Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

A Harvard University student explains how evidence changed her mind about God

Here’s a must-read article  about the effectiveness of apologetics on college campuses in Christianity Today. (H/T Sanjay M.)

Excerpt:

I don’t know when I first became a skeptic. It must have been around age 4, when my mother found me arguing with another child at a birthday party: “But how do you know what the Bible says is true?” By age 11, my atheism was so widely known in my middle school that a Christian boy threatened to come to my house and “shoot all the atheists.” My Christian friends in high school avoided talking to me about religion because they anticipated that I would tear down their poorly constructed arguments. And I did.

As I set off in 2008 to begin my freshman year studying government at Harvard (whose motto is Veritas, “Truth”), I could never have expected the change that awaited me.

It was a brisk November when I met John Joseph Porter. Our conversations initially revolved around conservative politics, but soon gravitated toward religion. He wrote an essay for the Ichthus, Harvard’s Christian journal, defending God’s existence. I critiqued it. On campus, we’d argue into the wee hours; when apart, we’d take our arguments to e-mail. Never before had I met a Christian who could respond to my most basic philosophical questions: How does one understand the Bible’s contradictions? Could an omnipotent God make a stone he could not lift? What about the Euthyphro dilemma: Is something good because God declared it so, or does God merely identify the good? To someone like me, with no Christian background, resorting to an answer like “It takes faith” could only be intellectual cowardice. Joseph didn’t do that.

And he did something else: He prodded me on how inconsistent I was as an atheist who nonetheless believed in right and wrong as objective, universal categories. Defenseless, I decided to take a seminar on meta-ethics. After all, atheists had been developing ethical systems for 200-some years. In what I now see as providential, my atheist professor assigned a paper by C. S. Lewis that resolved the Euthyphro dilemma, declaring, “God is not merely good, but goodness; goodness is not merely divine, but God.”

Joseph also pushed me on the origins of the universe. I had always believed in the Big Bang. But I was blissfully unaware that the man who first proposed it, Georges Lemaître, was a Catholic priest. And I’d happily ignored the rabbit trail of a problem of what caused the Big Bang, and what caused that cause, and so on.

By Valentine’s Day, I began to believe in God. There was no intellectual shame in being a deist, after all, as I joined the respectable ranks of Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers.

I wouldn’t stay a deist for long. A Catholic friend gave me J. Budziszewski’s book Ask Me Anything, which included the Christian teaching that “love is a commitment of the will to the true good of the other person.” This theme—of love as sacrifice for true good—struck me. The Cross no longer seemed a grotesque symbol of divine sadism, but a remarkable act of love. And Christianity began to look less strangely mythical and more cosmically beautiful.

Now, I’m going to get into a lot of trouble for saying this, but I think that if you are a Christian and you are in a secular university, then you really need to have put in the effort to study the areas of science, history and philosophy that are relevant to the Christian faith. This is regardless of your personal abilities or field of study. We must all make an effort regardless of how comfortable we are with things that are hard for us to learn.

Granted, most atheists are not interested in truth, because they tend to jettison truth whenever it conflicts with their personal autonomy – their desire to seek pleasure apart from moral constraints. But there is another kind of atheist. This kind of atheist is honest, open-minded, and they just have never encountered any good reasons or evidence to think that God exists and that Jesus is anything other than a man. There are a lot of atheists like that who are just waiting to hear some decent evidence. Our job is to prepare for them and then engage them, if they are willing to be engaged.

I think that definition of love she cited – self-sacrifice for the true good of another person – is important. I don’t think that ordinary Christians like you or me spends time on apologetics because we “like” it. I know lots of Christians who are in tough, expensive academic programs trying to get the skills they need to defend truth in areas that matter. They do this because they know that there are people out there who are interested in truth, and who are willing to re-prioritize their lives if the truth is made clear to them. We need to be willing to serve God by doing hard things that work.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

New discovery confirms Big Bang, and is direct evidence for cosmic inflation

From the UK Telegraph.

Excerpt:

Space-time ripples left over from the Big Bang have been picked up for the first time by Harvard scientists.

Astrophysicists have been hunting for ‘primordial gravitational waves’ since they were predicted by Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity in 1916.

Today, after days of rumour and speculation, scientists from the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre announced they had recorded the first direct evidence of gravitational waves rippling through the infant universe.

“The implications for this detection stagger the mind,” said project leader Jamie Bock. “We are measuring a signal that comes from the dawn of time.”

Our universe burst into existence 13.8 billion years ago. Fractions of a second later, space and time were created, expanding exponentially in an episode known as ‘inflation’.

It was theorized that inflation should also produce gravitational waves – ripples in space-time which spread throughout the universe.

“Think of the ripples you see when you throw a stone into a pond,” said Professor Martin Hendry of the department of Physics and Astronomy at the Univesity of Glasgow.

“But these aren’t ripples on the surface of the water, they are gravitational waves emitted billions of years ago, rippling through the fabric of space and time itself, in the universe’s earliest moments.

“We always suspected they were still washing about but we haven’t been able to detect them.

[...]The signal was found using a specialised telescope called Bicep (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization) at the South Pole.

It scans the sky at microwave frequencies, where it picks up light energy from slightly after the Big Bang – around 380,000 years later. Scientists have been searching for tiny ripples in this light which would show it is being slightly stretched by gravitational waves.

We have had a string of solid, recent scientific discoveries that support the idea that the universe came into existence at some point in the finite past, as follows:

  • Einstein’s theory of general relativity, and the scientific confirmation of its accuracy
  • measurements of the cosmic microwave background radiation
  • red-shifting of light from galaxies moving away from us
  • radioactive element abundance predictions (from supernovae)
  • helium/hydrogen abundance predictions (nuclear fusion)
  • star formation and stellar lifecycle theories
  • the second law of thermodynamics

This new discovery is building on #2 above – the cosmic microwave background radiation.

What came into being at the moment of creation?

As the article states, space was created and time began at the first moment.

  1. There was no space causally prior to the universe beginning to exist
  2. There was no time causally prior to the universe beginning to exist
  3. There was no matter causally prior to the universe beginning to exist

All of these things began to exist at the first moment.

What can we infer about the cause?

So, space, time, and matter began to exist. What could have caused them to begin to exist?

  1. Whatever causes the universe to appear is not inside of space, because there was no space causally prior to the creation event. The cause must therefore be non-physical, because physical things exist in space.
  2. Whatever causes the universe to appear is not bound by time (temporal). It never began to exist. There was no passage of time causally prior to the big bang, so the cause of the universe did not come into being. The cause existed eternally.
  3. And the cause is not material. All the matter in the universe came into being at the first moment. Whatever caused the universe to begin to exist cannot have been matter, because there was no matter causally prior to the big bang.

So what could the cause be? Dr. William Lane Craig notes that we are only familiar with two kinds of non-material realities:

  1. Abstract objects, like numbers, sets and mathematical relations
  2. Minds, like your own mind

Now, abstract objects don’t cause of any effects in nature. But we are very familiar with the causal capabilities of our own minds – just raise your own arm and see! So, by process of elimination, we are left with a mind as the cause of the universe. As Sherlock Holmes says, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

This cause created the entire physical universe. The cause of this event is therefore supernatural, because it brings nature into being and is not inside of nature itself. The cause of the universe violates the law of conservation of matter is therefore a miracle. And when we do our science, we find evidence of it.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , ,

Does the Bible teach the universe was created?

J. Warner Wallace has a new post up and he lists a ton of Bible verses that talk about the beginning of the universe.

I’m going to pick out some of the best ones – ones that will scare the stuffing out of you.

Be amazed:

Colossians 1:16-17
For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

Hebrews 11:3
By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.

John 1:3
All things came into being through Him [Jesus], and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.

1 Corinthians 2:7
No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.

Isaiah 45:12
“It is I who made the earth, and created man upon it. I stretched out the heavens with My hands and I ordained all their host.”

All things were created? Time had a beginning? The universe is expanding? Wow, that’s all stuff that naturalists hate – they want their eternal, steady-state universe back. Too bad that’s been falsified by the hydrogen-helium abundance observations. Oh well, I guess they can still believe it if they want to. Now if you’re an atheist, you don’t like what the Bible has to say about the origin of the universe, especially since all the experimental science we have today agrees with the Bible. So atheists aren’t just angry at God, they’re angry at science, too.

The latest Please Convince Me podcast

By the way, J. Warner Wallace’s latest 64-minute podcast on the scientific evidence for the creation of the universe was a must-listen. He re-caps the experimental evidence that we have for a cosmic beginning, and highlights the names of the scientists, the dates of the discoveries, the experiments that were run, and the results that were obtained. He also evaluates naturalistic alternatives to the standard model, and explains what’s wrong with each one.

If you’re into science, then you will love this podcast.

Filed under: Podcasts, , , , , ,

Tonight at 8 PM Eastern: live-streaming of William Lane Craig on the Kalam Cosmological argument

Dr. Craig is speaking on the kalam cosmological argument on Monday night at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

There will be a live-stream here.

Details:

What happened at the beginning of time? Dr. William Lane Craig will be using science and philosophy to pain a picture of what happened, and discuss how the implications should rule our lives. Dr. Craig is considered one of the world’s experts on this topic, so you won’t want to miss it! Door open at 8!

Time: Monday, March 3, 2014 at 8:00 pm to 9:30 pm EST

Here’s what Dr. Craig said about this event on Facebook:

Monday night I speak at Georgia Tech on the kalam cosmological argument. I plan to expand on things said in the Carroll debate.

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1469808433242091/

The Craig-Carroll debate

If you missed the Carroll debate, you can watch the video here:

That’s the debate, here’s the concluding remarks:

And here’s my short review, which contains a link to another review as well.

Filed under: Events, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Four ways that the progress of science conflicts with naturalistic speculations

When people ask me whether the progress of science is more compatible with theism or atheism, I offer the following four basic pieces of scientific evidence that are more compatible with theism than atheism.

Here are the four pieces of evidence best explained by a Creator/Designer:

  1. the kalam argument from the origin of the universe
  2. the cosmic fine-tuning (habitability) argument
  3. the biological information in the first replicator (origin of life)
  4. the sudden origin of all of the different body plans in the fossil record (Cambrian explosion)

And I point to specific examples of recent discoveries that confirm those four arguments. Here are just a few of them:

  1. An explanation of 3 of the 6 experimental evidences for the Big Bang cosmology (From an article from Caltech)
  2. Examples of cosmic fine-tuning to allow the existence of conscious, embodied life (From the New Scientist)
  3. Evidence that functional protein sequences are beyond the reach of chance, (from Doug Axe’s JMB article)
  4. Evidence showing that Ediacaran fauna are not precursors to the Cambrian fossils, (from the journal Nature)

Atheists will typically reply to the recent scientific discoveries that overturned their speculations like this:

  1. Maybe the Big Bang cosmology will be overturned by the Big Crunch/Bounce so that the universe is eternal and has no cause
  2. Maybe there is a multiverse: an infinite number of unobservable, untestable universes which makes our finely-tuned one more probable
  3. Maybe the origin of life could be the result of chance and natural processes
  4. Maybe we will find a seamless chain of fossils that explain how the Cambrian explosion occurred slowly, over a long period time

Ever heard any of these responses?

Below I list some resources to help you to respond to the four responses of atheists to the experimental data.

1) The Big Crunch/Bounce has been disproved theoretically and experimentally.

Theoretically:

Nature 302, 505 – 506 (07 April 1983); doi:10.1038/302505a0

The impossibility of a bouncing universe

ALAN H. GUTH* & MARC SHER†

*Center for Theoretical Physics, Laboratory for Nuclear Science and Department of Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA

†Department of Physics, University of California, Irvine, California 92717, USA

Petrosian1 has recently discussed the possibility that the restoration of symmetry at grand unification in a closed contracting Robertson–Walker universe could slow down and halt the contraction, causing the universe to bounce. He then went on to discuss the possibility that our universe has undergone a series of such bounces. We disagree with this analysis. One of us (M.S.) has already shown2 that if a contracting universe is dominated by radiation, then a bounce is impossible. We will show here two further results: (1) entropy considerations imply that the quantity S (defined in ref. 1 and below), which must decrease by ~1075 to allow the present Universe to bounce, can in fact decrease by no more than a factor of ~2; (2) if the true vacuum state has zero energy density, then a universe which is contracting in its low temperature phase can never complete a phase transition soon enough to cause a bounce.

Experimentally:

The universe is not only expanding, but that expansion appears to be speeding up. And as if that discovery alone weren’t strange enough, it implies that most of the energy in the cosmos is contained in empty space — a concept that Albert Einstein considered but discarded as his “biggest blunder.” The new findings have been recognized as 1998’s top scientific breakthrough by Science magazine.

[...]The flood of findings about the universe’s expansion rate is the result of about 10 years of study, said Saul Perlmutter, team leader of the Supernova Cosmology Project at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Perlmutter and others found such a yardstick in a particular kind of exploding star known as a Type 1A supernova. Over the course of several years, the astronomers developed a model to predict how bright such a supernova would appear at any given distance. Astronomers recorded dozens of Type 1A supernovae and anxiously matched them up with redshifts to find out how much the universe’s expansion was slowing down.

To their surprise, the redshift readings indicated that the expansion rate for distant supernovae was lower than the expansion rate for closer supernovae, Perlmutter said. On the largest scale imaginable, the universe’s galaxies appear to be flying away from each other faster and faster as time goes on.

“What we have found is that there is a ‘dark force’ that permeates the universe and that has overcome the force of gravity,” said Nicholas Suntzeff of the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, who is the co-founder of another group called the High-z Supernova Search Team. “This result is so strange and unexpected that it perhaps is only believable because two independent international groups have found the same effect in their data.”

There has only been one creation of the universe, and the universe will never reverse its expansion, so that it could oscillate eternally. That view is popular, perhaps in part because many people watched videos of Carl Sagan speculating about it in public school classrooms, but all it was was idle naturalistic speculation, (Sagan was a naturalist, and held out hope that science would vindicate naturalism), and has been contradicted by good experimental science. You should be familiar with the 3 evidences for the Big Bang (redshift, light element abundances (helium/hydrogen) and the cosmic microwave background radiation. There are others, (radioactive element abundances, second law of thermodynamics, stellar lifecycle), but those are the big three. Point out how the experimental evidence for the Big Bang has piled up, making the problem even worse for the eternal-universe naturalists.

2) The multiverse has not been tested experimentally, it’s pure speculation.

Speculation:

Multiverse thinking or the belief in the existence of parallel universes is more philosophy or science fiction than science. ”Cosmology must seem odd to scientists in other fields”.

George Ellis, a well-known mathematician and cosmologist, who for instance has written a book with Stephen Hawking, is sceptical of the idea that our universe is just another universe among many others.

A few weeks ago, Ellis, professor emeritus of applied mathematics at the University of Cape Town, reviewed Brian Greene’s book The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos (Knopf/Allen Lane, 2011) in the journal Nature. He is not at all convinced that the multiverse hypothesis is credible: ”Greene is not presenting aspects of a known reality; he is telling of unproven theoretical possibilities.”

According to professor Ellis, there is no evidence of multiverses, they cannot be tested and they are not science.

Ellis is not the only multiverse sceptic in this universe. A few months ago, science writer John Horgan wrote a column in Scientific American, expressing his doubt in multiverses.

When you get into a debate, you must never ever let the other side get away with asserting something they have no evidence for. Call them on it – point out that they have no evidence, and then hammer them with evidence for your point. Pile up cases of fine-tuning on top of each other and continuously point out that they have no experimental evidence for their speculations. Point out that more evidence we get, the more cases of fine-tuning we find, and the tougher the problem gets for naturalists. There is no evidence for a multiverse, but there is evidence for fine-tuning. TONS OF IT.

3) Naturalistic theories for the origin of life have two problems: can’t make the amino acids in an oxydized atmosphere and can’t make protein and DNA sequences by chance in the time available.

Building blocks:

The oxidation state of Hadean magmas and implications for early Earth’s atmosphere

Dustin Trail, E. Bruce Watson & Nicholas D. Tailby

Nature 480, 79–82 (01 December 2011) doi:10.1038/nature10655

[...]These results suggest that outgassing of Earth’s interior later than ~200?Myr into the history of Solar System formation would not have resulted in a reducing atmosphere.

Functional protein sequences:

J Mol Biol. 2004 Aug 27;341(5):1295-315.

Estimating the prevalence of protein sequences adopting functional enzyme folds.

Axe DD.

The Babraham Institute, Structural Biology Unit, Babraham Research Campus, Cambridge CB2 4AT, UK. doug.axe@bbsrc.ac.uk

Proteins employ a wide variety of folds to perform their biological functions. How are these folds first acquired? An important step toward answering this is to obtain an estimate of the overall prevalence of sequences adopting functional folds.

[...]Starting with a weakly functional sequence carrying this signature, clusters of ten side-chains within the fold are replaced randomly, within the boundaries of the signature, and tested for function. The prevalence of low-level function in four such experiments indicates that roughly one in 10(64) signature-consistent sequences forms a working domain. Combined with the estimated prevalence of plausible hydropathic patterns (for any fold) and of relevant folds for particular functions, this implies the overall prevalence of sequences performing a specific function by any domain-sized fold may be as low as 1 in 10(77), adding to the body of evidence that functional folds require highly extraordinary sequences.

So atheists are in double jeopardy here. They don’t have a way to build the Scrabble letters needed for life, and they don’t have a way to form the Scrabble letters into meaningful words and sentences. Point out that the more research we do, the tougher the problem gets to solve for naturalists, and the more it looks like an effect of intelligence. Write out the calculations for them.

4) The best candidate to explain the sudden origin of the Cambrian era fossils was the Ediacaran fauna, but those are now recognized as not being precursors to the Cambrian fossils.

Science Daily reports on a paper from the peer-reviewed journal Science:

Evidence of the single-celled ancestors of animals, dating from the interval in Earth’s history just before multicellular animals appeared, has been discovered in 570 million-year-old rocks from South China by researchers from the University of Bristol, the Swedish Museum of Natural History, the Paul Scherrer Institut and the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences.

[...]This X-ray microscopy revealed that the fossils had features that multicellular embryos do not, and this led the researchers to the conclusion that the fossils were neither animals nor embryos but rather the reproductive spore bodies of single-celled ancestors of animals.

Professor Philip Donoghue said: “We were very surprised by our results — we’ve been convinced for so long that these fossils represented the embryos of the earliest animals — much of what has been written about the fossils for the last ten years is flat wrong. Our colleagues are not going to like the result.”

Professor Stefan Bengtson said: “These fossils force us to rethink our ideas of how animals learned to make large bodies out of cells.”

The trend is that there is no evolutionary explanation for the body plans that emerged in the Cambrian era. If you want to make the claim that “evolution did it”, then you have to produce the data today. Not speculations about the future. The data we have today says no to naturalism. The only way to affirm naturalistic explanations for the evidence we have is by faith. But rational people know that we need to minimize our leaps of faith, and go with the simplest and most reasonable explanation – an intelligence is the best explanation responsible for rapid generation of biological information.

Conclusion

I do think it’s important for Christians to focus more on scientific apologetics and to focus their academic careers in scientific fields. So often I look at Christian blogs, and I see way too much G. K. Chesterton, Francis Chan and other untestable, ineffective jibber-jabber. We need to bring the hard science, and stop making excuses about not being able to understand it because it’s too hard. It’s not too hard. Everyone can understand “Who Made God?” by Edgar Andrews – start with that! Then get Lee Strobel’s “The Case for a Creator“. That’s more than enough for the average Christian on science apologetics. We all have to do our best to learn what works. You don’t want to be anti-science and pro-speculation like atheists are. I recommend reading Uncommon Descent and Evolution News every day for a start.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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