A Science and Faith Resource You Don’t Want to Miss

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J. Warner Wallace’s latest book, God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe, is an exciting recent addition to the short list of science and faith books I regularly recommend to those desiring a strong, reader-friendly introduction to the issue of science and Christianity. It contains many of the same topics that are addressed in other scientific apologetics offerings, such as the beginning of the universe, the fine-tuning argument, the origin of life, and the problems of consciousness, free will, and morality. However, this isn’t your average, dime-a-dozen pop apologetics book; far from it, in fact.

What makes this book unique (and incredibly entertaining, to boot) is how Wallace frames the entire discussion as a detective’s investigation into the question: Was the origin of the universe an “inside job,” or is the likely suspect something—or someoneGCS-Closing-Argument-Illustration-05-1024x874—outside of the “crime scene”? In other words, does the universe have a transcendent cause, and if so, who or what makes the list of likely suspects? The use of homicide case summaries as analogies for examining the scientific evidence related to cosmic and biological origins and helpful, appealing illustrations on nearly every page make this book as enjoyable as it is informative.

Wallace’s book is well researched; it presents the arguments in a comprehensible fashion and includes counter-arguments and relevant scientific and historical context for the supporting evidence. For example, in the opening chapter, he outlines the observational evidence for an ultimate beginning of the universe, including not only the better-known research of Edwin Hubble, but also the related work done by physicists and astronomers such as Vesto Slipher, Georges Lemaitre, Arno Penzias, and Robert Wilson. Readers without a science background need not be intimidated, though. The crime scene investigation parallels Wallace constructs aid the reader in understanding the significance of the scientific evidence for the over-arching argument. 

There are several other features of the book that are both fascinating and useful. For instance, there are “Expert Witness” sidebar profiles–short bio sketches of leading scholars in the different fields being explored, including some of their scholarly achievements, key arguments, and notable publications. Among others, Robert Pennock, Paul Churchland, Leonard Susskind, Paul Davies, and Roderick Chisholm are profiled. There are other sidebar boxes, such as  “A Tool for the Call-Out Bag,” which describe crime scene investigator techniques and how they are analogous to what scientific investigators do, and “Our  Emerging ‘Suspect’ Profile” boxes that sum up the accumulated evidence and preliminary conclusions as the chapters progress.

If you don’t already own a copy of God’s Crime Scene, I highly recommend it as an engaging and  worthwhile addition to your personal apologetics library. It would make a wonderful gift this Christmas season, particularly for college students, parents of teens, church leaders, and anyone in lay ministry who deals with questions pertaining to science and faith.

Check out the book trailer—->

God’s Crime Scene by J. Warner Wallace from J. Warner Wallace on Vimeo.

 

Apologetics in Parenting–An Interview

This week, an interview I did with Christianity Today on parenting and apologetics went live on their website. Is apologetics a necessary part of child-rearing? What are the signs that children are ready to begin discussing the harder questions? What does it look like to be a woman and a mom working in this field? Click here to read “The Apologist Mom.

Josef Pieper on True Leisure and Festivity

As the fall semester winds down and the holidays draw near, I thought it fitting to offer a couple of book recommendations for the upcoming season of leisure and festivity; books about, well, leisure and festivity!

In Leisure the Basis of Culture, Josef Pieper argues that Western society has virtually abandoned, to its great detriment, the practice of genuine leisure, defined as time spent in contemplation of higher things. There has been a great shift, he says, in the conception of mankind and the meaning of man’s existence towards a bankrupt philosophy of total work. In this view, man “is essentially a functionary, an official, even in the highest reaches of his activity.”  But this worker-of-the-state life cannot contain the whole of human existence, one which includes activities that are valuable for their own sake. For example, reading and discussing great works of literature, philosophy, theology, and poetry; the quiet consideration of a beautiful painting or live landscape. These are the things that highlight the meaning, truth, and beauty in what Pieper calls “the whole of creation.” They are activities that are worthwhile even if they aren’t “for” some pragmatic end. True leisure prevents us from being “half-hearted men with flat souls,” as Fr. James Schall would say.

Pieper’s assertion about the necessity of true leisure resonates with our intuitions, conscious or not, about the nature of things, including ourselves. The lynch pin of his thesis, nota bene, is the metaphysical assumption it is based upon. After all, a creator God must exist for the idea of “the whole of creation” to be coherent, for there to be any transcendent, immaterial truths to serve as objects of contemplation. “Philosophy…is not the loving search for any kind of wisdom; it is concerned with wisdom as it is possessed by God,” he argues. Furthermore, man must be more than a material entity for true leisure to occur and have significance. The increasing secularization and materialism of Western culture is at the root of the current dysfunctional relationship between work and leisure and the misconceptions about the essence of the latter; yet, Pieper spends little time discussing this. In some ways, he addresses it implicitly, but the reader is left wishing Pieper had pressed this point much further, and had more powerfully contrasted the meaning found in theism with the alternative: the nihilism of godlessness.

With that said, Pieper’s In Tune with the World serves well as a supplementary companion text, particularly because he fleshes out this crucial element a bit more. He explains that true festivity, genuine festivals, are dependent upon worship of the divine; otherwise “the root of both festivity and the arts is destroyed…Nietzsche says that all festivals are nothing but ‘spectacles without spectators, tables full of gifts without recipients.’”  “Can we festively celebrate the birth of a child” Pieper asks, “if we hold with Jean Paul Sartre’s dictum: ‘It is absurd that we are born’?”

Our deepest convictions about ourselves and our desire to celebrate meaningful things causes a mental revolt against such hopeless nihilism, and the only absolute, final solution is God. Because of what we are by virtue of the divine grounding of the world, there is objective meaning and value in humanity; birth, life, love, and death are not absurdities, but sacred elements of an inherently precious human existence.

Socrates Meets Descartes: A Fun Little Primer on Cartesian Philosophy

Socrates Meets Descartes is part of Dr. Peter Kreeft’s Socrates Meets… book collection. If you are not already familiar with these popular-level philosophy books, I encourage you to consider them. Here’s the concept: Kreeft uses Socrates—the father of philosophy—as a mouthpiece to individually examine major philosophers of history through classic Socratic dialogue. This turns out to be a rather ingenious literary technique that is employed with both wit and wisdom.

descartes meditaçõesIn Socrates Meets Descartes: The Father of Philosophy Analyzes the Father of Modern Philosophy’s Discourse on Method, Socrates’ interlocutor is Rene Descartes. Kreeft arranges their imaginary meeting in Purgatory, where Descartes’ penance is defending his famous Discourse on Method in response to Socrates’ demanding critique. Descartes, the reader learns, set out to revolutionize philosophy by inventing a scientific method that could discern truths with certainty, even eliminate human warfare by providing the tools for intellectual conflict resolution. If everyone had a common set of data and tools (his method), they would be enabled to reach the same conclusions, he claimed. In fact, everything that can be known could, theoretically, be realized in this way. Descartes’ purpose in writing Discourse on Method was to introduce the world to his new science of philosophy. It was this work that contained the most famous statement in the history of philosophy: “I think, therefore I am.”

Socrates proceeds to examine each step in Descartes’ system, which first moves from universal doubt to certainty only of one’s self-existence, then to proof of God’s existence, and then the existence of the material world.  Socrates doesn’t pull any punches in his analysis of Descartes’ ideas. He extensively questions the hidden presuppositions of Descartes’ project and points out logical difficulties.  But Descartes has his moments, too. One fine example is when he roundly criticizes the ancient pagan philosophers “who discuss morals in very proud and magnificent palaces that are built on nothing but sand and mud” (83). Often, a difficulty isn’t fully resolved, and the two philosophers leave the reader with what they call a philosophical “loose end.” Sometimes it was a mild relief to abandon an increasingly tedious rabbit trail, but sometimes it was frustrating, such as when it happened at the end of Socrates’ evaluation of Descartes’ version of the ontological argument.

Kreeft packs a lot of value into this little volume, but manages to do so with clear language and a minimal amount of convoluted argumentation. In addition to learning the basic strengths and weaknesses of the Cartesian philosophy being scrutinized, the reader is exposed to a few rules of logical argumentation, some basics of ancient Greek thought (Plato’s Cave is explained, for example), relevant cultural context, and names of a few of Descartes’ key challengers and sympathizers. The dialogue is interspersed with comic relief, clever and corny—both appropriate to the spirit of the book.

I highly recommend Socrates Meets Descartes and believe it to be suitable for college undergraduates or adults just beginning a foray into philosophical study. It’s a wonderful stand-alone introduction to Descartes that would serve as a nice preliminary to research.

The Divine Mathematician and His Image-Bearers

In his celebrated book, The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe, Dr. Steven Weinberg said that mankind is a “farcical outcome of a chain of accidents reaching back to the first three minutes” after the Big Bang. According to Weinberg and many other atheist thinkers past and present, the cosmos is not purposeful and we, its observers, amount to nothing more than self-aware cosmic dust bunnies.

Dr. Weinberg is a Nobel Prize winning physicist, a brilliant scholar who has spent decades investigating the intricacies of the material universe. I find it astonishing that individuals with such extensive, intimate knowledge of the mathematics of nature could so confidently dismiss the implications of the fact that we are conscious, intelligent beings capable of ascertaining these complex truths in the first place.

Consider this. Humans developed some fundamentals of mathematics before they were ever applied to nature. We first had to have the rudimentary tools for composing mathematical descriptions. As science has become fully integrated with number, knowledge of the world has exploded. Why isn’t every physicist asking the question: Why is there such a deep connection between mathematics, an abstract product of human rationality, and the material cosmos if we, and it, are accidental?

I am by no means a math whiz, but since the ninth grade, I’ve had an acute fascination with geometry (punny, haha).  I find the applicability of number to theoretical space amazing all on its own. When the ancients were drawing lines and shapes in the sand, they discovered elegant laws that continue to inspire wonder. But geometry didn’t end with sticks and sand. The natural philosophers of antiquity realized that it could be applied to the natural word quite effectively.

Number and geometry virtually permeate nature in both the inorganic and organic realms. In his 1623 work entitled, The Assayer, Galileo Galilei said:

Philosophy is written in this grand book—I mean the universe—which stands continually open to our gaze, but it cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and interpret the characters in which it is written. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometrical figures, without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these, one is wandering about in a dark labyrinth.

Nautilus Shell Source: Wikimedia Commons

Nautilus Shell
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Take for example the logarithmic spirals present in plant leaves, pinecones, nautilus shells, pineapples, and sunflowers. Such spirals are also seen in galaxies, hurricanes, and the flight patterns of some insects and birds.

Or what about the myriad mathematical formulations of the laws of physics, such as Einstein’s famous equation, E=mc2 , which describes the relationship between mass, kinetic energy, and the speed of light.

In their fantastic book, A Meaningful World, Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt remark:

We could imagine, with random ordering, that by some mercy of fickle chance, a purely accidental relationship of some mathematical system would “map onto” a particular aspect of nature, but we would never expect it to effectively illuminate the natural order beyond that merely accidental relationship .Yet if we keep finding that multiple mathematical systems “map onto” nature—calling us from one steppingstone of discovery to the next—then it is certainly reasonable to suspect a conspiracy of reasoned order.

They go on to quote famous physicist Eugene Wigner:

The enormous usefulness of mathematics in the natural sciences is something bordering on the mysterious…There is no rational explanation for it…The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve. (Wigner, Symmetries and Reflections, pp. 222, 237.)

Mathematics illuminates the orderliness of nature, yet it was first conceived by the human intellect. Isn’t this extraordinary? The natural world is intelligible and the mathematical tools to comprehend and describe it pre-existed our attempts to do so. Why should there be such a relationship between our abstract reasoning and the realities of the cosmos?  Where did our capacity for higher mathematics even come from? Materialists say that it is the product of blind evolutionary processes, but what survival or reproductive advantage is gained from being able to formulate the sophisticated equations of physics—equations that have led to further scientific discovery?

Yet, if we are made by, and in the image of, a Rational Intelligence who is also the artificer of the universe itself, this coincidence is something we shouldn’t be at all surprised to find.

Wreaking Havoc on Scientific Materialism: C.S. Lewis on Natural Law and Divine Action in Nature

There are two rather typical responses from materialist scientists and philosophers to the suggestion that a creator God guides the development and sustains the order of nature:

1) Our current scientific theories on the evolution of all things are sufficient to explain all natural phenomena. The idea of a creator has been rendered superfluous.

2) Science doesn’t have it all figured out, and truth be told, it may never give us comprehensive knowledge of natural history or a full explanation for the stability and regularities of the cosmos, but plugging God into these knowledge gaps is no better than the ancient Greek practice of attributing thunderstorms to Zeus.

Standard practice for an apologist faced with such statements is to describe the evidence for cosmic and biological design or the shortcomings of naturalistic theories when it comes to explaining the indications of rationality in nature. The apologist uses science to argue for a God-designed, God-guided natural world. This is a solid technique and one that I often use. However, it isn’t the only angle from which to approach such a discussion, which is great news for faith-defenders lacking scientific expertise.

god in the dockIn the C.S. Lewis collection God in the Dock, there are two essays that are incredibly insightful and instructive. Lewis was not a scientist, though he knew a great deal about the reigning theories of his era and commented upon them in many of his writings. But he was wise to the fact that, more often than not, the core issue is philosophical, though the materialist scientist rarely recognizes this. Lewis’s tactic for dealing with materialist claims such as those above was quite powerful, as we see in “Religion and Science” and “The Laws of Nature.”

In the first essay, Lewis addresses the question of divine intervention in nature. He sets up a Socratic dialogue between himself and a materialist who insists that “modern science” has proven that there’s no transcendent cause for the workings of nature.

 “But, don’t you see,” said I, “that science never could show anything of the sort?”

“Why on earth not?”

“Because science studies Nature. And the question is whether anything besides Nature exists—anything ‘outside.’ How could you find that out by studying simply Nature?”

This is a key point that is all too often missed by those claiming that science has ruled out the existence of God. But Lewis’s interlocutor persists in his objections:

“But don’t we find out that Nature must work in an absolutely fixed way? I mean, the laws of Nature tell us not merely how things do happen, but how they must happen. No power could possibly alter them.”

In other words, because there are “laws of nature,” it is impossible for anything to disrupt the regular course of nature. Such a thing would, he says, result in absurdity, just as breaking the laws of mathematics would.

But Lewis demonstrates, in his typically charming yet utterly logical fashion, that natural laws only tell you what will happen as long as there is no interference in the system from the outside. Furthermore, those laws can’t tell you if such interference is going to occur.

Science studies the material universe and can say quite a lot about how it operates under normal conditions. What it cannot rule out is the existence of something independent of the universe with the power to intervene in natural affairs. This supernatural activity would entail a cosmos that is an open system rather than a system closed to “outside” immaterial causation. Again, the limitations of science preclude it from ruling out such a state. Says Lewis, “…it isn’t the scientist who can tell you how likely Nature is to be interfered with from outside. You must go to the metaphysician.” It is, it turns out, a philosophical question.

In the second essay, “Laws of Nature,” Lewis examines the question of God’s guidance of the natural world and whether or not the prayers of mankind have any bearing on the course of events.

Lewis walks us through his own thought process in dealing with the assertion that nature is deterministic, functioning according to a set of laws, like balls on a billiards table.  But look, declares Lewis, no matter how far back you go in the causal chain of natural events, you’ll never reach a law that set the whole chain in motion. He says, “..in the whole history of the universe the laws of Nature have never produced a single event. They are the pattern to which every event must conform, provided only that it can be induced to happen. But how do you get it to do that? How do you get a move on?”

Natural laws are completely impotent when it comes to event causation; they only tell what happens after ignition, so long as free-willed agents (God included) do not interfere. About the laws Lewis says, “They explain everything except what we should ordinarily call ‘everything.’” Indeed.

“Science, when it becomes perfect,” he explains, “will have explained the connection between each link in the chain and the link before it. But the actual existence of the chain will remain wholly unaccountable.”

There is, then, no contradiction between natural law and the acts of God, for he supplies every event for natural law to govern. Everything in nature is providential! In other words, we don’t need gaps in scientific explanation to have a place for postulating divine activity. But, nota bene, this is not to say that there aren’t real gaps in the explanatory framework that materialist science, by nature, cannot fill.

What does all this mean about the effectuality of human prayers? If a causal chain is already in motion, what difference could prayer possibly make? To answer this, we must be mindful of God’s timelessness and omniscience:

“He, from His vantage point above Time, can, if He pleases, take all prayers into account in ordaining that vast complex event which is the history of the universe. For what we call ‘future’ prayers have always been present to Him.”

And, it’s out of the park, ladies and gentlemen.

On Absurd Arguments Against the Existence of God: The Reynolds vs. Barker Debate

Last weekend, I attended the Reynolds vs. Barker “Does God Exist?” debate here at HBU. Though I’ve viewed many video-recorded debates, this was my first opportunity to attend one in person and my first chance to see Dr. Reynolds engage a non-theist, so I awaited the night of the event with great anticipation.

I’ve been closely acquainted with the Christian apologetics world for quite some time. I’m familiar with the work of prominent atheist thinkers, but I’d actually never heard Dan Barker’s name before, which I thought odd. I resisted the temptation to research him prior to the debate; I wanted to experience the exchange with an open mind, giving Barker every benefit of the doubt in regard to his graciousness, intelligence, and competence in the subject matter. I am well aware, and I openly acknowledge, that there are atheists in the scholarly community with these fine attributes, and I sincerely hoped Barker would prove to be this type.

Unfortunately, only thirty seconds into his opening statement, my hopes were dashed. After strongly praising HBU faculty and staff for their kind and respectful manner toward him, he pointedly commented, with a condescending air, that Christians of his acquaintance are good people, and that in his experience, they are often “much better people than the Jesus they worship.” I stared at him in disbelief and disappointment. That statement was completely irrelevant to the topic of the debate; the question of whether or not God exists is a different question than whether or not Christian doctrine is true. So then, what was Barker’s purpose in making a statement that was so deeply offensive to the very portion of the audience he desires to win over to his way of thinking? We don’t even have to wonder how many Christians listening to him said to themselves, “Wow, I want to be like that guy.” None.

This ill-conceived tactic turned out to be representative of the remainder of his debate participation. He was bent on throwing out mocking ridicule of Christianity (completely off-topic, by the way), making straw men of various doctrines, and spouting quite a few of pop-atheism’s fallacious talking points (garnering applause and cheers from supportive audience members who were, sadly, oblivious to the poor logic being used).

At one point, Barker unwittingly revealed his own dishonesty. In a discussion on morality, he said that if people need to believe in God in order to be better people (morally speaking), then by all means, the atheists want them to have their belief in God and be better people. What? If that be the case, what on earth was he doing up on the stage? If his statement is true, then why do so many atheists of his ilk dedicate their careers to attempting to discredit Christianity and convert people to atheism? His words directly contradict his actions.

For the remainder of this post, I’d like to examine two of the more absurd arguments Barker used in the course of the debate.

1.     The relatively low rate of prayers being answered is strong evidence against the existence of God.

Let’s think about this. If God exists, hears all prayer, has the power to act in response to prayer, and has comprehensive knowledge of the world (past, present, and future), what should we expect to be the case regarding how often people get what they pray for? I would argue that what we observe is exactly what we should expect. We have severely limited knowledge of how the events of our lives are interwoven into the tapestry of human existence, and we aren’t aware of what the full future ramifications would be should we receive a certain thing we’ve been praying for.

There have been dozens upon dozens of times when I have fervently prayed for something that did not come to pass. However, sometimes much later, I was clearly shown how God protected me by NOT granting my request. There’s an old country-western song chorus that goes, “Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayer.” Boy, do I ever. I can name several cases in my own story where a “yes” to a prayer I prayed would have turned out to be personally devastating, altering the entire course of my life in a decidedly negative way. It is a beautiful sign of God’s goodness and faithfulness that his answer to those prayers was “No.”

Now, I know that there are many cases that we don’t gain understanding of in this life, such as a sick child dying despite the desperate, prayerful pleas of his parents. Why, we ask, would God not grant that petition every time it’s prayed? We don’t know—because we are not omniscient. Scripture tells us that in this life we see through a glass darkly. It also tells us that we live in a fallen world where we will have both trouble and triumph, probably more of the former than of the latter. (I mean, look at the fates suffered by some of Jesus’ disciples and by members of the first-century church.) It is frustrating and painful when tragic events take place, despite prayers for an alternative outcome. But this isn’t logically inconsistent with the existence of God. Yet, we can be 100% sure that if atheism is true, all the atrocities and tragedies that have taken place in human history were for nothing and will never be redeemed for good.

2.     Religious experience is widespread among all different faith traditions. Even an atheist can replicate the goose-bump-inducing emotions and transcendent feelings through concentrated meditation. All of it can be chalked up to neurochemical activity. Therefore, such experiences are not indicative of the existence of God.  

There are several problems with this argument. First of all, it limits “religious experience” to physical sensations and emotions, but if someone were to ask me about how I experience God, those things would not even be near the top of the list. I’m not a particularly emotional person by nature, and I don’t spend time trying to manufacture warm-fuzzies about God. Many of my experiences have been much more substantial, such as how I’ve been spiritually and intellectually transformed over the decades since trusting Christ, and also witnessing the outward signs of the same kind of changes taking place in the hearts of other Christians.

Then there are the crazy strange coincidences—times when several uncontrollable pieces of a precarious life situation fell into perfect place against all odds and expectations, for me or for someone I’m close to. Divine protection through “unanswered” prayer is also very significant to me. Yes, I have had subjective experiences (which I will not describe here) with the immaterial Good and the immaterial Evil; I consider those encounters strong justification for my beliefs. Of course I have deep emotions towards God. But my trust in Him is holistic—intellectual, spiritual, and objectively experiential—not the result of some kind of euphoric episodes. Regardless, it does not follow that just because people of many different faiths claim religious experiences that all reported experiences are authentic or that none of them are.

At this point, I’m no longer surprised that I had not heard of Dan Barker before. The arguments he offered were far from formidable, and some were woefully outdated (“Who made God?” “Hitler was a Christian” and “Snowflakes prove that nature can produce things that look intelligently designed but actually aren’t”). His often patronizing tone and his failure to properly represent (grasp?) the history of ideas, logic, hermeneutics, and theology are probably mortifying to the more erudite atheist community. It’s likely they want to be better represented.

Christian Apologetics and the Natural Sciences

For me, as a Christian believer, the beauty of the scientific laws reinforces my faith in an intelligent, divine Creator. The more I understand science the more I believe in God, because of my wonder at the breadth, sophistication, and integrity of his creation.

Dr. John C. Lennox, University of Oxford

Question an atheist about ultimate reality, and you will likely hear variations on the same theme: there is no God; all things are the result of blind matter in motion; over eons of psychological evolution, mankind has fabricated wishful superstitions in a misguided effort to make sense of unexplained phenomena and to ease existential angst. Ask the non-believer to explain what they base this view upon, and the response will almost certainly be: science. In fact, many non-theists espouse a full-blown philosophy of scientism, the assertion that the only true knowledge we can have is obtained through scientific investigation (it is appropriate to wonder, then, what scientific data supports that conclusion).

Some go even further to claim that science is capable of providing a comprehensive explanation for all of reality. According to Oxford professor of chemistry, Peter Atkins, “There is no reason to suppose that science cannot deal with every aspect of existence. Only the religious—among whom I include not only the prejudiced but the underinformed—hope there is a dark corner of the physical universe, or of the universe of experience, that science can never hope to illuminate.” Science, then, will eventually close the knowledge gaps upon which religious faith depends for validation—or so the rhetoric goes.

But is this true? Continue reading

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