IBRI Research Report #46 (1997)
Copyright © 1997 by David C. Bossard. All rights reserved.
|Unless otherwise attributed, Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.|
|God loves the inquiring mind. Intellectual inquiry is the supreme activity that reflects the Image of God that he placed in humans at Creation. But the modern world of ideas is in turmoil. Recent book titles indicate this: The Age of Extremes, The Death of Common Sense, The Death of Satan, Slouching Toward Gomorrah, The End of Science. Each of these books, and many others (with perhaps less telling titles), points to a crisis in modern intellectual thought. Are these crises self-inflicted by Twentieth Century intellectual hubris, or are they sharp points: goads “hard to kick against” (reminiscent of Paul’s experience) placed by God in the way of “progress”, to remind a doggedly secular world of his presence, his active interest in his Creation, and the truth of Biblical claims about humanity and the Creation order? Sharp point areas noted here include: evidence for intelligent design in Creation, the Image of God in humans, God’s sustaining activity in Creation, the moral nature of humans, and the attempt to define a “secular” society. The current turmoil in Twentieth Century intellectual achievement highlights a number of these sharp points that God has placed in the way of the inquiring mind. Looking ahead to the future, one can see how current trends will develop into even sharper points in the coming Third Millennium.|
|Although the author is in agreement with the doctrinal statement of IBRI, it does not follow that all of the viewpoints espoused in this paper represent official positions of IBRI. Since one of the purposes of the IBRI report series is to serve as a preprint forum, it is possible that the author has revised some aspects of this work since it was first written.|
God’s Conspiracy to Evangelize the Inquiring Mind
If you call out for insight
and cry aloud for understanding,
and if you look for it as for silver
and search for it as for hidden treasure
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.
[Proverbs 2:3-5, NIV]
God loves the inquiring mind. Intellectual inquiry is the supreme human activity that reflects his image that He placed in humankind at Creation. But the modern world of ideas or “science”, using the word in its most general sense, is in turmoil. One author, John Horgan, expresses the current mood in his recent book, The End of Science, in which he argues that science and philosophy have reached an “ironic” state, by which he means that the interesting questions have been answered and all that is left for “strong” scientists to do is to “pursue science in a speculative, postempirical mode” by probing the speculative fringes of science, an activity that “offers points of view, opinions, which are, at best, interesting, which provoke further comment. But it does not converge on the truth.”1 Is it not rather that God is reaching out to the world with sharp points to reveal himself to the sincere inquirer? Is not much of the turmoil the struggle to evade these sharp points?
This report looks for evidence of sharp points in several areas. In biology, sharp points lurk in the “impossibles” of biology, particularly in striking evidence for intelligent design. In the Age of Reason, sharp points are found in the appalling applications of “science” to racism, to social Darwinism, to Marxism and other curses of recent times. For the future, sharp points are found in the unresolved themes that center about the way that societies plan for their own well-being.
What is a Sharp Point?
A sharp point is the prick of confliction that occurs when a person comes up against a truth about God or about the creation order, a truth that conflicts with the person’s own world view. The imagery of the sharp point comes from Paul’s experience leading up to his conversion, an experience that Jesus described in the vision on the road to Damascus by remarking, “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” [Acts 26:14, KJV]
The starting point for sharp points is the fact that God loves the inquiring mind. This love is displayed many places in the Bible, for example in that well-known passage in Psalm 19 that begins: “The heavens declare the glory of God.”2 As a person probes diligently, whether it is in natural science, or in philosophy, or in any of the myriad of activities that make up life, God reveals himself. That is how the inquiry can have a redemptive slant to it.
The proverb quoted above states how God rewards the diligent search that is implied in the cascading of the actions “calling out”, “crying aloud”, “looking” and “searching”. He rewards it with fear of the Lord and knowledge of God. Often a passage such as this is given a “soft” interpretation: as God promising the warm reward of insight to his devoted followers. But there is a “hard” interpretation too: as a promise to every person who searches out truth with diligence, whether or not that person is doing it as a matter of worship. Psalm 19 talks of a silent “voice” going through the whole earth: the voice is not just a secret reserved to the privileged few, it penetrates all of creation. That voice declares the glory of God.
The proverb hints at a sharp point in the word “fear”. There is sometimes a tendency to translate this word, which appears frequently in the Bible, by the words “awe” or “reverence”, but sometimes, as here, and in Saul’s experience on the road to Damascus, the word “fear” is appropriate.
When a sharp point occurs, the observer is brought up against a point that conflicts with a personal world view. He or she may either accept or reject the implications of the point. As E.M. Blaiklock wrote: “You can doggedly hold onto your preconceptions…or you can believe that a Mind has ordered it all.”3 A sharp point reveals the vulnerability in a person’s position, but that warning can be brushed aside with effort.
It is odd that some Christians seem to be afraid of
serious inquiry that is implied in this proverb, as if knowing the
might somehow shake their faith. Francis Schaeffer remarked on this:
|I often think that one of the reasons there is such an air of unreality in much of the church, and for many people, is that they do not understand what is really meant when we say Christianity is true. It is not that it is merely true to a creed, though we should be true to our creeds. …[It is] that Christianity is true to what really is there. (emphasis added)4|
What does it mean, “Christianity is true to what really is there?” Repeatedly the New Testament urges Christians to consider one another as equals: “There is neither Greek nor Jew, male nor female, slave nor free.” Saying “Christianity is true to what really is there” means that this urging is not just saying that Christians should be nice to each other, be humble and give deference to the other fellow out of some sense of Christian charity. To say “Christianity is true to what really is there” means that underlying the instructions for Christians is the fact that all human individuals really are of equal intrinsic worth, not just other Christians. This is what Dinesh D’Sousa, author of the book The End of Racism, calls the Biblical teaching of “passionate universalism.”5 It is for Christians who believe that God has revealed himself in Scripture, to investigate and proclaim the truths of Christianity that are “really there,” and not to act and live our lives as though these truths were just weird tribal customs that have been handed down: that is the air of unreality that Francis Schaeffer refers to.
Diligent search for insight and understanding leads to knowledge and fear of God. That is what the proverb says. A Christian believer doesn’t have to fight for this, doesn’t have to scurry around to impose a particular religious slant on the interpretation of nature, doesn’t have to resort to force or bombast. He or she only needs to urge for a clear-eyed search for objective truth, speaking only the truth in the process, and then let the results fall out as they will.
C.S. Lewis said this about the power of truth that is to be found in diligent inquiry:
What I like about experience is that it is such an honest thing. You may take any number of wrong turnings; but keep your eyes open and you will not be allowed to go very far before the warning signs appear. You may have deceived yourself, but experience is not trying to deceive you. The universe rings true wherever you fairly test it.6
Perhaps Christians need to remind one another that the Christ is also the Creator (John 1, Colossians 1). So naturally the universe rings true.
The proverb promises that honest inquiry into God’s
will be rewarded with fear and knowledge. Fear may not be what
inquirer was looking for. Serious inquiry can reveal flaws in one’s
view. That is the nature of sharp points. C.S. Lewis said about his own
conversion to Christianity, after a long struggle to maintain his
|The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance to escape?7|
What is also true, but C.S. Lewis doesn’t say here, is that the struggles reflected his intellectual honesty: that he refused to evade inconvenient or uncomfortable lines of thought; in short he searched diligently as the proverb indicates. The result was sharp points that he had to face, and they led in the end to his salvation. But the interesting thing is, God does not force himself on the inquirer: God will reveal himself, but the inquiring person can doggedly refuse to follow the evidence, at a cost of some pain and unsettling. That is the point, so to speak, of a sharp point.
The Accessibility of God’s Creation
The proverb and the witnesses cited thus far, see God’s creation as strangely “accessible” to the inquiring mind. This is true. Ponder this: suppose that the scale of things in nature were two or three orders of magnitude different from what they are. Suppose there were no visible planets or that they were so far away that they would not appear to be “wandering stars”. Would scholars ever have come to an understanding of the solar system? Suppose that the laws of Newtonian physics were more subtle than they are: would Galileo, Newton and the other empiricists have discovered them with their crude measuring gear?
To be very specific for those who understand some physics: suppose the wavelength of visible light were, say, 1000 times longer than it is; that is, about a millimeter (mm, 10-3 m) rather than about a micron (m, 10-6m). Then it would be hard to see details in anything much smaller than the period at the end of a sentence (about 0.5 mm or 500m)—even an optical microscope would not help, because it cannot pick up details that are smaller than about half of a wavelength of light. The early scientists of the modern age would never have been able to peer into the microscopic world. Would they have ever built the precision instruments available today without the stimulus of the optical microscopes?
Suppose that fossils never formed at all, so that there was no evidence of the form of past living things. After all, fossils serve no biological function to the life that produced them. Suppose that each stratum of the geological column were so thick that all one could see in the Earth’s upper crust was a single uniform layer of sediment and rock? Suppose the Grand Canyon only displayed the top-most stratum? Would scientists have obtained an understanding of geology? What would have been the inducement?
Perhaps the supreme example of the accessibility of God’s creation is found in the comprehensive power that has been found in the general laws of physics—Newton’s laws, Einstein’s General Relativity, the laws of thermodynamics and of quantum mechanics. It is remarkable how few and simple these laws are, in comparison with their far-reaching applicability.
The very accessibility of nature, is a deliberate and gracious concession of God for the benefit of the inquiring mind, whom he reaches with silent speech and the line gone throughout the earth, as Psalm 19 eloquently states. Through the medium of that silent speech, God intrudes with sharp points.
The Biblical Basis for Sharp Points
Many sharp points concern assertions that are found in the Bible. As Francis Schaeffer wrote, these assertions tell us how the world really works, and not just what our creed is. They speak to the whole of God’s creation, not just to those who practice the Biblical faith. The following table lists a few of these Biblical assertions.
Sharp Point Subject Areas
in the Bible
|1. Paganism||Only God is divine:
• Man-made idols
|• Unreliability (broken
• Inability to control outcomes
• Unanswered petitions
|2. Creation||• Matter is not eternal
• Nature shows design
• Humans rule over Creation
• Creation is sustained by God
|• Big Bang
• Anthropic principle
• Intelligent design
• Irreducible complexity
• Instability of nature
|3. Humanity||• All humans in God’s
• Evil comes from within
• Objective truth exists
• Humans need revelation from God
|• Itch of eternity
• Results of racism
• Social degeneration
• “Ironic” science
|4. Society||People have:
• Equal value
• Equal rights
• Different talents
Society needs the memory found in:
• Wisdom Just laws:
• Describe, not prescribe
• Mete justice to victim and accused
• Rise of “victim” culture
• Rise of radical individualism
• Disdain for law
• Decline in culture
It is interesting to note that many of these Biblical assertions concern things that may not be immediately apparent—in fact, the surface view may seem to point in quite a different way. This is one reason why Biblical revelation is valuable. Consider the question of whether there are nature gods. The forces of nature certainly are powerful, and sometimes they seem to have a will of their own. Nature seems to have godlike qualities: it is mysterious and elusive. Is it really any wonder that the Egyptians deified the Nile river, whose whims could dictate either life and prosperity or death and famine? The very fact that a word such as “whims” is used in reference to the Nile river conveys the impression that it has a conscious will. In our speech such personifications of nature are common; it is not just “primitive” cultures that are caught up in the mysteries of nature!
Malcom Muggeridge uses the label “Christendom” to refer to a society that has respect for Biblical propositions such as the ones listed in the table. His lecture, The End of Christendom8laments the fact that modern society has lost respect for these roots. The false assumption, that can be traced back to romanticists such as Emerson, is that it can have the very real benefits of Christendom without keeping the roots. This is a false notion, as Muggeridge points out in his lecture. Later in this paper, the “science” of racism will be cited to illustrate the problems that result from the loss of society’s roots in Christendom.
In the absence of a communication from God, how does one discover that there are no nature gods or that there is no mysterious god called “Luck” that guides the dice? Only by long, bitter experience of lost hopes and dreams. But it is very painful to discover such an elusive truth, and that is one reason why the guidance of the Bible and the wisdom of long historical experience are so important. To put it another way, the empirical method of discovery, which is so much the rage in science, is not always terribly useful. You may empirically discover the law of gravity, but if you do it as you pass the 35th floor on a free fall, the discovery doesn’t provide much comfort or help.
This loss of even an understanding of society’s
in the past is one of the serious problems of modern society. The
that the past has had its share of faults and myopia looms large in
eyes and so everything is thrown out. Eric Hobbsbawm, in the book The
Age of Extremes, remarks:
|The destruction of the past, or rather of the social mechanisms that link one’s contemporary experience to that of earlier generations, is one of the most characteristic and eerie phenomena of the late twentieth century. Most young men and women at the century’s end grow up in a sort of permanent present lacking any organic relation to the public past of the times they live in.9|
The lessons one might learn by listening to the roots of the past have to be relearned. These lessons become bitter sharp points.
The remainder of this paper discusses a number of sharp points that can be found in present-day society. The survey begins with the bright side of things: sharp points that come out of the marvelous achievements of modern science, followed by some of the darker results that came about in the Age of Reason, when “freethinkers” cut off the past strong ties to tradition and the roots of Christendom. Finally, some remarks will be made about the approach of the third millennium and some sharp points that face society as it looks to the future.
Sharp Points in Modern Science
Science as Participation in Creation. It is one of the astonishing facts of the Biblical Creation account that God gave Adam the responsibility for naming the animals (Genesis 2:19-20). To the Hebrew mind, naming things is very significant: it denotes authority and participation in meaning. And so the Hebrew reader understands from this act that Adam actually participated in creation itself, as a kind of assistant to God. The advances in modern science are a continuation of this gracious gift of participating in Creation that God has granted to humans. The accessibility of God’s creation, noted above, is not an accident. It confirms that God is not an enemy of scientific advancement, but on the contrary, he revels in it. At the same time, he uses this very human creativity to reveal himself ever more sharply.
The following are some examples of sharp points in modern science. The footnotes cite references that can provide much more information than can be given here.
The Creation Event10 The fact that the material universe had a definite beginning is today generally accepted in modern science. According to the usual scientific estimates, the universe began with a “Big Bang” some 12-18 billion years ago in a huge explosion and has been expanding from that initial blast ever since. Scientists can still detect the residual energy of that energetic early universe and observe its expansion in distant receding stars.
In the first half of the twentieth century, there was a vigorous effort to avoid the Big Bang theory (so-named by Fred Hoyle, a nobel-laureate astrophysicist, as an intentionally derisive label). The attempts included theories of spontaneous generation of matter, of an oscillating universe that is currently in just one of many expansion phases, and so on. None of these theories is now generally viewed to be plausible to the large majority of scientists, because the astrophysical evidence consistently and emphatically points to a single creation event. Indeed, the modern understanding of science makes it possible to give a consistent description of the early history of the universe to within a small fraction of a second (10-38 s) from the creation event—consistent in the sense that the current state of the universe agrees remarkably well with the predictions of physical theory.
This Big Bang beginning has profound consequences. It is not possible, for one thing to credit matter with an eternal existence, which might allow it to have self-generating, god-like qualities. Scientists must face the question, “How did it begin?” as well as the question, “How did the universe develop to its present state in the limited time since the beginning?” Both of these questions are things that many scientists would rather not be faced with, which is why there was considerable resistance to the Big Bang theory, until the evidence accumulated to the point where few serious scientists now question it, and these questions are now pursued by cosmologists. The big issue today is not whether there was a creation event, but how to explain the current state of the universe and the presence of intelligent life, and whether this state can be explained without reference to God.
Many astronomers have seen the obvious sharp point: that there is a God who transcends the universe, and willed it into being. Others, perhaps most, remain agnostic; still others appear to be content to leave the implications unresolved in their personal world views. For example, one biologist proclaimed that he is a pantheist, although how that is possible in a universe that had a finite beginning is not explained.11
The Finely Tuned Universe12. The Psalmist marveled in Psalm 8 at the attention and authority that God gave to his human creation: “What is man that thou art mindful of him?” When the modern Age of Science began in the mid-sixteenth century, the early scientists didn’t have the data or the tools to see how profoundly significant man is in the universe. The evidence seemed to point in the opposite direction.
Beginning in the 1500’s the findings of Copernicus
the other astronomers seemed to indicate that humans appear to be “an
bit of dust on an unimportant planet in an unimportant galaxy in an
region somewhere in the vastness of space.”13
The theologians and classical scholars protested in vain. In their
they unwisely tried to deny the clear evidence of science, and not
they lost the argument. But as it turns out, the indications of human
were false, and the theologians were right—right, that is, in the
area of their expertise, namely theology. In fact the universe is
anthropocentric, meaning that it is exquisitely tuned for human
Freeman Dyson states:
|As we look out into the Universe and identify the many accidents of physics and astronomy that have worked together to our benefit, it almost seems as if the Universe must in some sense have known that we were coming.14|
One can see evidence for this planning from the
moments after the universe was created. For example, according to the
scientific understanding of stars as the “furnaces” where all the
except hydrogen and some helium were made, Fred Hoyle observed:
|I do not believe that any scientist who examined the evidence would fail to draw the inference that the laws of nuclear physics have been deliberately designed with regard to the consequences they produce inside the stars.15|
Without those consequences inside the stars, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and the other elements of life would not have existed. Barrow and Tipler in their excellent book, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, give a fascinating description of how the atomic energy levels are precisely designed to yield just the right elements needed for life.16
A creationist could, of course, argue that these elements were created in their final form by God. However, if that is the case, then it is difficult to imagine why the universe would display the mechanisms, in the form of the physical laws, the precisely correct fundamental parameters to permit the natural production, and the evident byproducts of natural stellar production of the elements (such as the relative abundance of different elements).
The findings of modern science give new meaning to
|For this is what the LORD says--he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited--he says: "I am the LORD, and there is no other.”|
God created the heavens to be inhabited: that is
what the scientists have found. It turns out that the apparent
of humans in the vast expanse—the “discovery” of the scientists in the
Age of Enlightenment—is an illusion. The focus of the universe, vast as
it is, centers on creating an environment suitable for human
Barrow and Tipler state:
|It is not only that man is adapted to the universe. The universe is adapted to man. Imagine a universe in which one or another of the fundamental dimensionless constants of physics is altered by a few percent one way or the other? Man could never come into being in such a universe. That is the central point of the anthropic principle. According to this principle, a life-giving factor lies at the centre of the whole machinery and design of the world.17|
This “fine tuning” is a sharp point of
by God. To pick just one of literally hundreds of items available,
the age and size of the universe. The usual notion is that billions of
years are a long time, and that our present conscious lives are only a
minute speck in the eons of time. Not so. What is missing from this
is that 16 billion years, the approximate time since the Big Bang is a
short time—in fact the shortest time possible—to have produced the
and chemical building blocks of today’s ecosystem, if it was done by
action of the known laws of physics. It is as if God determined to use
physical processes, but beyond that wasted no time at all in moving
the creation event to Eden. The following table gives the time budget,
using the generally accepted calculations from physics.
(Using known Physics)18
heavier elements are formed in small amounts during supernova explosions)
by radioactive decay of the heavy elements that were created in supernova
explosions that produced the debris from which it was formed.)
=> Minimum lapsed time: about 16.5 billion years.
If this table is accurate—it is based on the understanding of modern astrophysics—then the size and age of the universe, far from indicating the insignificance of our current era, points to a deliberate preparation for human habitation. Humans are so exceedingly significant that the entire universe was created specifically for them! The creation of life and of humans occurred at the earliest possible moment. The universe is still young, despite being 16 billion years old! This fact—that the universe is young—is confirmed by the absence of middle-aged or old (second generation) stars of the types that, according to the physics involved, should last for as many as 40-50 billion years.
The Four Impossibles in Biology. The “impossibles” of biology are: the origin of life, gaps in the fossil record, the evolution of human intelligence, and irreducible complexity. These are four areas in genetic and biochemical biology where living matter has achieved the “impossible,” meaning that there is no plausible scientific explanation to account for what the evidence shows, other than “well, it must be possible, because here it is!” Each of these areas is the source of great sharp points that demonstrate God’s Creative activity.
There is no doubt that great discoveries remain to be made in each of these areas, and by no means should one just say “God did it” and cease further research, because God loves to have humans investigate his creation, and he honors the honest inquiry into his handiwork with ever deeper and more extensive insight. But the evidence to date, points to the likelihood that this inquiry will only sharpen the evidence for God’s hand in creation; it will not reveal purely natural, undirected processes as an adequate and complete explanation for the current state of living matter.
It seems that every time some astronomer discovers another planet orbiting a star, or finds water somewhere in the solar system, the news reports speculate that life may be found there. Several such reports have appeared in the papers over the past few months. A full appreciation of these “impossibles” should show the folly of such speculation.
1. Origin of Life19
Francis Crick, one of the discoverers of the configuration of DNA,
|The origin of life appears to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have to be satisfied to get it going.20|
Mechanisms to explain the origin of life are almost totally lacking, despite the un-warranted hoopla that accompanies high school science text descriptions of the original Miller-Urey experiments, conducted in the 1950’s. What these experiments showed, is how a few molecular compounds, fortuitously called “organic”, can arise from inorganic materials. Occasionally one reads a report of “prebiotic” chemicals discovered somewhere in space: these are usually amino acids, or perhaps modestly more complex molecules. There is a vast chasm between any such evidence of complex “organic” molecules and actual life.21 The biochemist Lynn Margulis wrote: “To go from a bacterium to people is less of a step than to go from a mixture of amino acids to that bacterium.”22
The evidence to support theories for the origin of life is so meager and embarrassing that some biologists call the descriptions “just so stories.” The bottom line, after over forty years since the first Miller-Urey experiment, is that results in the attempt to generate the “precursors” to life are uniformly unconvincing. Michael Behe in his book Darwin’s Black Box, reports that “in private many scientists admit that science has no explanation for the beginning of life.”23
At this point in the understanding of what is the
needed to form life, the minimum turns out to be so huge that there is
essentially no chance of its occurring naturally, at least so far as it
is known today.24
Ernst Mayr, a prominent biologist, wrote:
|A full realization of the near impossibility of an origin of life brings home the point how improbable this event was. This is why so many biologists believe that the origin of life was a unique event. The chances that this improbable phenomenon could have occurred several times is exceedingly small, no matter how many millions of planets in the universe.25|
2. Gaps in the Fossil Record26One of the hallmarks of Darwinian theory is the concept of gradualism, that the process of evolution took place over eons as a result of natural selection, and was marked by gradual changes between species. From the first, objections were raised to this view because the fossil record does not show evidence of gradual transitions between major life forms. In fact, most of the modern phyla appeared suddenly within perhaps 10 million years in the “Cambrian explosion”.27This is an incredibly short time for natural selection to do its work, even aside from the sudden appearances with little record of intermediate forms. During the early days after Darwin, the argument was that the fossil record had not been adequately explored, and that the gaps would eventually be filled. But that has not happened. As time passed, the scientists in the field became increasingly uncomfortable with the observations. The century plus since Darwin has not yielded the type of defense for the theory that its supporters might have hoped. One article, arguing for moving “beyond neo-Darwinism”, stated:
The successes of the theory are limited to the minutiae of evolution, such as the adaptive change in coloration of moths; while it has remarkably little to say on the questions which interest us most, such as how there came to be moths in the first place.28
3. Human Intelligence.29
The marvel of human intelligence can be seen from three lines of attack:
|• Emulating human thought with artificial intelligence,
• Searching for the seat of consciousness, and
• Questions regarding the evolution of intelligence.
The record of forty years of research in human intelligence and artificial intelligence, only confirms that the thought processes of the human mind far transcend anything that can be duplicated or even approached by computer technology. Even the relatively simple task of writing computer programs that are intuitive and easy to use is daunting and demonstrates that computers have a hard time doing what comes easily to the human mind.
Regarding the search for the seat of consciousness, the Biblical perspective argues that the uniqueness of the human species is wrapped up in the fact that humans were created in God’s image. A reasonable conclusion from this act of God is that human consciousness transcends the material creation, since he added something that apparently was not previously present in his creative work. The sharp points that come from this involve evidence that (self-)consciousness and intelligence are phenomena unique to humans in the natural world, and that they cannot be explained solely in terms of material processes (of the brain or other body parts).
From an evolutionary viewpoint, the development of intelligence
problems, because intelligence seems to defy the assumed
of evolutionary theory. A sophisticated nervous system requires a huge
support system: for example, the human brain takes about 20% of all the
body’s energy at rest. Barrow and Tipler state:
|Intelligence has no a priori advantage, but it is a clear and unmistakable reproductive hazard.…In short, the evolution of ‘cognition’, or intelligence and self-awareness of the human type, is most unlikely even in the primate lineage. …The [evolution] of Homo sapiens is so improbable that it is unlikely to have occurred on any other planet in the entire visible universe.…There is no indication in the geological record that the evolution of intelligence is at all inevitable; in fact, quite the reverse.30|
4. Irreducible Complexity31. The final “impossible” of biology is irreducible complexity. In 1994 there was a debate between Phillip Johnson, and William B. Provine at Stanford University on the topic “Darwinism: Science or Naturalistic Philosophy?”32 At one point during the debate, Provine showed a picture of a monarch butterfly and stated his own position, “You cannot see evidence of intelligent design even in butterflies.” How strange and revealing Provine’s remark is! Looking at a photograph of a butterfly (Figure 1), certainly appears to show evidence for design.
But of course what the picture of a butterfly reveals is something that Darwin himself could have looked at, and evidently it didn’t convince him. On the other hand, Provine knows a lot more than Darwin could have known about the butterfly. That external appearance shown in the photograph is only the end result of an incredibly complex process. It hides vastly more indications of intelligent design than is apparent in the mere collage of color and structure that the visual image displays. And yet, evidently, all this counts for nothing to Provine.
Recently, a professor at Lehigh University, Michael Behe, wrote the book, Darwin’s Black Box34. The point to his book, is that scientists know vastly more today about the biology of a cell and micro-organisms than was known in Darwin’s day. The frontispiece to Behe’s book shows a schematic of a bacterial flagellum (Figure 2).
The fact that some bacteria swim by rotating their flagella rather than by waving them, as is true of other ciliated micro-organisms, was first shown in 1973.35 This is so incredible that for years after this, some scientists concluded that the rotation was an artifact, and that back-and-forth movement of the flagella only seemed to be rotation, as a well-known biology reference book asserted as late as 1986.36
The rotation is now well-established. The schematic
Figure 2, published in 1991, is one of several postulated designs for
motor. It shows a rotary motor in miniature, complete with all the
parts that were “invented” for electric motors in modern times. Behe
not only at the design of this flagellum, but also at the complexity of
the mechanism, both physical and chemical. How could this have evolved
by chance through the process of small modifications from something
Either it works as a whole or it does not. Where would one find the
pressure” for continued development of a non-functioning motor?
Bacterial Flagellum “Motor”37
Typical of Strep and E. Coli
note: nm = nanometer = 1/10,000,000,000 meter
Behe asserts that the bacterial flagellum is an example of irreducible complexity. In his words, this means “a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning.”38 Such a system cannot be got to gradually by a series of slight modifications.
As Behe poses the question, it amounts to a sharp point that shows evidence for intelligent design in Creation. Is this enough to convince a person of intelligent design—Prof. Provine, for example? At the least, it is doubtful that Provine would have gotten the same number of knowing chuckles from the audience if he had put this picture on the screen instead of the butterfly.
Behe notes that Charles Darwin himself was quite
of the need for “slight, successive modifications” in his theory. In
of Species, in a section headed “Modes of Transition”, Darwin made
|If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find out no such case.39|
Darwin could look at the butterfly and he did not find “such a case”, but he was unable to look at Behe’s example, because anything substantially smaller than a cell could not be examined with the optical microscopes available in his day, hence the title of Behe’s book, Darwin’s Black Box.
As remarked above, an optical microscope can only
something that is larger than about half a wavelength of visible light.
This amounts to about 0.25m for violet light. Only large-scale details
of a bacterium would be visible; certainly not the details of the
“motor”, which has a diameter of about 0.08m, several times smaller
the shortest wavelength of visible light (See Figure 3). So it is
not surprising that Darwin could not find “such a case.” One way that
used to prove that the flagellum actually rotates is to glue the
to a glass slide and observe the rotation of the bacterium, which is
enough to be optically observable. This is something akin to fixing a
prop to a rigid support, and observing the helicopter rotate. Fixed in
this way, the bacteria typically rotate at a rate of 10 cycles per
whereas free flagella have been observed to rotate up to 200 cycles per
second at room temperature.40
Effect of Resolving Power on Detail41
(limit of visible light)
This is the T2 virus
(~ 80 nm wide x 250 nm high)
This clear evidence for intelligent design in creation is an example of a sharp point. It points to a Designer. And evidence of a designer points to God. This is the first step to redemption: “He that cometh to God must believe that he is…” [Heb. 11:6, KJV].
This example also illustrates that sharp points are not logical syllogisms. They do not lead to a conclusion in a mathematical sense, and so the implication of the sharp point can be denied, but at a cost which increases as the point becomes “sharper”. In the butterfly and the flagellum, one can see at least three increasing levels of sharpness.
• At the first level, there is the external appearance of the butterfly: its colorful appeal to the eye. A believer in God as Creator can look at this beauty throughout God’s Creation and rejoice in it, and thank him for giving us such a beautiful world to live in. He or she can look about and marvel at God’s wonders, look at the butterfly and recall Eccl. 3:11, “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” An unbeliever looks around and sees accidental but felicitous geometrical patterns perhaps the result at root of crystalline or chaotic growth processes, sees colors, the result of an evolutionary process that may have no particular function, or that uses visual effects to enhance survival, facilitate mate selection, etc. This is a bit sharp, but not, perhaps, unbearably so. This level is accessible to any thoughtful observer.
• At the second level are the cellular and genetic processes that underlie the external result. The mind’s eye can think “monarch butterfly” and see the complex life cycle: the caterpillar, the chrysalis, and the adult monarch. But even beneath this, at the cellular and genetic levels, extreme complexities abound. The more one knows about physical, chemical and cybernetic processes, and particularly about the logical complexities implied in the multiple levels of indirect action leading from the genetic coding to the final product, the more incredible these complexities appear. Where is the organizing principle and what are the mathematical rules or physical properties that can yield these end results by mindless random processes?
• At the third level there is the bacterial flagellum. The macro-complexity here boggles the mind. If there is no Designer, then how did these parts arise? What ordering principle of nature would lead to this? What evolutionary pressure would drive through the useless and non-functional intermediate steps to achieve this end without a transcendent God? Such a “random” act would seem to give over to nature itself the deliberative and directed attributes of divinity. Behe argues effectively in his book that the flagellum is an example of irreducible complexity. There are, to say the least, no known laws that would produce such a product. This is very sharp.
Imagination vs. Science. It is reasonable to
why does one have to probe so deeply into the microscopic world in
to see evidence for irreducible complexity and design? Behe points out
in his book that when a biochemist works at that microscopic level,
are more transparent because enough layers of complexity have been
so that theories can be tested by direct experimentation or
It is even possible to count the molecules. Cause and effect can be
compared with known chemical and physical processes. At the macro level
in which most evolutionists work, the complexities are so vast that it
is relatively easy to gloss over the details. Stephen Jay Gould once
the “poor” engineering of the human eye, arguing that if God had
the eye, he would have done a better job. This comment brings to mind
recollection of discussions as a Drexel undergraduate. When a real
criticizes the design of something, one can usually take the criticism
to mean that he or she knows how to do the job better. Knowing how
simply mean imagining a different end result, it means having an
of the process that leads to the result. One might imagine an
suction-type well pump that would draw water from a 100 foot well, but
in fact that is impossible to do: imagining something different or
doesn’t count to an engineer unless he or she knows how to do
better. On the other hand, one can confidently state that neither Gould
nor anyone else has any idea how to manipulate the DNA coding to
a better eye. So his comments are not remarks of a person who has an
for engineering. Lest this judgment seems too harsh, consider this
|Many scientists think that given the origin of life, its subsequent evolution is easy to envision…. The reason for this peculiar circumstance is that while chemists try to test origin-of-life scenarios by experiment or calculation, evolutionary biologists make no attempt to test evolutionary scenarios at the molecular level by experiment or calculation. As a result, evolutionary biology is stuck in the same frame of mind that dominated origin-of-life studies in the early fifties, before most experiments had been done: imagination running wild. Biochemistry has, in fact, revealed a molecular world that stoutly resists explanation by the same theory so long applied at the level of the whole organism.… Darwin never imagined the exquisitely profound complexity that exists even at the most basic levels of life.(Emphasis added)42|
Sharp Points in the Age of Reason.
Modern science has revealed marvelous sharp points through its creative work, but there is also a down side to the modern scientific age. A remarkable proverb states, “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint.” (Proverbs 29:18a, NIV). The King James for this verse is the well-known reading, “Where there is no vision the people perish.” The King James grabs one’s imagination, but the NIV is a more accurate translation in this instance. It states in a very concise way what has happened in the centuries after Gutenberg and the rise of rationalism. It expresses the need for God’s revelation as a guide and restraint on human behavior.
The Age of Reason spans the mid-sixteenth to the mid-twentieth century. If you like to think in terms of specific events, then date it from Nicolaus Copernicus, who first successfully challenged Ptolemaic astronomy, to Francis Crick who discovered the helical configuration of DNA, the genetic code that exists in the cell nucleus.
Why Copernicus? Because he challenged the gratuitous extension of religious authority to the natural world. The religious leaders naturally resisted this challenge. Luther dismissed Copernicus’ statement that the earth spins by citing the account of Joshua’s extended day: “This fool wishes to reverse the entire scheme of astronomy; but sacred Scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, not the earth.”43 The fact that Copernicus proved to be right, and not Luther (or the Catholic Cardinals, for that matter), did not speak well for religious authority, which lost heavily at the court of intellectual opinion.
Why Francis Crick? Because with his discovery, biology lost all hope of fully understanding genetics, much less evolution, by empirical rational methods: the process is simply too complex. The multiple levels of indirect determinism that span the gap from the codons in DNA to the final realization in a functioning organism boggle the mind: it is just too much.
The Age of Reason is over now, done in by numerous sharp points. The new age has not yet jelled; this is not surprising, because in fact it took a hundred years on either side of Copernicus for the groundwork of the Age of Reason to be set in place. It will take some time for the new age to settle into a pattern too. Meanwhile, the new age has the label “Postmodern”, for lack of a better term.
The Age of Reason was the exuberant heyday of
credulous rationalism, of the scientific method, and of logical
the notion that everything of interest yields to the methods of
science and can be picked apart and put back together logically and
The age saw the rise and fall of major secular isms which began in the
hubris of the enlightenment and died of their own inadequacies. Some
themes of the Age of Reason, and recent books that record this demise
|• Racism: Dinesh D’Sousa, The End of Racism
• Freudianism: John Farrell, Freud’s Paranoid Quest, (1996)
• Empirical Science: John Horgan, The End of Science (1996)
• Darwinism: Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box (1996)
• Civilization: Malcom Muggeridge, The End of Christendom (1980)
• Marxism: Eric Hobbsbawm, The Age of Extremes (1994).
Actually none of these excesses is really dead, they are all still alive enough to cause a lot of trouble; they are lions without teeth or claws, but one can still be gummed and pawed to death.
The Age of Reason began as scholars and scientists came to see folly in the teachings of the old scholastic world, which over-emphasized the value of tradition and ancient authority and of particular modes of interpretation. The new age threw off this ponderous mass that had acted as a restraint on free inquiry. Unfortunately, in the process, as the age of reason rolled on, it gradually threw away all authority, including the authority of scripture, and the wisdom of practical Christendom that had worked great wonders in changing the direction and quality of Western Civilization over the preceding millennia.
From the proverb it is evident what this throwing off would lead to.
If there is no revelation for a guide, and if the empirical methods of
science are the only source of truth and knowledge, then society
Scientific Racism. To begin, it is important to distinguish between tribalism and racism. Tribalism is a bias in favor of one’s own group, but does not necessarily imply that there is an objective difference between tribes, only that others are foreigners and do not belong. A current example of pure tribalism is the ethnic hatred between Bosnians and Serbs, who are racially indistinguishable. Racism, on the other hand, asserts that there is an objective inherited difference between cultural groups; that is, the empirical “observables” betoken a genetic “otherness” that separates human races.
There are two general explanations for cultural
|• The Environmental Explanation: Cultural differences
to circumstantial accidents of life: availability of natural resources
and climate, mobility, isolation from other ethnic groups, etc.
• The Race Explanation: Cultural differences are due to Genetic Differences.
Does the Bible say anything about this? Definitely
Consider the statement in Colossians 3:10-11:
|[You] have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Colossians 3:10-11 (NIV)|
The combination “barbarian, Scythian” here is parallel to the combination “Greek or Jew.” To the Jew of Paul’s day, the name “Greek” brought to mind a person who, although possibly cultured, was religiously a pagan, and therefore detestable to the Jewish God. Similarly, the “Scythian” is the arch-typical barbarian, the barbarian of barbarians. Thus, Col. 3:11 makes the emphatic point that even the “offense which a Scythian must give to natural sensibility is overcome by the baptism of the Messiah Jesus.”44
Remarks about the equal worth of all humans occur in a number of places in the Bible, but this statement is particularly interesting, because the equality among believers relates to the “image” of the Creator. It clearly indicates equal participation in the Gospel, and therefore equality at a fundamental level, of all humans. This rules out, for example, the possibility that the “barbarians” or even the “Scythians” are sub-human, which has been a sticking point and the subject of many sharp points regarding racism, from the Enlightenment through the present time. There is no room here for racism, or for tribalism for that matter. As was remarked earlier, D’Sousa calls this Biblical teaching “passionate universalism.”45
Secular culture today teaches that racism is based
primitive tribal or (especially) religious prejudice, and that its
depends on the triumph of humanism and rationalism. In fact, the
truth is exactly the opposite of this. Racism is a product of empirical
science, developed and fortified during the enlightenment, and its
together with the end of slavery in the Western world, was initiated
is largely due to religious efforts based on Biblical teaching
opposed by the enlightened “freethinkers” of society. D’Sousa expresses
the cultural situation this way:
|Far from being ignorant and fearful, the early European racists were the most learned and adventurous men of the age, and their views developed as a rational and increasingly scientific attempt to make sense of the diverse world that was for the first time being encountered as a whole.46|
Racism began as part of an effort to understand
differences among ethnic groups. As Europeans explored the world in the
centuries after Columbus, they came across primitive and strange
The question arose as to why many of these cultures apparently
at a primitive subsistence level, while others had apparently advanced
to a level of sophistication and then collapsed. They encountered
mores and practices that were offensive or seemed to display a
naiveté. As these things were studied systematically, it became
hard for the empirical scientists not to conclude that the differences
between “primitive” and “advanced” ethnic groups had a genetic basis.
Arthur de Gobineau, who was a prominent scientist of the mid-1800’s
the book The Inequality of Human Races in 1853, just 10 years
Darwin’s Origin of Species.. D’Sousa cites him as follows:
|“If environmentalism is true, why have some groups endowed with rich natural resources nevertheless failed to produce a comparable civilization to that of Europe?” …The equality of the races could be expected to produce a rough civilizational equality among cultures, Gobineau writes. …Gobineau argues that the historical record refutes such expectations.47|
Racism evolved into a scientifically-based assertion of Western cultural superiority that was eventually proclaimed to be intrinsic to the white races and was used to justify slavery and domination of the third world by Westerners. This message is the essence of D’Sousa’s book, and is one reason why that book is so disliked in some academic circles because it points to the scientific method as a major culprit, rather than to religious prejudice and superstition.
Virtually all of the prominent scientists of the
century accepted these studies in racism, because in fact it was a
of modern science over the old Greek environmentalism as well as the
universalism of Christianity, which the secular scientist and
ridiculed. It is interesting to see how modern humanistic scientists
around this fact. In the book Broca’s Brain, named after Paul
a surgeon and anthropologist of the late 1800’s, Carl Sagan felt it
to find an excuse for this prominent scientist. He wrote:
|Broca was a humanist of the nineteenth century, but unable to shake the consuming prejudices, the human social diseases, of his time. …Broca, the founder of a society of freethinkers in his youth, believed in the importance of untrammeled inquiry and had lived his life in pursuit of that aim. His falling short of these ideals shows that someone as unstinting in the free pursuit of knowledge as Broca could still be deflected by endemic and respectable bigotry. Society corrupts the best of us.…It is profoundly saddening that such prejudices were so extremely pervasive.48|
The truth is, it was not “consuming prejudices of society” that were at fault, it was empirical science itself, as practiced by the “freethinkers” who disregarded the warnings and example of the Bible and of history. But Carl Sagan, the supreme humanist, could not accept this explanation. In fact, Broca was very much in the mainstream of the empirical science of his day, and the fault lay less to prejudice than to blind faith in the powers of the empirical method.
The issue of racism is a good example of why humans
revelation from God: Christendom’s position of the essential similarity
of the human “races” had to suffer through almost three centuries of
by the “enlightenment” before it once again took hold. The first steps
to ending racism began with an early 1800’s Quaker movement to end
first in Europe and then in the United States. D’Sousa says of this:
|Drawing on the religious energies of the Great Awakening… antislavery convictions grew stronger in the late eighteenth century in opposition to secular and anticlerical philosophies and freethinkers who declared slavery to be a rational system based on empirical evidence of the natural inferiority of the blacks.…Scholars now generally agree that religious and political principles were indispensable in achieving the end of servitude.49|
As a result of the revival of the Biblical concept of human equality, the explanation for differences between ethnic groups once again reverted to environmental causes.
The tale of scientific racism is a story of science gone wild. The new-found enthusiasm for the empirical method threw off all restraints, especially Biblical principles—that is what the word “freethinker” means. The consequence was a terrible centuries-long history of humans perpetrating injustice in the name of science. The end was the double tragedy of scientific justification for treating the third world races as inferior to Westerners, and the “scientific” theories of Arianism that fueled Hitler’s “ethnic cleansing.” The world ended up being sickened by the consequences of its own vaunted freethinking. “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint.”
Space does not permit discussion of the other isms of science in the Age of Reason: of Marxism, Darwinism, especially social Darwinism, Freudianism and so on. Collectively, these isms have resulted in The Age of Extremes as historian Eric Hobbsbawm titled the first half of the twentieth century, in which more humans were killed or allowed to die as the result of conscious, rational, scientific decisions than ever before in history. Isaiah Berlin called the century “The most terrible century in Western history.”50 The two world wars of this century were profligate in the wasting of human lives. But they had the effect of showing the lie to Racism, Social Darwinism and other isms. They graphically demonstrated that the prevailing secular viewpoint is woefully inadequate and leaves mankind vulnerable to untold devastations. They point to the need to consider something beyond the secular. But how many millions suffered, and how much injustice in order to make this point! One reads of French priests who became atheists at Verdun, the focus of the most terrible battles in World War I, after observing the horrors of battle, and deciding that no God could exist who would tolerate such a thing. But no one can know how many others then and since have been humbled to see that the war was not a parable about God, but about secularism and the flight from God, and turned to God as a result.
Sharp Points in the Third Millennium.
It is risky to comment about the future, and most especially about what God is going to do in the future, so the following remarks about the third millennium should be taken with a pinch of salt. For one thing, perhaps Christ will return, as he promised. But from the viewpoint of present times, it seems worth noting some features of the future in which sharp points appear to lurk.
1. God’s Sustaining Activity51 It is probably news to nobody that the present mood in society has an undercurrent of turmoil, anxiety, and discontent. At the same time, it is also evident that the world is in much better economic and ecological shape than was confidently predicted a few decades ago. The laws of Malthusian gloom appear to have been suspended, at least for a time. The world is not in a state of devastation resulting from a nuclear holocaust; it is not facing industrial collapse stemming from the loss of fossil fuel reserves; it is not experiencing runaway inflation; it is not in the midst of mass starvation caused by an exploding population that has outgrown the food supply. It is not in the grasp of a global totalitarian dictatorship.
Some of the fears that exist today can be traced to “junk science”. The books But is it True? by Aaron Wildavski, and The True State of the Planet Earth by Ronald Bailey focus on these fears and the facts behind them. In contrast, the fears of fifty years ago were solidly based in reasonable expectations and sober thinking. The literature of the time, such as Brave New World, 1984, Animal Farm, Doctor Strangelove and On the Beach was not based on scientific fancy but on conditions that actually existed: There were terrorizing and suppressive dictatorships on a massive scale; there was an out of control arms race towards a pending nuclear holocaust; there were contemporary cases of mass starvation, and of populations wildly outstripping food supplies, known fossil fuel supplies were diminishing. These were not the result of some computer model predicting exotic scenarios. Finally, the whole world had just gone through the second horrendous World War in less than two generations, ending in a crescendo of military firepower. Who would predict that there would not be an even more horrendous repetition in the next two generations? In the face of these demonstrably real disasters waiting to happen, it is hard to imagine anyone in 1950 looking ahead to the year 2000 with anything but foreboding. Even the optimists worked with an urgency inspired by a sense of impending disaster.
The contrast between then and now could hardly be more stark. The gloomsters of the present have an ever more Cassandra-like appearance, as things continue to truck along in relative calm. The real problems that exist today, are generally recognized as solvable ones that only (!) require political will; in 1950, it was as if the world were on a roller-coaster, with no-one able to control the fate that the future would bring.
With this as background, one reads with some
a comment by Eric Hobbsbawm in his recent book, The Age of Extremes.
Hobbsbawm was a leftist historian; no doubt he was a Marxist in the
perhaps later. Marxists believed in the revolt of the masses, and the
of capitalism. Stalin once said that a capitalist would sell you the
so you could hang him: the idea being that the ideals and motivations
capitalism are self-destructive. Hobbsbawm divides the century in two
The Era of Catastrophe through World War II, and the Golden Age after
War II, ending in the 1970’s. He wrote:
|The ideal to which the Golden Age [after WWII] aspired…was production, or even service, without humans: automated robots assembling cars, silent voids filled with banks of computers controlling the output of power, trains without drivers. Human beings were essential to such an economy only in one respect: as buyers of goods and services. Here lay its central problem. In the Golden Age it still seemed unreal and remote, like the future death of the universe by entropy…. On the contrary. All the problems which had haunted capitalism in its era of catastrophe [through WWII] appeared to dissolve and to disappear. (emphasis added)52|
One gets the picture of a person who disparaged capitalism in the 1950’s only to find that history ignored the assured results predicted by the best left-leaning academics.
What happened? At the risk of getting into trouble with some Christians who see only the unremitting prospect of doom as consistent with Biblical prophecy, what seems to be at work is God’s gracious sustaining activity at work. Things are not wonderful, but the relatively stable state of the world today in contrast with the expectations of a half-century ago is due principally to God’s gracious providence. It says in Colossians 1:17, “In him all things hold together.” That statement emphatically applies to the current situation.
The gloom and doom predictions after World War II were not wrong, they were in fact right, or at least reasonable in view of the recent experiences. In contrast to this realistic gloom, the Polyannish millennialists of the late 1800’s were indeed wrong: their utopia was the result of the much ballyhooed progress of science and of human self-effort. A revealing example of such utopian vision is Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward: 2000-1887.53This novel is set in Boston in the year 2000 and describes a placid, communal society, perfect in every way. The bitter tragedies of two world wars thoroughly extinguished such visions on the part of authors of the late 1940’s.
The gloom and doom predictions after World War II were based on solid and reasoned appraisals of the state of things at the time. Similarly, the responsible environmentalists who see today’s ecosystem as fragile and unstable are right! If you look at this speck in the universe, that God picked to create life and ultimately to create humans into which he vested his own image, it looks like an exceedingly precarious place to vest such an effort. Surely, Ptolemy’s scheme of the earth-centered universe is a much more stable and secure a place in which to perform such precious work! If you look at the 4 billion years over which God prepared the world for human habitation, your gut inclination would be to say, “Couldn’t God have picked a better, safer place?”
This leads to the sharp point: the world today is
reality a precarious and unstable place, not just physically, but
politically and in every other way. As scientists learn more and more
this world, it will not become more understandable and
more controllable—in fact, that is the message of the junk scientists:
“spend more money, we can do it!” On the contrary, the stability that
world experiences will become ever more inexplicable as one learns more
about it. The Cassandra-like calls of doom if humans do not actively
to control our environment, reflect an appreciation of the inherent
of the world, even if their solutions are futile. It is an assessment
does not take into account God’s “holding things together.” As more and
more is learned about the world around us, there will be less and less
warrant for calm and complacency, because humanity will appreciate ever
more keenly how truly tenuous is its hold on the third planet from the
Sun. But the appreciation may also dawn that it is totally beyond human
ability to affect this in any substantial way. To some this will lead
ironic living and self-delusion, expressed, for example in the arrogant
posturing of the poem Invictus.:
|“It matters not how strait the gate,
How Charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.”54
To others it will lead to God.
It is not hard to see a future in which governments are led down the primrose path, trying to control the world to make it a more stable place to live. They will spend vast amounts of money, and squander vast amounts of effort, and will end up with as much uncertainty and instability as they began with. A good prototype for this is the “war on poverty” on which America has spent over four trillion dollars, with little to show for it. That is a sharp point. This does not mean that societies should pay no attention to the environment or to other potential perils, but it does mean that draconian efforts will be expensive and unavailing, and will never calm the fears of those who can see with clear eyes how perilous is our perch in the universe. Rational analysis will just outline more clearly the stark reality: that the world is unsafe! The very stability of the outcome, in the face of the instability of the prospect, is a sharp point to those who heed it. It points to our dependence on the providence of God.
2. Ironic Science.55The term “ironic science” is John Horgan’s term to describe the state of science and philosophy in the future, in his book, The Death of Science. Ironic science results from science which is based on speculations that cannot be empirically verified. Ironic philosophy is philosophy based on a notion that there is no such thing as truth, or that, if there is, there is no way of knowing it. This is the essence of philosophical reductionism. A remarkable number of recent books lament the coming of this age of ironic science.
John Farrell, in one of these books, Freud’s
|Modern culture has, from its inception, been advertised as a means of escaping from the irrational modes of thought that it discerned as the basis of traditional culture. But the claim is false, for it has been no easier categorically to separate modern intellectualism from madness than it was to achieve this distinction for traditional forms of thought.…The paranoid character seems almost a requirement for great influence among modern people.56|
Irony and paranoia go hand-in-hand. A paranoid is a person who is an exception to his own world view. He makes himself a god, standing above the mundane world. Freud was an arch paranoid. But if you live in a world in which there is no such thing as knowable truth, then paranoia is the way to advance your own agenda: you make yourself an exception to your world view. Lynne Cheney, in the book, Telling the Truth, marveled at academics who on the one hand argue that everything is relative, that there is no such thing as truth, but then insist on being believed themselves.
John Horgan’s book laments the fact that all of the “easy” stuff of science has been or soon will be discovered. The book consists of fascinating interviews with many famous modern scientists and philosophers, with the general conclusion that most of science is heading toward an ironic state: physics is reduced to speculations on superstrings and other exotic explanations for the material universe that are totally beyond any experimental testing; biology is coming face to face with ever starker evidence of what have been discussed as its “impossibles” and which Horgan sees as an impenetrable barrier to advancement; philosophy has hit the dead-end of reductionism.
Farrell basically argues that Freudian psychology
always fraudulent, which is becoming increasingly clear. In a review of
Farrell’s book, Richard John Neuhaus remarked:
|Faust reenacts the Enlightenment’s annihilation of traditional, religious, and metaphysical culture and at the same time curses the results. As Farrell trenchantly argues, all such reductive logic turns upon itself. The relentlessly suspicious cannot sustain their trust in suspicion. Paranoia is, among other things, a stratagem for avoiding that self-destruction by designing oneself as the grandiose hero who… possesses the explanation that survives every doubt and denial.57|
Some of the physicists who worked in the simpler
days express disgust with the current state of affairs, such as is
in this remark by Richard Feynman, a Nobel laureate physicist:
|After the fundamental laws are discovered, physics will succumb to second-rate thinkers, that is, philosophers. “The philosophers who are always on the outside making stupid remarks will be able to close in, because we cannot push them away by saying, ‘If you were right we would be able to guess all the laws,’ because when the laws are all there they will have an explanation for them…There will be a degeneration of ideas.”58|
What is happening is that since the beginning of the
of Reason, as the enlightened view of science came to pervade all of
the world has operated in the belief that there is a sharp demarcation
between the religious and secular spheres, and that a “wall of
could be maintained between them. This is nonsense, but that fact is
now gradually becoming apparent. The world described by Richard Feynman
never really existed: there never was a time when science existed apart
from philosophical and religious ideas. Roy Clouser, in the book, The
Myth of Religious Neutrality, expresses this as follows:
|The central claim of this book is that all theories [of philosophy and the sciences] cannot fail to be regulated by a religious belief of some kind… Theories about math and physics, sociology and economics, art and ethics, politics and law can never be religiously neutral. They are all regulated by some religious belief.59|
Irony and the resultant paranoia are at work in much of academia today, and it is spilling over into politics and the media, where lies and fabrications are increasingly treated on a par with facts and truth, and reported with the same deadpan so-called media neutrality. As Lynne Cheney points out, much academic argument has abandoned reason and logic, and moved in the direction of political bombast and power-based coercion. Truth is the victim in the process, because truth is irrelevant. People who insist on accuracy are “fact fetishists” or have “an excess of literalism” as George Stephanopoulos once complained.60
There are several sharp points in play here, which will become more and more apparent as science and culture proceed in the coming millennium. One is that the so-called “wall of separation” between secular science and religion will be seen as a myth. Clouser and Horgan are both talking about the same phenomenon. Both are saying you can’t talk about science or philosophy without bringing in gratuitous assumptions. Horgan calls these assumptions ironic; Clauser calls them religious.
This is an important sharp point that will come into play in future years. If the sharp point is heeded, society will eventually see the fiction in the “wall of separation”. If reason prevails, the result should be greater acceptance of religious instruction in morals, ethics and religious content in science in general. If reason does not prevail, the result will be an ever starker breakdown in education, science and in social policy. Science will head toward politics and power, towards irrationality and away from reason, resulting in further painful sharp points.
Ironic science is a reality, but it should not be a cause for despair, except to those who are unable to accept the fact that religious assumptions pervade all activities, even the “secular” ones. Learning that lesson is itself a very positive step back to a reasonable balance between religion and secular science, a balance that science failed to attain when it threw off the influence of religion and tradition at the start of the Age of Reason.
3. Elitism61Elitism is a kin to racism. It can take many forms, but it is at root a belief that certain strata of society or people who have certain qualities—talent, attractive features, intellect, or social pedigree, for example—have a right to be served or to provide leadership for the rest of society. The belief in the divine right of kings or in other sorts of inherited privilege is a form of elitism. The deference given to highly educated people over others is a kind of elitism. The paranoia that results from ironic science is another kind of elitism, in that it places the paranoid person over everyone else.
The Old Testament is full of statements that condemn the pride of the social elite, whose self-absorption leads to hardship and oppression of those who live in humble circumstances. It is no accident that the prophecies of the coming Messiah depict him as coming, not from Jerusalem, but from the laboring class town of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). In addition, Isaiah 53 depicts the Messiah as having no regal bearing or social stature that would be a mark of status or royal patrimony.
Jesus catered to people of humble circumstances, and made a point of associating with social outcasts such as “publicans and sinners.” He pointedly accepted people whom the religious leaders rejected: even the despised Samaritans, whom he depicted in the parable of the Good Samaritan as having greater sense of neighborliness than the priests and levites. These stories, parables and his actions were sharp points designed to get his audience to do some self-examination and return to the principles of equality that were in fact embedded in the Law, even though lost in the practices of some of those who claimed to honor it most.
Justice Bork, in the book Slouching Toward Gomorrah, and Lynn Cheney both argue that the American government is distorted by an academic hegemony. Rather than being ruled by the Constitution, Bork argues, the courts rule by the whims of the academic elite. The institutions of higher learning, which are breeding grounds for trashing American values, are for the most part subsidized by the very American taxpayers whom they trash. Elitists who call themselves “artists” consider themselves above the law and produce outright pornography, including child pornography that is protected as “art” but some of which would be illegal for a private citizen to own. Government institutions such as the National Academy of Science, and the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities (NEA, NEH) provide money and subsidies to continue this cult of elitism.
The sharp points that come from elitism are well described by these authors. They are found in the disasters of socialism, in public education, in the legal system and in other areas of society where elitism has held sway. It is hard to predict what the end result will be, whether progress will be made against elitism or whether the entrenchment of the elitists, with the money and power that goes with it, will continue unchecked.
4. The Nature of Just Law.62The Bible has a lot to say about the nature of just laws. The coming millennium will bring into sharp focus the contrasts that now exist between the Biblical views and law as it is practiced in our society. If changes are not made in our laws, then our society may face a breakdown of the rule of law with terrible sharp points.
Two conceptual differences exist between our current laws which are based on the Greco/Roman model and the Biblical model. First, Biblical law is descriptive law, whereas the Greco/Roman model is prescriptive law. Second, in Biblical law, the victim is the focus of justice, not society as a whole.
Prescriptive Law. The social laws of the Old Testament were very few in number, and concerned sweepingly general principles of conduct. The ten commandments, to give one example, would fit on just one of the tens of thousands of pages of regulations in the Federal Register that are produced each year. The Old Testament principle at work here is that laws should be general and not specific, descriptive and not prescriptive. As Philip K. Howard states in his book The Death of Common Sense, the modern objective to make “a system of laws where all is set forth precisely, each situation covered in advance comes directly out of the Enlightenment.” This is the ultimate of prescriptive law. As Howard points out, this ideal is impossible to attain, and in fact leads to arbitrariness in its application. Howard cites numerous examples where laws that attempt to prescribe for all possible outcomes end up being impossible to carry out, with the result that the law enforcer ends up with arbitrary and capricious powers. The very arbitrariness in the administration of law is a sharp point.
The essential moral problem with the (non-Biblical) Greco/Roman approach to law is that it leads to the abandonment of common sense, as the title of Howard’s book asserts, and it leads to general disrespect for the law. Justice is not served by drawing fine legal distinctions that are totally artificial, such as the distinction between late-term abortion (which is legal and can be performed for any reason) and infanticide (which is murder). Thus a young woman who aborts a child for any reason, just before birth acts within her “rights” and is entirely within the law, but a woman who kills her newborn child is a murderer. It is perhaps understandable that the woman herself cannot see the distinction, since it would take a sophist who is thoroughly immersed in legal distinctions to understand it. Similarly it is patently nonsensical that a woman who “endangers” her unborn child by excessive drug or alcohol use is a felon, but one who aborts it is not. These kinds of distinctions in law breed disdain for the rule of law: trivialization of common sense leads to disdain for the rule of law. This is the source of a number of sharp points.
Identity of the Victim. An important
between modern law and Biblical law in identifying the wronged party.
modern concept is that a fictitious entity, the state, is the injured
a crime is viewed as an offense against the state, disrespect for its
or disregard for its regulations. The Biblical concept is that the
is the injured party: the purpose of the state is to ensure justice for
the victim, not to protect its own majesty. Roy Clouser notes:
|Where the authority of the law is viewed as generated by the state itself, it is easy to see all criminal acts as offenses against the state. So our laws assume the state to be the injured party in criminal actions. …The state receives any fines imposed, any property confiscated, and is considered the party to which any term of imprisonment will count as a debt paid. This view serves to guarantee that the real injured party, the victim, will remain uncompensated for losses sustained.63|
Clouser goes on to say that the proper role for government is to act as the “bearer not the creator of the authority it wields in enforcing justice.” It must act on behalf of the citizen not on behalf of its own offended majesty. The objective of the state should be not only punishing and if possible rehabilitating the criminal, but also with providing justice for the victim.
The sharp points that arise in this area have to do with the breakdown in the rule of law. This breakdown will continue until society learns to pattern laws after the Biblical example.
The following quotation from Muggeridge expresses
fact that all of creation is involved in God’s conspiracy to reach out:
|All Creation, even our sins, everything that happens, all doing and considering, a leaf falling, a nuclear bomb exploding, the total experience of living, individually and collectively, carries God’s messages as if it were encoded.64|
These messages take the form of sharp points that
humanity in the direction of God. In the final analysis, the reality of
sharp points in the lives and work of the diligent inquirer lead to a
of emptiness and unfulfilment, as the end of Ecclesiastes 3:11 states:
“He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom
what God has done from beginning to end.” That emptiness, which one
described as a “God-shaped void” that can only be satisfied by God
Anything else leaves emptiness and the pain of sharp points.
|Everyone came up empty:|
|The scientist found irony where he sought proof
The philosopher found confusion where he sought truth
The theologian found a void where he sought meaning
The humanist found evil where he sought good
The politician found inequity where he sought fairness
|When we try to rise, we fall, we find no comfort.
If your god is dead, there are no answers, there is no completion, no joy:
Only sharp points.
A New York Times article, dated April 3, 199765 reported the following. In 1916, 600 scientists responded to a poll in which they were asked if they “believed in a God who actively communicates with humankind and to whom one may pray ‘in expectation of receiving an answer.’” The poll revealed that about 40% believed, 15% were agnostic, and 42% disbelieved in such a God. The exact same poll was repeated recently, with essentially the same results (the Times noted that the disbelievers rose to 45%, but in fact this change is not statistically significant). The Times article also noted that “teachers of the so-called hard sciences, like math and chemistry, are more likely to be devout than are professors of such softer sciences as anthropology and psychology or of the humanities.” This may reflect the effect of “imagination vs. science” noted in Behe’s remarks cited earlier: the evidence for God’s activity is harder for the hard scientists to explain away (the Times article had a less flattering explanation that “the [hard] scientists are looking for definite answers, whereas humanists go into their field because they like to deal with ambiguities.”). It appears that God’s conspiracy to evangelize the inquiring mind is effective! DCB
1 John Horgan, The End of Science: Facing the Limits of Knowledge in the Twilight of the Scientific Age, Addison Wesley, 1996, p7.
2 The New Revised Standard Version is recommended as an accurate translation of Psalm 19:1-4. See also David C. Bossard, God’s Law, Creation Law, IBRI RR 42, 1995, p5.
3 E. M. Blaiklock, ed. Why I am Still a Christian, Zondervan, 1971, p12.
4 Francis A. Schaeffer, The Church At the End of the Twentieth Century, Inter-Varsity Press, 1970, p45.
5 Dinesh D’Sousa, The End of Racism, Free Press, New York, 1995. p43.
6 C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, Harcourt, Brace, 1955, p177.
7 C.S. Lewis, p229.
8 Malcon Muggeridge, The End of Christendom, Wm. B. Eerdman, 1980
9 Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914-1991, Pantheon, 1994, p3.
10 For further details in this subject area see Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, NavPress, Colorado Springs 1993, and John D. Barrow, The Origin of the Universe, Basic Books, 1994.
11 Harold J. Morowitz. Statement made in the “Scopes 2” trial.
12 For further details in this subject area see John D. Barrow & Frank J. Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, Oxford University Press, 1986.
13 Barrow & Tipler, pvii.
14 Quoted in Barrow & Tipler, p318.
15 Fred Hoyle, Religion and the Scientists, SCM, London, 1959. Quoted in Barrow & Tipler p22.
16 Barrow & Tipler, p253.
17 Barrow & Tipler, , p vii.
18 Synthesized from Barrow & Tipler. See pp 369ff for description of the first few minutes of the universe. The primordial elements are nuclei only, since the universe is too hot to form true atoms until it has aged about a million years. See also Barrow (1994).
19 For further details on the origin of life see Harold J. Morowitz, Beginnings of Cellular Life, Yale Univ. Press, 1992, Charles B. Thaxton, Walter L. Bradley, Roger L. Olsen, The Mystery of Life’s Origin: Philosophical Library, New York, 1984; Ernst Mayr, The Growth of Biological Thought Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1982; Michael J. Behe, Darwin’s Black Box, Free Press, 1996; and Horgan.
20 Francis Crick, Life Itself, Simon and Schuster, 1981, p88.
21 A summary of the evidence up to the mid-1980’s is found in Thaxton, Bradley, & Olsen.
22 Horgan, p140.
23 Behe, p173.
24 For an interesting discussion of this minimum, see Harold J. Morowitz, Beginnings of Cellular Life, Yale University Press, 1992.
26 For further details in this subject area see Mayr and Steven M. Stanley, The New Evolutionary Timetable, Basic Books, NYC 1981.
27 Behe, p27.
28 M.W. Ho and P.T. Saunders, Quoted in Behe, p28.
29 For further details in this subject area see Barrow & Tipler, p134ff; Mayr; and David C. Bossard, Beyond The Shadow of a Doubt: Logical Deduction and the Reasoning Process, IBRI RR 31, 1986.
30 Barrow & Tipler, p131-3.
31 For further details see Behe: irreducible complexity as a major theme of the book.
32 William B. Provine and Phillip E. Johnson, Darwinism: Science or Naturalistic Philosophy, (Video) Access Research Network, Colorado Springs, CO, 1994
33 Copyright © 2000 David C. Bossard
34 Behe, frontispiece. See also Fig. 3-3,p71.
35 Behe, p 70.
36 Evelyn Morholt & Paul F. Brandwein, A Sourcebook for the Biological Sciences, 3rd Ed., Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986, p6.
37 Figure 2a is from Stephan C. Schuster and Shahid Khan, "The Bacterial Flagellar Motor" Ann Rev Biophys Biomol Struct, 1994, 23:509-39, . Cited in Behe Ch3. note 8.; Figure 2b is from Behe, Fig. 3-3. p71.
38 Behe, p39.
39 Charles Darwin, Origin of Species, 6th Ed. (1988) New York University Press, Ch.6, subhead “Modes of Transition”, p154.
40 Schuster & Kahn, Op. Cit.
41 Sketches from Stanley L. Flegler, et al, Scanning and Transmission Electron Microscopy, Oxford, 1993, p8.
42 Behe, p173.
43 Martin Luther, Table Talk, 69, quoted in Will Durant, The Reformation, Volume 6 of The Story of Civilization,, Simon & Schuster, 1957, p858.
44 Gerhard Kittel, Ed.,Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT), Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1964:Vol 7, p450, on the word SkuqhV (Scythian).
46 D’Sousa, p63
47 D’Sousa, p65.
48 D’Sousa, p. 11.
49 D’Sousa, p 105.
50 Quoted in Eric Hobbsbawm, The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914-1991, Pantheon Books, 1994, p1.
51 For further details in this subject area see Aaron Wildavski, But Is It True: A Citizen’s Guide to Environmental Health and Safety Issues, Harvard U. Press 1995; Ronald Bailey, Ed., The True State of the Planet Free Press, 1995; and Hobbsbawm.
52 Hobbsbawm, p267.
53 Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward: 2000-1887 Houghton, Mifflin & Co. 1888.
54 William Ernest Henley, Invictus
55 For further details in this subject area see Horgan; Lynne V. Cheney, Telling the Truth: Why Our Culture and Our Country Have Stopped Making Sense, Touchstone: Simon and Schuster, 1996; John Farrell, Freud’s Paranoid Quest: Psychoanalysis and Modern Suspicion, NYU Press, New York, 1996; and Roy A. Clouser, The Myth of Religious Neutrality,: An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories, University of Notre Dame Press, 1991.
56 John Farrell, p204.
57 Farrell, Reviewed by Richard John Neuhaus in First Things Dec. 1996, p51
58 Richard Feynman, The Character of Physical Law, MIT Press 1967 p173.
59 Clouser, p2.
60 Cheney, p17.
61 For further details in this subject area see Robert H. Bork,, Slouching Toward Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline, Regan Press: Harper Collins 1996; Paul Johnson, Intellectuals, Harper & Row 1988; also Cheney, Farrell, and Howard.
62 For further details in this subject area see Philip K. Howard, The Death of Common Sense: How Law is Suffocating America, Random House, 1994; Bossard, God’s Law, Creation Law; also Bork, Clouser, and Howard.
63 Clouser, p271.
64 Muggeridge, p14.
“Survey of Scientists Finds a Stability of Faith in God”, New York
April 3, 1997, pA-12. Citing survey by Dr. Edward J. Larson, to appear
on this date in Nature.