Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Promised Land or Bust

The Problem with Large Numbers and the Exodus

In a video of a lecture Dr. Hector Avalos gave at Minnetonka, MN, in 2007, Dr. Avalos takes issue with the number of fighting men, some 600,000 according to Exodus 12:37, who crossed the Red (Reed) Sea from Egypt to the Sinai at the beginning of the Exodus.  Dr. Avalos, Professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University, in his lecture  “How Archaeology  Killed Biblical  History,” contends that the number cannot be accurate.  Archaeology does not support that huge number, and therefore biblical history must be wrong.

Let’s see.

Dr. Avalos claims that 600,000 fighting men in Exodus 12:37 translates into  2,000,000  people when women and children are added. That is an unbelievable number. But is that truly what is implied in Exodus?

Dr. Ron Allen, my Hebrew professor in grad school, writes about the questions of large numbers in the book of Numbers where the fighting men are again counted:
Literal interpretation of numbers includes understandings that extend from mathematical exactitude, through general approximation, to literary license. The only demand of literal interpretation (better, “normal” interpretation) is that the reader ought to seek to find the use he or she believes the text itself presents and demands.1  (p. 69)

And that is what we’d expect of a scholar dealing with ancient texts, biblical or not. Unfortunately, Dr. Avalos does not seek to find the use the text presents.  He reads the text in English and ignores the genre,  the cultural and literary  conventions, and evidence from the period. Ironically,  he reads the text uncritically and through the eyes of a literalist rather than a scholar.

But there is more going on here than a critique of a small detail in the Exodus narrative. There is an attempt to argue that because of the obviously impossible numbers the entire narrative is discredited.

So let me deal with that first before suggesting a solution to the problem of the numbers.

The question is whether the Hebrews (Israelites) left Egypt, crossed the Red (Reed) Sea and conquered and settled in the land of Canaan in the 14th through the 12th century BCE.  That is the biblical narrative. Is it factual?  And is it supported by archaeology?

Interestingly Dr. Avalos mentions in passing but dismisses one of the crucial pieces of archaeological
evidence, the Armana Letters.

The Armana Letters are tablets written from Canaanite and Syrian vassal rulers to the king of Egypt and date from the late 14th century BCE.  They contain reports of the political and military situation in Canaan from a period of time that would coincide with the biblical description of the conquest in the books of Joshua and Judges.

Dr. Avalos claims that the letters do not show evidence of Israel as an entity in Canaan: “There is no mention of a kingdom of Israel in 1375.”  Now, that will not come as a surprise to a Bible reader. The Bible’s description of that period of time, only 25 years after the exodus, is found in Joshua and Judges, and there is no mention of a kingdom of Israel. There was no kingdom for two hundred and fifty years or more. There were tribal leaders, called judges, and there were ongoing, sporadic, and local battles between Israelite tribes and various Canaanite cities.

The outcome of those battles as described in Judges and even in Joshua, a more heroic version of the “conquest,” is less than decisive. The Canaanites are not immediately nor entirely vanquished.  Many are assimilated.  In some cases the Canaanites live alongside the Hebrews for a long period of time.  The Bible even explains why.  It is because after failing to drive the out Canaanites the people of Israel began to adopt the gods of the Canaanites and did not obey Yahweh. So God left the Canaanites in the land  to test their faithfulness. (Judges 2:20-23) So the situation in Canaan in the late 14th century BCE was not total conquest but ongoing conflict.

And that is what the Armana Letters reveal. They speak of the Habiru or Apiru who were harassing the local Canaanite cities that were in tribute to the king of Egypt. 


Now, the Hapiru are mentioned in many sources from the mid-18th century to the 14th century and in many locations in the Near East., and they could not all be references to the Hebrews. But the name is obviously similar.

Many current scholars dismiss the similarities because they do not see a connection between the Habiru and the Hebrews. Avalos is among them. But that may be a mistake.

Robert Wolfe, PhD history, argues that the connection may be in the identifying characteristics of the Habiru and the Hebrews. 2 The Habiru were nomads, raiders, and escaped slaves. It is entirely possible that the Canaanites would see the Hebrews exactly this way. The Bible itself describes the Hebrews as escaped slaves and nomads.


The other connection is with the cities mentioned in the Armana Letters and the biblical narrative.  In
tablet EA254,  the “mayor of Shechem” reports that his son has joined with the Habiru. Shechem was in the center of the Canaanite hill country northwest  of Jericho. It is the place at Mt. Ebal where Joshua had the Israelites pronounce blessings and curses and where the conquest was initiated (Joshua 8:30).  Yet it is not reported that Shechem was ever conquered or destroyed. Was that because the king’s son joined with the Habiru?  Whether or not that was the case, a number of letters refer to the Habiru in terms that match the biblical narrative.

In addition, archaeological evidence for Israel (the Hebrews) in Canaan is found in the classic markers archaeologists use to  distinguish different groups and identify particular times, pottery shards.

At Hazor, a northern Canaanite city that the Bible describes as destroyed and burned by Israelite invaders (Joshua 11:11,12), Mycenean pottery was found under the burn layer. Mycenean pottery was imported into Canaan by Canaanites.

When was Hazor burned? That can be dated quite reliably to the 14th or 13th centuries.

Yigael Yadin writes, “The Mycenean III type serves as evidence—nearly the only firm testimony available to archaeologists—for absolute dating of strata to the 14th and 13th centuries B.C.”3 An early 14th century date fits perfectly with the biblical account and is a definite marker for a powerful Hebrew presence in Canaan.

Another evidence for the Israelites in Canaan is the Merneptah stele. It is a victory monument of Pharaoh Merneptah. On that stele, dated to 1206 B.C., are listed  peoples in Canaan conquered by the Pharaoh.

That list ends with “Israel.”   It indicates that the people called Israelites or Hebrews were well enough established in Canaan to be considered a trophy by the Pharaoh.

William Dever, PhD archaeology Professor  University of Arizona, says of the significance of the stele in a NOVA 2008 interview: “So the Egyptians, a little before 1200 B.C.E., know of a group of people somewhere in the central highlands—a loosely affiliated tribal confederation, if you will—called "Israelites." These are our Israelites. So this is a priceless inscription.”


The archaeological evidence – and there is more than I’ve listed – is pretty conclusive. The Hebrews/Israelites were in Canaan at the time the Bible indicates. And there is no indication they were there before that date.

But did they arrive in Canaan in a massive invasion about 1400 B.C.? This is the point Dr. Avalos challenges. This is where I return to the issue of huge numbers.

I should note that Dr. Avalos is not alone in his skepticism about the huge numbers. Many biblical scholars have tackled the issue. But one scholar made this point:

The more absurd the figures the less likely it is that they were invented. Absurdity suggests the likelihood that someone has been trying to transmit records faithfully, in spite of the fact that they do not seem to make sense. Failure to recognize this point has tended to make scholars cavalier in their dismissal of phenomena which are crying for explanation.4

That would be my point as well. It would be silly to think that the people to whom the Exodus account was first addressed would have not recognized the absurdity of the numbers – if  they meant to them what they mean to us. It is reasonable therefore to begin with the assumption that the numbers express something different from the 2 million people at which our “traditional” calculation and Avalos' have arrived.

It is appropriate here to note that the huge numbers in Exodus 12 to which Avalos referred are not the
only huge numbers in the Bible nor in the literature and histories of the Ancient Near East. The men before the flood in Genesis 6 are said to have lived many hundreds of years. And in the Sumerian King List, kings were recorded with incredibly long lifetimes.5

Were these kings real? There is no reason to think that they were not. But the lifetimes recorded are surreal. What do we make of them?

There have been various explanations for the large numbers in the Bible. Dr. Ron Allen in the Tyndale commentary on Numbers already cited does a good job of listing and discussing the alternative explanations. (The introduction to the book of  Numbers in the NIV Study Bible lists some of these.)

One is that the figures are accurate. The argument is that given the length of time in Egypt and the fact that the Pharaoh was afraid that the Hebrews would be a threat to Egypt if they were to rebel and takes sides with an enemy (Exodus 1:9,10) that 2 million is not an excessive number.  The reasoning is that there was enough time for the Hebrews to have multiplied to 2 million and the Pharaoh would not have been concerned if the population was small.  The problem remains that 2 million rivals the number of Egyptians in the 14th century.  That doesn’t make much sense.

Another is a corruption of the text. In other words, the numbers we have are not what were originally written. Dr. Wenham gives numerous examples from the biblical text where two writers writing about the same events include numbers that radically differ. His conclusion is that this discrepancy is evidence of a corruption of the text. The copyist simply did not understand how to correctly transcribe the text. The problem is that we do not have a set of numbers that contradict those given in Exodus and Numbers.

Another analysis by Colin J. Humphreys, Physicist and Bible scholar, is that a marker used in the Hebrew text, אֶ֧לֶף has two meanings. One meaning is a thousand – that is how it is traditionally translated -  the other is troop or squad leader.6   If we translated Exodus 12:37 that way, we would get אֶ֧לֶף (squad leaders) מֵא֨וֹת (hundred) כְּשֵׁשׁ־ (about 6).  Hebrew reads from right to left, so read in English it would be “about six hundred squads.”  The problem with that idea is that the Septuagint translates the text as ἑξακοσίας χιλιάδας πεζῶν (roughly, “six hundred thousand footmen”). Apparently the translators  didn’t understand אֶ֧לֶף as squad leaders.

There is also the idea that Exodus is an exaggerated legend written in the 3rd century BCE to create a backstory for the newly reborn Jewish nation after the Babylonian captivity.  That would be the reading of Dr. Jacob Wright of Emory University, Chandler School of Theology,  that I encountered in a class I audited a few years ago. It seems to be the reading of Dr. Avalos.

The problem with that is that the Exodus story is woven through all the Old Testament scriptures, both early and late. If the legend was created in the 3rd or 4th  century, it is unlikely that it would have been picked up by the later prophets, prophets who are reliably dated as post-captivity or, even more of a dilemma, by earlier prophets who are also reliably dated to a time before the exile.  The only possibility is that the Exodus story and allusions were written into the documents as they were copied in later centuries.  That is too much of a conspiracy theory to be believable.

I think the best explanation is the one suggested by Dr. Allen. He writes in his commentary on Numbers:
I suggest for consideration the possibility that the large numbers in the census lists in the book of Numbers are deliberately and purposefully exaggerated as a rhetorical device to bring glory to God, bring derision to enemies, and point forward to the fulfillment of God’s promise to the fathers that their descendants would be as innumerable as the stars. 7

David Fouts in a doctoral thesis referenced by Dr. Allen indicated that Akkadian records demonstrate a widespread use of the convention of literary hyperbole related to numbers in a military context.  That would support Dr. Allen’s analysis.

Certainly we can find many examples of poetic hyperbole in the biblical text. Psalm 91:7 says “A thousand may fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand / but it [the plague] will not come near you.” We read that as a poetic way of saying many. We do not expect that it means exactly 1000 or 10,000. We ourselves use numbers this way. I might say to a friend, “I betcha a million dollars you can’t sink that putt.” And we all understand that I am not making a serious bet of $1,000,000. It is an “expression.”

But what does that do to the factuality of Exodus?

The answer is nothing.

If the Israelite readers (or hearers) of the narrative understood that these figures were exaggerated as a praise to God – as the reigns of Sumerian kings were exaggerated as praise to them – then there is no deception, no legend building.  Remember the Bible is first and foremost a religious text, not a book of history, though the history may also be factual. It was expected that it would be written as a praise to God.

But it would be equally a mistake to conclude that the numbers in the book of Exodus chapter 12 and Numbers chapter 1 mean nothing.  They are not wild guesses. They are not boastful exaggerations. They are compiled by counting. They are the result in Numbers 1, at least,  of a census.  But they are probably not numbers that we should punch into our calculators to get a precise figure for the population of Israel or of the army. They must be understood in the light of the cultural and literary conventions of the day.

What does this reading do to the historicity of the exodus and conquest narratives?

It reduces the numbers down to a realistic level. It is possible to see a group of two thousand leaving Egypt with about six hundred men of military age.  It is possible to see a group of two hundred thousand leaving Egypt with about sixty thousand men of military age. It is possible to see a group of either size (remember all that generation died in the 40 years of wilderness wandering) invading Canaan and establishing communities throughout the hill country – as the Bible describes.  And it is possible to see that population revealed in the artifacts we now have coming from the period of the 11th to 14th centuries. There is no disconnect between the biblical narrative and history revealed in  the artifacts.

And this reading does not divest the narrative of the miraculous. It does not require - and the text does not make this point - that the large numbers indicate a huge miracle. But there were plenty of miraculous events associated with the story and specifically mentioned as signs of God’s provision. Among them are the manna that fed the Israelites, the water from the rock, and the success they had as they took possession of the Promised Land.

Obviously, there are a lot of explanations and no consensus. But to make a controversial issue of the numbers and imply that they are evidence that archaeology refutes the Bible as Avalos does is beyond reasonable.  He needs to do a lot more spade work than he has done to begin to make that case.

1) Allen, Ronald B.,  Numbers-Ruth (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary).  Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI, 2012. Print
2) Wolfe, Robert. “From Habiru to Hebrews: The Roots of the Jewish Tradition.”  New English Review . October 2009.  Newenglishreview.org. Web. Aug. 21, 2016 http://www.newenglishreview.org/Robert_Wolfe/From_Habiru_to_Hebrews%3A_The_Roots_of_the_Jewish_Tradition>
3) Yadin, Yigael. “In the Biblical Account of the Israelite Conquest of Canaan Historically Reliable?” Biblical Archaeology Review, 8:02, Mar.-April 1982.  Web Aug. 20, 2016.
4) Wenham, J.W. “Large Numbers in the Old Testament.” Tyndale Press 1967
5) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sumerian_King_List
6) Humphreys, Colin J. “THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE IN THE EXODUS FROM EGYPT: DECODING MATHEMATICALLY THE VERY LARGE NUMBERS IN NUMBERS I AND XXV.”
7) op. cit.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Fine-Tuning and God



Is the universe supernaturally fine-tuned for life? Was someone behind the scenes at Creation Central fiddling with the knobs and dials?

That question is more and more at the fore these days in any discussion of origins. Why? Because evidence is mounting and consensus is building that the universe is in fact fine-tuned for life. But how can that be? That becomes the more pressing question.

Now, the observation that the universe is fine-tuned should be a no-brainer. The fact is here we are, and we are doing quite well, thank you. But scientists are not satisfied with relying on mere common sense. They want to know whether there is real evidence for that inference and the other:  was here a Tuner. And many scientists are concluding that there is. Here is a short list of some who have come to the conclusion that the universe is fine-tuned and that there was someone behind it all. http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/quotes.html

Disclaimer.
I must insert here a small disclaimer. I have not read each of these men or collected these quotes from my personal acquaintance with the sources. There is always the danger that quotes collected by others might be cherry-picked and used out of context to support an idea that is not the original author’s.

But I am acquainted with several. Among them is Michael Denton, PhD biochemistry, whose book Nature’s Destiny I read with great interest; Hugh Ross, PhD. Astrophysics, whose books Creation and Time and The Fingerprint of God I read early in my quest for better understanding of the universe; and Richard Dawkins, PhD., biology, whose several books The Blind Watchmaker and The God Delusion I read with interest. In all of these whether written by agnostic, Christian, or atheist there has been agreement that intelligent design is apparent (or the appearance of design) and deeply embedded in the universe. 

So what is the evidence? 

Preliminaries.
Before proceeding I want to establish the parameters of my discussion.
First, evidence can be either direct or indirect. Direct evidence in science is the observation of a fact. Water boils at 100 degrees Celsius at sea level, for example, is something we can directly observe.  And if you don’t believe the evidence, you can do the experiment yourself. 

Indirect evidence, sometimes called circumstantial evidence, is a set of facts (direct evidence) which is used to make an inference that an assertion is true. For example, the assertion that evolution is true is inferred from the fact that genetic mutations can result in speciation. Evolution is not observed and cannot be repeated in an experiment, but the fact of speciation (and other observations) is considered to be sufficient support for the assertion that evolution happened. 

The fine-tuning of the universe by a supernatural Tuner is such an assertion. It was a one-time event. It cannot be observed. It cannot be repeated in experiment. But there is sufficient evidence to infer that the assertion is true – or so many have concluded. 

Secondly, indirect evidence is sufficient for an inference when there is a collection of facts that together support the inference. 

Thirdly, counter inferences (arguments) must conform to the same standards as our inference of supernatural fine-tuning. In other words, they must deal with all the evidence; they must be logically consistent and not based on a logical fallacy, such as begging the question; They must not be speculative and based on what we don’t know - an argument from ignorance - rather than what we do know. And they must not redefine the terms, something  that Amir D. Aczel, PhD. mathematics,  in Why Science Does Not Disprove God claims Lawrence Krauss does when he redefines nothing as a pre-existing medium of quantum foam.

Finally, we acknowledge that an inference from indirect evidence depends on probabilities. The question will always be how probable or improbable is the inference.  How can we say that the probability of an event is 1 in 10 to the 45th power? (Douglas Ell makes sense out of the probabilities in his book Counting to God.)Yet it is how we make almost every inference and has logical basis in what has been called the prime principle of confirmation. 2

Why is it important?
The question of supernatural fine-tuning is of more than theoretical interest. It is an existential question. If the universe and life is wholly natural, if the cosmos is all there is, all there has been, and all there ever will be and we are convinced of that, it has implication in society, politics,  international relationships, medicine, science,  inter-personal relationships and morality. On the other hand, if the universe has a Tuner, that too has implications that affect every area of life. It makes a difference. 

The evidence.
May I reiterate that there is hardly any dispute that the universe is finely tuned. Even those as philosophically opposed to the idea of a supernatural tuner as Roger Penrose acknowledges that the universe is finely tune to a degree that is beyond most of our abilities to appreciate.3

Evidence 1.  The force of gravity is just right for the universe to exist and host life such as ourselves. The strength of gravity affects the rate of expansion of the universe. If is too weak the universe would expand too rapidly for stars to form. If too strong, the universe would collapse before life had a chance to appear. Leonard Susskind estimates that if the rate of expansion varied by as little as 1 in 10 to the 37th there would not be a single galaxy or habitable planet in the universe.4

Is that fine-tuning simply fortuitous? If it were the only example, it would be interesting but not decisive.

Evidence 2. Carbon is fundamental to life as we know it. But carbon was not in existence at the beginning of the universe. Carbon is created in stars and distributed in the universe by the explosion of supernovae.5 The process of carbon formation depends on extremely narrow parameters of the light quark mass: “just a slight variation in the light quark mass will change the energy of the Hoyle state, and this in turn would affect the production of carbon and oxygen in such a way that life as we know it wouldn’t exist.”6

Just a slight variation.

Michael Denton develops the connection between carbon and life as we know it in his book Nature’s Destiny. It is more significant than most of us imagine.

Were we just lucky? 

Evidence 3. Even the shape of our galaxy, the Milky Way, is crucial for life. Elliptical and irregular galaxies for various reasons will not support life. And those galaxies make up 95 percent of the galaxies in the universe.7  Galaxies larger than ours produce too much radiation for life. Smaller galaxies are heavy metal poor and would not produce the elements necessary for planets such as ours and life. Spiral galaxies such as ours are just right for the formation of those elements and for the reduced radiation that allows for life. 

In the case of our galaxy, the earth is positioned just right for protection from radiation. Earth is located in a relatively low density space in a spiral arm away from the strong radiation at the center of the galaxy and from stars close enough to affect us negatively by their gravitational fields.

I must skip many evidences related to our place in the galaxy and the unique conditions of our solar system to focus on the earth.

Evidence 4. The percentage of oxygen in earth’s atmosphere (21%) is just right for life to develop here. Slightly greater and life functions for advanced life would proceed too quickly. If slightly less life functions would proceed too slowly.8 If oxygen were 25% fires would break out spontaneously. If 15% human beings would suffocate. 9   

Evidence 5. The moon. The best guess at the moment for how earth acquired its moon is that our planet was struck early on in its history by a  Mars-size  planet. The glancing impact created a debris field that circled the earth and gradually congealed into the moon. (See http://science.time.com/2013/12/04/new-take-on-an-ancient-mystery-how-earth-got-its-moon/ )  Regardless how, it was fortuitous, for  Earth’s relationship to the moon is critical for life as we know it. Its size and distance from the earth is just right to stabilize earth’s orbit and rotation.  The moon stabilizes the wobble of the earth and thus the climate of the earth allowing for life like ourselves. But it does much more.  Paleontologist Peter Ward and astronomer Donald Brownlee develop many of those unique conditions in their book Rare: Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe.

One reviewer of Rare Earth quoted Dirty Harry: “Do you feel lucky? Well, do ya?” That is a good question. It’s a good question because as we add up the conditions of the universe, our galaxy, our solar system and our planet, that must obtain for there to be life like ourselves, 200 now and counting, the odds that there should be even one place in the universe like ours is very close to zero. 

Some have gone even further to say that based on the probabilities there should not be one planet capable of supporting life like ourselves.  So were we just lucky?

Evidences 6-200. There are too many to cover them all here. However, some of the additional evidences for fine-tuning may be found here: http://www.inplainsite.org/html/anthropic_principles.html#Anthropic


How could all those conditions come together to the end that we are here? One answer is that it was all planned, and that inference would seem to be very well supported. But what of other inferences?

One such inference is that this all is the result of chance.  Beyond the gambler’s intuition that the odds are crazy, this argument relies on a version of the special pleading fallacy. It is saying that against all odds we live in a special place. Good luck with that, but don’t place a bet for me. 

Another inference is that our universe is one of an infinite number of universes in which all these conditions might vary. The infinity of universes virtually guarantees that at least one will be like ours. But what is the evidence? There is none. But the really cute refutation of this idea is mathematical.

Infinites are useful mathematical concepts but are absurd in real life. There simply cannot be real infinites. Mathematician Amir Aczel of Boston University explains in his book Why Science Does Not Disprove God. His argument is too mathematical for me to fully understand, but his conclusion as a mathematician is clear: “the notion of the infinite multiverse – an invention so favored by the New Atheists – is absurd.”11
 
The final alternative inference is that the conditions of fine-tuning are necessary. In other words because the laws of nature are as they are no other universe would be possible. It is therefore inevitable that we should be here. This is interesting because it is what Michael Denton seems to be suggesting in Nature’s Destiny. But that inference begs the question not only as circular reasoning but because it leaves the real question unanswered: Why are the natural laws as they are?

Michael Denton, who was not then, at least, a theist is careful about the implications, but he ends with this:
But although the journey [to man] was long, the route often slow and tortuous, the evidence increasingly suggests that the end was never in doubt. That we followed a path already charted to an end foreseen and that our success was not a matter of contingency. Like pilgrims seeking the source of their own transcendence, we have been drawn along a predetermined path from discovery of fire to the birth of science to the revelation of our own centrality in the order of nature. We have deciphered the  meaning of the constellations, and in science the cosmos has called us home. 11
My absolute all time favorite science writer anthropologist Loren Eiseley concurs:
It is not sufficient any longer to listen at the end of a wire to the rustlings of a galaxy: it is not enough even to examine the great coil of DNA in which is coded the very alphabet of life. These are our extended perceptions. But beyond lies the great darkness of the ultimate Dreamer, who dreamed the light and the galaxies. Before act was, or substance existed, imagination grew in the dark. Man partakes of the ultimate wonder and creativeness. As we turn from the galaxies to the swarming cells of our own being, which toil for something, some entity beyond their grasp, let us remember man, the self-fabricator who came across an ice age to look into the mirrors and magic of science. Surely he did not come to see himself or his wild visage only. He came because he is at heart a listener and a searcher for some transcendent realm beyond himself.12
Physicist  Arno Penzias sums up the evidence: “Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe that was created  of nothing, one with the very delicate balance needed to provide exactly the conditions to permit life, and one which has an underlying (one might say ‘supernatural’) plan.”13

1) Aczel, Amir D. Why Science Does Not Disprove God. New York: Harper Collins, 2014. p. 129.
2) Himma, Kenneth Einar. “Design Arguments for the Existence of God.”  Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. August 17, 2016 http://www.iep.utm.edu/design/
3) Penrose, Roger. The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe. New York: Kropf, 2005. pp. 762-65.
4) Susskind, Leonard. The Cosmic Landscape: Sting Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design. Back Bay Books: Back Bay Books, 2006. P 9.
6) “Carbon – 12. Does Its Creation in Stars Suggest a Universe” Fine-Tuned for Life? The Daily Galaxy. August 28, 2013. <http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2013/08/carbon-12-of-giant-red-stars-does-it-suggest-a-universe-fine-tuned-for-life.html >
7) Ross, Hugh. The Creator and the Cosmos: How the Latest Scientific Discoveries of the Century Reveal God. NavPress: Colorado Springs, 2001. p 177.
9) Hugh Ross quoted in In Plain Sight, <http://www.inplainsite.org/html/anthropic_principles.html>
10) Op. Cit. p. 228.
11) Denton,  op. cit. p. 395.
12) Eiseley, Loren. The Unexpected Universe. 1970.
13) Penzias, Arno. “Creation Is Supported by All the Data So Far.” Cosmos, Bios, and Theos, ed. Henry Margenau and Roy Abraham Varghese. Peru, Il: Open Court, 1992, p. 78

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Show Me the Money



Show me the evidence. Anti-theists throw down that challenge regularly in comment sections on news sites, blogs, YouTube, and Facebook posts. Apparently they think it is the final unanswerable dare. But really, is there no evidence? Consider the following. 

The Bible says there is evidence in the sky (Psalm 19:1). How so? 

When David looked up into the night sky, he could see the watercolor wash of the Milky Way splashed across a background of several thousand individual stars.  And when he reflected on that awesome tableau, he saw the glory of God displayed. But David was already a believer in the Creator who made it all. What about those who are not? 

Today we can look far, far deeper into the universe than David could. The Hubble space telescope shows us not just stars but galaxies in the millions and billions. And Hubble can take us back in time to a point close to the beginning of the universe. Can it provide us evidence for God? 

Yes. The universe provides us more evidence for the Creator than David could ever have imagined. To begin with, we know from Edwin Hubble’s observations that the universe had a beginning. Now, Hubble did not take the next step, but it obvious: a beginning implies a Beginner. 

There have been objections, of course, from scientists and anti-theists to inserting into the history of the universe’s origin and evolution a supernatural Beginner. There might be other explanations. The universe might be the result of quantum fluctuation in the void. It might be the extension of another universe or universes that were earlier and are beyond our detection. It would be possible – if the universe were not as it is. 

And what is it about the universe that makes either of those possibilities highly improbable? The first is that the universe exists because of what we call natural laws and forces, none of which are a necessary component of matter or energy. Not only so, but those forces are so delicately balanced with each other that should one of them have been slightly different – gravity, for example, 1 part in 10 to the 40th power stronger or weaker1 – the universe as we know it would not exist today. 2  How could that have happened? 

The second is that the universe is not simple.3 And simple is what we’d expect of a universe that was the product of any of the simple forces proposed for a natural origin. For example, disorganized energy, which is what quantum fluctuations are, or a black hole in another universe, sometimes suggested as a possible origin in the multiverse theory, are simple. But there is no means known or imagined by which something fundamentally simple can naturally develop into the complexity of the universe we live in.   How is that possible?

The third is that at least our particular neighborhood in the cosmos is unexpectedly fit for life such as ourselves.4 (Scientists call this the anthropic principle, and it is recognized by scientists whose religious beliefs range from agnosticism to theism.) How unexpectedly? Well, it is computed now that about 200 conditions must obtain for the earth to be hospitable to intelligent life like ourselves. The probability of those existing together computes to far beyond the 1 in 10 to the 45th power – that is 1 in 10,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000 -  considered to be beyond possibility. How is that possible? It is not, unless the universe is designed by an intelligence. 

Astronomy and Cosmology have opened up the wonders of the universe far beyond anything David could have dreamed. And with every new revelation science provides us, the hand of a Creator seems more and more evident and necessary. Evidence? This would seem to be sufficient. 

1. Davies, Paul. The Accidental Universe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982.


2. Hawking, Stephen.  A Brief History of Time. Bantam Books,  1988, p. 7, 125.

3. "The universe seems to be getting more complex. In the first few moments of the Big Bang, 10 to 20 billion years ago, the universe contained only radiation, out of which condensed the elementary particles. As the universe expanded and cooled, these particles assembled to form simple atoms; gravitational attraction among atoms (mainly hydrogen) laid the foundations for galaxies; within galaxies, stars and planetary systems differentiated; and in these, with the emergence of the heavier elements, complex chemical, biological and ultimately cultural entities arose. In each transition, the complexity of the most complex structure in existence seems to have increased: Galaxies are more complex than atoms, stars are more complex than galaxies, and so on." McShea, Daniel W. "Measuring Complexity" Scientific American. scientificamerican.org. 2001

4. Ross, Hugh. "Anthropic Principle: A Precise Plan for Humanity." Reasons to Believe. reasons.org. January 1, 2002.