church. One would be mandating that ordination to the positions of both pastor and elder be restricted to males only once again. Since the church first moved away from that position in the 1970s, the western world has shifted enormously in favor of full equality and inclusion for women. I remember the 1950s. In the 1950s nearly everyone assumed that some roles should be filled only by men: physician, soldier, lawyer, police officer, truck driver, President of the United States, and airplane pilot, to name only a few. Today women fill virtually all roles in the work place except ministry in some churches. For the Adventist Church to step back to the 1950s after all that would be devastating to the mission of the church in the western world and a few other places. Not only that, in my travels to parts of the world opposed to women’s ordination, I find the younger generation largely open to full inclusion as well, although the leaders of the church in those regions are still reluctant.
A second approach that would destroy the unity of the church would be to mandate the ordination of women worldwide. This would be devastating in many cultures where full inclusion of women is not yet the norm in society. For the church to move ahead in those areas would unnecessarily complicate its ability to share the gospel at this time. The Middle East, Africa and parts of Asia and South America likely fall into this category. It would hurt the mission of the church to force a global vote on women’s ordination either way. I am glad, therefore, that church leadership is not promoting either of these approaches at the upcoming General Conference.
The problem with all three “solutions” is that they presume the Bible is reasonably clear on the subject, one way or the other. Option One finds the Bible so clearly against women’s ordination that it not only takes the field but pillages the opposition. Not a formula for unity. Option Two presumes that the Bible, rightly understood, teaches women’s ordination, but that those who disagree can get permission to continue their traditional practices. Not likely to be accepted in many parts of the world. Option Three presumes that the Bible models male “leadership,” but those who want to ordain women can apply for permission to do so. What all these positions presume is that the Bible speaks to the issue with clarity, and that in the end it agrees with those who read it that way.
Whenever you have dueling positions on a topic, all claiming to be from the Bible, there are only two ways to make sense of the situation. Either one side is perverse (deliberately twisting Scripture to get their way) or the Bible is, in fact, unclear on the subject. I have good friends and many former students on both sides of the women’s ordination debate. I cannot look either side in the eye and say, “You are perverse, you are deliberately manipulating the Bible to get your way.” To do so would be to pass a terrible judgment on people I have enjoyed as colleagues for many years. But if the Bible, in fact, does not address the question, that fact should be the foundation of the church’s position, rather than according victory to one side or the other.

To be continued. . .