Monthly Archives: April 2015

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.”


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. . .

Circumstances and the Ordination of Women

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

The hope a few years ago was that the Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC) would come to a consensus on the meaning of ordination and then on the question of the ordination of women. If after two years of worldwide deliberation TOSC remained divided on the latter, the committee was requested to offer solutions that would preserve the unity of the church in the midst of such division. Here’s what actually happened.
On July 23, 2013, by a vote of 86-8, TOSC adopted a very significant statement on the meaning of ordination. It defined ordination as “the public recognition of those the Lord has called” to church ministry. According to the statement, ordination confers “representative authority” rather than “special qualities” or a role in a “kingly hierarchy.” These are important distinctions. In other words, ordination is the church’s way of saying “this person speaks for us.” It does not convey unique power or place a person in a higher rank than others.
Based on these points, the question became whether or not “the Lord has called” Adventist women to church ministry. Can women represent the church in such roles? The reality is that in many parts of the world women ARE being called to ministry. They ARE serving in such roles. Unless ordination has some magical effect or promotes a kingly hierarchy, hiring a woman to serve in church ministry is simply the church’s modern way of saying “she speaks for us.”  Women serving in ministry at the call of the church are as good as ordained now.
As noted above, there is one aspect of this issue that I think doesn’t gets enough attention. There is one thing we should all be able to agree on. The Bible NEVER addresses the question of women’s ordination. No Bible writer ever asks whether women should be ordained. The issue simply does not arise in the text. That means that arguing the case for or against women’s ordination seeks expanded meanings from Scriptures addressing other issues. As a result, it is rare for anyone to change their mind on the subject based on Bible study alone. And if the Bible does not directly address a subject, then the conclusion will be driven more by culture, tradition and God’s providence (the sense of God’s working in a particular context) than by Scripture.
An example of such a process in the Bible is found in Acts chapters 8-15. Before Acts 8 Christians assumed that the church was a subset of Judaism and would include only Jews. But then Philip met the Ethiopian, Peter met Cornelius, and Peter had a dream. By Acts 15 it became apparent that the Spirit was working with Gentiles and bringing them into the church without circumcision and without making them Jews first. The church then took a fresh look at Scripture and saw possibilities there that they had missed before (see Acts 15:13-19). The mission of the church and the guidance of the Spirit, rather than the reading of Scripture, demanded the inclusion of the Gentiles. You didn’t have to become Jewish in order to become Christian. Through these experiences the church learned to read the Bible differently for a new situation. Circumstances alter cases.

To be continued. . .