Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

John Lennox and Paul Davies discuss aliens and the origin of life

An amazing debate about the origin of life and the cosmic fine-tuning between a Christian and a materialist agnostic. John Lennox is AWESOME in this debate, and he only talks for a tiny part of the debate. He’s very gracious, and focused the discussion on the areas that we care about. Paul Davies is an EXCELLENT scientist and well aware of what Christians believe. This is a great debate, very easy to listen to. Justin, the moderator, does a great job controlling a fantastic discussion.

The MP3 file is here.


What does it take for life to get going in our universe? Is there intelligence in the stars or right under our nose? Renowned astrophysicist Paul Davies chats to Oxford Professor of Mathematics John Lennox.

A popular science author, Davies is also the Chair of the SETI post detection task force. His latest book “The Eerie Silence” which marks SETI’s 50th anniversary examines the likelihood of the universe producing life elsewhere.

John Lennox is a Christian Mathematician and philosopher. He is the author of “God’s Undertaker: has science buried God?” and has debated Richard Dawkins on several occasions.

Davies’ work on the fine tuning of the universe for life has been sympathetic to theism. In this programme Lennox challenges Davies to look to design not just in cosmology but in the cell. They also chat about what the discovery of ET would mean for Christian theology.



  • Is there meaning in the universe?


  • We have no evidence for or against intelligent life elsewhere in the universe
  • The vastness of the universe makes me think there is life elsewhere
  • Humans are capable of observing and understanding the universe
  • It seems the universe has the ability to create observers to understand it
  • If one species has this ability, then we should expect others to do it


  • The fact that we can observe the universe and do science has cosmic significance
  • Our rare habitable planet and our ability to do science is suggestive of purpose
  • So science itself points to an extra-terrestrial intelligence: GOD
  • The complexity of life and consciousness itself points away from atheism
  • Monotheism gave birth to science
  • Human minds capable of doing science are not compatible with atheistic materialism


  • Why do you say that either we are the only life or there are many different kinds of life?


  • There are lots of factors that have to be met to have a site for simple life
  • These are related to the fine-tuning of cosmic constants, e.g. gravitational force
  • But there are also factors that have to be met for originating intelligent life
  • Things like convergence, self-organization, etc.
  • So the cosmic requirements and evolutionary requirements are different
  • Darwinian evolution doesn’t solve the problem of the origin of life
  • 50 years ago, skepticism about alien life existing anywhere was excessive
  • Today, credulity about alien life exiting everywhere is excessive
  • The naturalist is searching for a process that creates life easily


  • Paul agrees that there is no theory for a naturalistic origin of life
  • This is fatal for the idea that life can emerge elsewhere in the universe
  • We have not discovered any law that produces life without an intelligence
  • Consider the method used by SETI used to detect an alien intelligence
  • Why can’t this method be applied to the origin of life on Earth?
  • Why can’t an intelligence created specified complexity (functional information)?
  • Why can’t an intelligence created epigenetics and protein folding?


  • Darwinian evolution can add new biological information after life begins


  • Darwinian evolution assumes a mutating replicating life form to act on


  • You can’t generate specified complexity by using physical laws
  • You can’t generate specified complexity by chance
  • At this point we are guessing as to how life might have formed


  • Why do we have to rule out an intelligent cause a priori
  • If you can recognize an intelligence in outer space, why not in living systems?


  • I don’t mind the word “intelligence”, it’s the word “signal”
  • I oppose the idea that God or aliens manipulated physical stuff to create life
  • It’s an “ugly explanation and very unappealing both theologically and scientifically”
  • I prefer the idea that the universe has processes to self-organize and create complexity
  • When it comes to supernatural meddling by God, “I don’t want that”
  • If I were God, I would create the universe so that I would not have to intervene
  • I think God would be more clever if he did not have to intervene
  • My preferences about what is “clever” determines what scientific conclusions are allowed


  • Humans already have experience with their non-material minds to move atoms (matter)
  • If God is a mind, then there is no reason why he cannot move atoms (matter)


  • My mind is physical, so are you saying that God is physical?
  • If God intervenes in the universe, then what is he doing now?


  • There is a distinction between acts of creation and providential upholding the universe
  • God is also speaking to people and drawing humans toward him
  • God is spirit, not material


  • How can a non-physical entity cause effects on the physical world?


  • What science reveals that there is information needed for the origin of life
  • Information requires an intelligence to create it, just as with human who write books
  • That’s not God of the gaps – it’s an inference based on what we know today


  • We may be able to explain the origin of life later, using matter, law and chance
  • What you’re saying is that God tinkers with the genome
  • If you say that God intervened once, then he intervenes all the time, everywhere!
  • I don’t want a God who tinkers in the genome
  • if God could intervene in the universe that would remove its intelligibility


  • Look at the cover of this book – when I read words, I infer an intelligence
  • There are bad gaps that the progress of science closes
  • There are good gaps that science opens, showing the need for intelligence
  • On the one hand, you say we have no theory of the origin of life
  • On the other hand, you know that an intelligent designer wasn’t involved
  • If we don’t know how life began, why do you rule God out a priori?


  • What scientists want to do is to explain the universe without involving God
  • naturalists want to use science to discover only materialist explanations
  • The purpose of SETI is to prove that there is other life in the universe
  • This would then show that there is a naturalistic way of making life
  • I agree that information in living systems is real hard to explain materialistically
  • I believe in the power of emergence
  • We might discover laws that prove that complexity can emerge without intelligence
  • The discovery of alien life would help to show that no intelligence is needed to make life


  • What sort of cosmic fine-tuning is needed at the Big Bang for life to occur?


  • It’s true that the universe appears extremely fine-tuned for life to exist
  • The typical answer from naturalists is that there is a multiverse
  • But the multiverse “falls far short” of providing a good answer to the fine-tuning
  • It’s irrational to appeal to massive numbers of unseen universes to explain fine-tuning
  • The design and purpose seen in the universe may be due to God or it may be emergent


  • The fine-tuning is real and the multiverse is a desperate attempt to evade the creator
  • Sir Martin Rees (an atheist) says he “prefers” the multiverse to a designer
  • Scientists are not supposed to prefer anything except what is true


  • Would the discovery of aliens hurt Christianity, because of the belief in the uniqueness of humans?


  • Christians believe that Jesus came to save HUMANS specifically, not animals or aliens
  • If we were to discover intelligent aliens, it would challenge traditional religions
  • What will God do with alien races? Multiple incarnations? Or just preach the gospel to them?


  • We don’t know if the aliens exist, first of all – it’s speculative
  • The Bible teaches that humans bear the image of God
  • We just don’t know whether alien species are also made in God’s image

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Paul Krugman’s plan to stimulate the economy with an alien invasion

Well, it’s CNN. What do you expect?

Newsbusters explains what is wrong with Paul Krugman’s plan to stimulate the economy based on an episode of the Twilight Zone.


PAUL KRUGMAN, NEW YORK TIMES: Think about World War II, right? That was actually negative social product spending, and yet it brought us out.

I mean, probably because you want to put these things together, if we say, “Look, we could use some inflation.” Ken and I are both saying that, which is, of course, anathema to a lot of people in Washington but is, in fact, what fhe basic logic says.

It’s very hard to get inflation in a depressed economy. But if you had a program of government spending plus an expansionary policy by the Fed, you could get that. So, if you think about using all of these things together, you could accomplish, you know, a great deal.

If we discovered that, you know, space aliens were planning to attack and we needed a massive buildup to counter the space alien threat and really inflation and budget deficits took secondary place to that, this slump would be over in 18 months. And then if we discovered, oops, we made a mistake, there aren’t any aliens, we’d be better –

ROGOFF: And we need Orson Welles, is what you’re saying.

KRUGMAN: No, there was a “Twilight Zone” episode like this in which scientists fake an alien threat in order to achieve world peace. Well, this time, we don’t need it, we need it in order to get some fiscal stimulus.

It’s important to note that Paul Krugman’s plan is actually better than Obama’s plan, because Obama doesn’t have a plan.

The Newsbusters piece explains what’s wrong with stimulating the economy with an alien invasion, as seen on the Twilight Zone TV show.


But more importantly, let’s look at the numbers involved to really get a sense of what Krugman advocated here.

The money unsuccessfully thrown at the Depression prior to World War II was staggering. From 1929 to 1939, government spending tripled from $3 billion a year to $9 billion.

And yet unemployment at the end of 1939 was still 17.2 percent.

Not a very good advertisement for Keynesian economics, is it?

Now imagine that kind of “stimulus” today. That would mean the current $3.8 trillion budget would have to rise to $11.4 trillion which would generate about $9 trillion of debt a year.

What do you think would happen to our credit rating and our dollar then? Wouldn’t be pretty, would it?

Yet that didn’t work in the ’30s – a fact that most liberals other than Krugman still contest – so the Nobel laureate is advocating that we spend like we’re being attacked by space aliens in order to get to the level of outlays during World War II.

Total federal spending in 1940 was $9.5 billion. By 1945, this had risen almost tenfold to $93 billion.

Such an increase in today’s budget would create a deficit greater than $30 trillion per year making our dollar and our Treasuries totally worthless.

[…]Consider too that the lasting stimulative quality of even the World War II spending is up for debate.

The National Bureau of Economic lists a recession that began in February 1945 that lasted until October of that year. This recession happened despite the federal government spending almost tens times as much as it had only five years prior and 30 times more than in 1929.

Once again, not a very good advertisement for Keynesian economics.

But let’s take this a step further, for NBER’s recession numbers might be too conservative. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Gross Domestic Product shrank by 1.1 percent in 1945, a staggering 10.9 percent in 1946, and 0.9 percent in 1947.

Again, this was after the largest explosion in federal spending in our nation’s history, and this is what Krugman is advocating we repeat.

So what is stimulus spending? Stimulus spending is when you take money OUT of the hands of people who create jobs, and put it into the hand of people who the government thinks deserves that money more. Let’s see who the government thinks deserves the money more than employers.

CBS News reports:

ABC News reports:

And this one features a real economist:

Obama promised that if we let him redirect $864 billion dollars from taxpayers to other people he chose, then that would make unemployment stay below 8%. So did all that “stimulus” keep unemployment below 8%?

The stimulus was worse than doing NOTHING AT ALL

The stimulus was worse than doing NOTHING AT ALL

(Click for larger image)

Let’s learn some economics and find out why that happened.

Economics in One Lesson

Perhaps it is time to review Henry Hazlitt’s book on basic economics “Economics in One Lesson”. Let’s look in chapter 4, which is entitled “Public Works Mean Taxes”.

Excerpt from that chapter:

Therefore, for every public job created by the bridge project a private job has been destroyed somewhere else. We can see the men employed on the bridge. We can watch them at work. The employment argument of the government spenders becomes vivid, and probably for most people convincing. But there are other things that we do not see, because, alas, they have never been permitted to come into existence. They are the jobs destroyed by the $10 million taken from the taxpayers. All that has happened, at best, is that there has been a diversion of jobs because of the project. More bridge builders; fewer automobile workers, television technicians, clothing workers, farmers.

And consider Chapter 5 as well, entitled “Taxes Discourage Production”.

In our modern world there is never the same percentage of income tax levied on everybody. The great burden of income taxes is imposed on a minor percentage of the nation’s income; and these income taxes have to be supplemented by taxes of other kinds. These taxes inevitably affect the actions and incentives of those from whom they are taken. When a corporation loses a hundred cents of every dollar it loses, and is permitted to keep only fifty-two cents of every dollar it gains, and when it cannot adequately offset its years of losses against its years of gains, its policies are affected. It does not expand its operations, or it expands only those attended with a minimum of risk. People who recognize this situation are deterred from starting new enterprises. Thus old employers do not give more employment, or not as much more as they might have; and others decide not to become employers at all. Improved machinery and better-equipped factories come into existence much more slowly than they otherwise would. The result in the long run is that consumers are prevented from getting better and cheaper products to the extent that they otherwise would, and that real wages are held down, compared with what they might have been.

There is a similar effect when personal incomes are taxed 50, 60 or 70 percent. People begin to ask themselves why they should work six, eight or nine months of the entire year for the government, and only six, four or three months for themselves and their families. If they lose the whole dollar when they lose, but can keep only a fraction of it when they win, they decide that it is foolish to take risks with their capital. In addition, the capital available for risk-taking itself shrinks enormously. It is being taxed away before it can be accumulated. In brief, capital to provide new private jobs is first prevented from coming into existence, and the part that does come into existence is then discouraged from starting new enterprises. The government spenders create the very problem of unemployment that they profess to solve.

And the results we see today are consistent with the predictions of basic economic theory.

George W. Bush cut taxes in his first term and created 1 million NEW JOBS. On the other hand, Obama transfered BILLIONS from the private sector to the public sector, where government waste is rampant. Government spending is a job killer. Obama might be a nice man, but he is just wrong on economics and business. What we should have done is elected someone who doesn’t repeat the mistakes made in other countries, like in Japan where massive government spending failed to stimulate the economy. We just need to look at where the ideas of Paul Krugman, Fareed Zakaria and Barack Obama have been tried – like in Spain and Greece – and see whether all of this government spending led to economic prosperity and a low unemployment rate. I know that it makes them feel good to think that they are responsible for punishing those who work, and rewarding those who don’t work. But maybe we should look at the results of their policies and decide that we just can’t afford to sacrifice the entire economy to make three people feel good about themselves. As far as I can tell, Keynesian economics has never created jobs whenever it’s been tried – although it does make the liberal elite feel superior to job creators. It works to do that.

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Is the taxpayer-funded scientific bureaucracy self-correcting?

Consider this post from Evolution News which talks about a paper in the prestigious pro-naturalism journal Science that is drawing a lot of criticisms. (H/T Melissa, Jonathan)


Last December we reported on a controversial paper published in Science which claimed to have discovered bacteria that feed on arsenic instead of phosphorous. According to NASA, this research promised to provide “an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life.” At that time the media reported things like:

  • scientists discovered “a bacteria whose DNA is completely alien to what we know today” (Wired)
  • the “bacteria is made of arsenic” (Wired)
  • the bacteria is “capable of using arsenic to build its DNA, RNA, proteins, and cell membranes” (Gizmodo)
  • the paper had reported “arsenic-based life” which is “very alien in terms of how it’s put together” and “NASA has, in a very real sense, discovered a form of alien life” (io9)
  • “you can potentially cross phosphorus off the list of elements required for life” (Nature)

But soon after the original Science paper was published, credible scientists began critiquing the paper’s claims. In the June 3, 2011 issue of Science, several of those scientists have published comments critiquing the original paper. Many of their criticisms focus on the claim that the original paper did not establish or rule out the possibility that the bacteria are not still living off of phosphorous.

So you have a paper being published that everyone is excited about because it helps the naturalists to close gaps in their worldview. But was it good science? The Evolution News piece goes on to list the criticisms of the paper.

And here is the result:

Of course the authors of the original paper, including lead-author Felisa Wolf-Simon, co-authored a reply to the criticisms which should also be read. But critics remain unconvinced. Nature news recently quoted Barry Rosen of Florida International University stating, “I have not found anybody outside of [Wolfe-Simon’s] laboratory who supports the work.” Likewise, Rosie Redfield observes:

“With so many mistakes pointed out, there should be at least some where the authors say, ‘you’re right, we should have done that but we didn’t’,” Redfield says. “This as an entirely a ‘we were right’ response, and that’s a bad sign in science.”

Despite the high levels of skepticism of claims of arsenophilic bacteria, Nature reports that few scientists have taken the initiative to attempt to experimentally reproduce the claims made in the original paper:

However, most labs seem too busy to spend time replicating work that they feel is fundamentally flawed and is not likely to be published in high-impact journals. So principal investigators are reluctant to spend their resources, and their students’ time, replicating the work. “If you extended the results to show there is no detectable arsenic, where could you publish that?” asks Simon Silver of the University of Illinois at Chicago, who critiqued the work in FEMS Microbiology Letters in January and on 24 May at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in New Orleans. “How could the young person who was asked to do that work ever get a job?” Refuting another scientist’s work also takes time that scientists could be spending on their own research. For instance, Helmann says he is installing a highly sensitive mass spectrometer that can measure trace amounts of elements. But, he says, “I’ve got my own science to do.”

Such admissions do not bode well for those who blindly believe in the perfectly objective, self-correcting nature of science. In this case, it seems safe to experimentally critique these claims since so many respected scientists have already expressed vocal skepticism. Yet experiments are apparently not yet forthcoming. What about areas of science where scientists are not able to express their dissent freely? For example, who would take time to experimentally critique claims that are central to neo-Darwinian theory, especially if it’s dangerous to one’s career? One hopes that science will become more self-correcting when it comes to claims made in support of materialism.

In light of what we now know about global warming research, shouldn’t we be a little more welcoming of whistleblowers and critics? Shouldn’t we be a little more careful about hastily approving research that agrees with the religion of naturalism, instead of checking it over thoroughly to make sure that it really is good science?

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Brian Auten interviews Jay Richards about Christian apologetics

Dr. Jay Richards

Dr. Jay Richards

Christian scholar Jay Richards was interviewed by Brian Auten of Apologetics 315.

The MP3 file is here.


  • What is intelligent design (ID)?
  • Is ID specifically Christian?
  • How does ID helpful to Christian apologetics?
  • What does ID prove?
  • Is it OK to use an argument that doesn’t prove Christianity specifically?
  • What is the difference between deism and theism?
  • Do ID arguments get you to deism or theism?
  • What is materialism, and how can you challenge it?
  • How do opponents of ID define ID?
  • What factors do you need to make a habitable planet?
  • Are habitable planets common or rare in the universe?
  • What is “The Privileged Planet” hypothesis?
  • Is there an overlap between habitability and suitability for making scientific discoveries?
  • What is the “Copernican Principle”?
  • Has the progress of science made Earth seem common and ordinary?
  • What is the most Earth-like planet that we’ve ever discovered?
  • How should ID proponents respond to the objection that creatures aren’t perfect?
  • Does having a big moon make a planet more or less habitable?
  • Does a planet’s distance to the Sun make that planet more or less habitable?
  • How do these two habitability factors affect the observability of solar eclipses?
  • What does co-relation between habitability and “discoverability” tell us about God?
  • How important is training in philosophy to Christian apologetics?
  • What one thing should a Christian apologist work on to be more effective?

I’m hoping that Brian will do a follow-up interview with Jay on Jay’s new book on theistic evolution.

Here’s the description from

What does it mean to say that God “used evolution” to create the world? Is Darwin’s theory of evolution compatible with belief in God? And even if Darwin’s theory could be reconciled with religious belief, do we need to do so? Is the theory well established scientifically? Is it true?

In the century and a half since Charles Darwin first proposed his theory of evolution, Christians, Jews, and other religious believers have grappled with how to make sense of it. Most have understood that Darwin’s theory has profound theological implications, but their responses have varied dramatically.

Some religious believers have rejected it outright; others, often called “theistic evolutionists,” have sought to reconcile Darwin’s theory with their religious beliefs, but often at the cost of clarity, orthodoxy, or both. Too few have carefully teased out the various scientific, philosophical, and theological claims at stake, and separated the chaff from the wheat. As a result, the whole subject of God and evolution has been an enigma wrapped in a shroud of fuzz and surrounded by blanket of fog.

The purpose of this anthology of essays is to clear away the fog, the fuzz, and the enigma. Contributing authors to the volume include Jay Richards, co-author of The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos Is Designed for Discovery; Stephen Meyer, author of Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design; William Dembski, author of The Design Revolution; Jonathan Witt, co-author of A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature; Denyse O’Leary, author of By Design, or by Chance?; and David Klinghoffer, author of Shattered Tablets.

Those authors are some of my favorite people to read in the whole world. I think this group will be mostly fed up with theistic evolutionists, like I am, although they may not go as far as I do when I label theistic evolutionists “functional atheists” or “theistic atheists”.

Jay Richards is probably my favorite all-round Christian scholar, because he also writes a lot on policy and economics, and was interviewed on those topics by Frank Turek. He has a complete, well-rounded worldview.

Posts featuring Jay Richards

Interviews by Jay Richards

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Harvard astrophysicist backs the Rare Earth hypothesis

What is the Rare Earth hypothesis?

It’s the thesis of a recent book written by two scientists at the University of Washington.

Here’s the blurb:

What determines whether complex life will arise on a planet? How frequent is life in the Universe?

In this exciting new book, distinguished paleontologist Peter D. Ward and noted astronomer Donald Brownlee team up to give us a fascinating synthesis of what’s now known about the rise of life on Earth and how it sheds light on possibilities for organic life forms elsewhere in the Universe.

Life, Ward and Brownlee assert, is paradoxically both very common and almost nowhere. The conditions that foster the beginnings of life in our galaxy are plentiful. But contrary to the usual assumption that if alien life exists, it’s bound to be intelligent, the authors contend that the kind of complex life we find on Earth is unlikely to exist anywhere else; indeed it is probably unique to our planet.

With broad expertise and wonderful descriptive imagery, the authors give us a compelling argument, a splendid introduction to the emerging field of astrobiology, and a lively discussion of the remarkable findings that are being generated by new research. We learn not only about the extraordinary creatures living in conditions once though inimical to life and the latest evidence of early life on Earth, but also about the discoveries of extrasolar planets, the parts Jupiter and the Moon have played in our survival, and even the crucial role of continental drift in our existence.

Insightful, well-written, and at the cutting edge of modern scientific investigation, Rare Earth should interest anyone who wants to know about life elsewhere and gain a fresh perspective on life at home which, if the authors are right, is even more precious than we may ever have imagined.

And here’s a review by Library Journal:

“Renowned paleontologist Ward (Univ. of Washington), who has authored numerous books and articles, and Brownlee, a noted astronomer who has also researched extraterrestrial materials, combine their interests, research, and collaborative thoughts to present a startling new hypothesis: bacterial life forms may be in many galaxies, but complex life forms, like those that have evolved on Earth, are rare in the universe. Ward and Brownlee attribute Earth’s evolutionary achievements to the following critical factors: our optimal distance from the sun, the positive effects of the moon’s gravity on our climate, plate tectonics and continental drift, the right types of metals and elements, ample liquid water, maintainance of the correct amount of internal heat to keep surface temperatures within a habitable range, and a gaseous planet the size of Jupiter to shield Earth from catastrophic meteoric bombardment. Arguing that complex life is a rare event in the universe, this compelling book magnifies the significance — and tragedy — of species extinction. Highly recommended for all public and academic libraries.”

Note that Peter Ward is a militant atheist (he has debated against Stephen C. Meyer), and Donald Brownlee is an agnostic. These are not Christians, nor are they even theists. However, I have the book, I have read the book, and I recommend the book. I usually have this book on my shelf at work for show-and-tell.

Now for the latest news about the hypothesis of the book. (H/T Brian Auten of Apologetics 315)

There are always going to be optimistic predictions by scientists who need to attract research funding, but those are hopes and speculations. The data we have today says Earth is rare. The number of conditions required for complex life of any kind is too high for us to be optimistic about alien life in this galaxy, at least. And as the number of requirements for life roll in, the odds of finding alien life that can contact us get slimmer and slimmer.

From the UK Daily Mail. (H/T Peter S. Williams)


Dr Howard Smith, a senior astrophysicist at Harvard University, believes there is very little hope of discovering aliens and, even if we did, it would be almost impossible to make contact.

So far astronomers have discovered a total of 500 planets in distant solar systems – known as extrasolar systems – although they believe billions of others exist.

But Dr Smith points out that many of these planets are either too close to their sun or too far away, meaning their surface temperatures are so extreme they could not support life.

Others have unusual orbits which cause vast temperature variations making it impossible for water to exist as a liquid – an essential element for life.

Dr Smith said: ‘We have found that most other planets and solar systems are wildly different from our own.

‘They are very hostile to life as we know it.’

‘The new information we are getting suggests we could effectively be alone in the universe.

‘There are very few solar systems or planets like ours. It means it is highly unlikely there are any planets with intelligent life close enough for us to make contact.’ But his controversial suggestions contradict other leading scientists – who have claimed aliens almost certainly exist.

These arguments are actually quite useful, and I include them in my standard list of scientific arguments for theism. (See below) You have to know this stuff cold. Most people believe in aliens because they watched movies made by artists. As a result, they think that humans are nothing special and that God is not interested in us in particular. Which is very convenient for them, because it means they can do whatever they want and not care what God thinks about what they are doing. If you want to defend against the idea that humans are nothing special, and that we were not placed here for a purpose, and that we are not accountable and obligated to seek and know the Creator/Designer, then you’ll need more than feelings. You’ll need science. You’ll need the best science available.

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