Tag Archives: creation

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 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. . .

Reflections on Annual Council: Fundamental Belief 6

A number of changes in Fundamental number 6 (Creation) have been recommended by the Annual Council. This was in response to the action at the General Conference in 2010 to revise FB6 in light of the Affirmation of Creation document produces at the Science and Creation Conference of 2004 (Glacier View, Colorado). Among the changes is the adjective “recent” in relation to the creation of “the heavens and the earth.” The chronologies of Genesis 5 and 11 were added to the list of Scriptures because they offer the only basis for calculation of ancient biblical dates.

The new statement itself seems to me to support so-called young earth creationism (everything, including the rocks, was created in recent times), which is popular with some protestants outside the SDA Church. This is different from the “young life” position (earth may be billions of years old but life was a fairly recent creation) I generally heard in my years at the Seminary (Andrews University). The chair explained that the statement was intended to leave both options open. In his view, this was done by referencing Exodus 20 in the statement instead of Genesis 1. Exodus 20 does not refer to “in the beginning” but has to do with the creation of this earth only.

This stimulated a vigorous discussion in the Biblical Research Institute Committee (BRICOM). Many members are clearly uncomfortable with the “young earth” position. They note that the Institute for Creation Research (evangelical operation) goes so far as to state a “young universe” position (the entire universe, including galaxies, was created a few thousand years ago). The SDA statement must be worded in such a way that people don’t think it advocates young-earth or young-universe positions.

The chair of the FB committee (Angel Rodriguez) responded that the statement begins with “God created the cosmos,”and no reference to six days or recent history is made. Then the “six days” are brought in and Exodus 20 is quoted. The statement, to Rodriguez, is deliberately ambiguous on the creation of the universe and the physical planet earth. Room is left for theologians to discuss the details.

But some committee members were not satisfied. They noted that Exodus 20 is merely quoting Genesis 1 and that most readers of FB6 are likely to read “heavens” in Exodus 20 as the entire cosmos. Unless the statement is more nuanced, literalistic readers are like to attach the Seminary and other educational institutions simply for teaching what most Adventist creationists have believed for years.

This discussion was most interesting. Even in a group that is firmly committed to SDA beliefs and traditional readings of Scripture and science, there was considerable disagreement on just how FB6 ought to be worded. It was then reported that when the 27 Fundamentals were written up in 1980, not one of the original fundamentals was voted unanimously by the committee. The fundamentals should be understood as a statement of what most Adventists believe, rather than what all believe or should believe.

That raised the question of the purpose of the 28 Fundamental Beliefs. In legal terms, are they prescriptive (indicating what everyone “should” believe) or descriptive (describing what most Adventists believe). The Preamble of the Fundamentals suggests they are descriptive. They are intended as a helpful resource for explaining what Adventists believe and inviting others to consider and embrace those beliefs. But more and more voices are treating the Fundamentals as prescriptive, spelling out exactly what people must believe. It seems to me that this is a dangerous turn, one that the early pioneers of the Church would have vigorously opposed.

The fact that the Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists can be changed suggests that they are not a creed. But it is a strange thing to have changeable fundamentals and then enforce them. That suggests that early pioneers like James White and J. N. Andrews could be disfellowshipped today for not believing everything that is now present in the fundamentals. Are we moving toward a fixed creed that all must subscribe to? Or is it still true, as our pioneers said, that the Bible is our only creed? Do we submit our understanding to the Bible, or to our understanding of the Bible. There is an important difference. If the “biblical view” is not what is contained in the Bible, but is now what we think the Bible says, we have made a significant shift. In a very subtle way tradition begins to supplant Scripture. I hope we don’t go there.