Friday, August 18, 2017

DIY Summer

Ironically, the most popular post, by a wide margin, that I have ever published on this blog has nothing to do with my expertise or the topics that I usually post on, namely Religion and the New Testament.  The post "Doctor Handyman and the Horse Shelter," published in June of 2010 has had over 16,000 page views over the life of the blog.  It was a post about building a horse shelter near Waco, TX.

Well, that was before I got a full time teaching job, and I have not done much construction since, but this Summer I undertook a kitchen remodeling project.  It was a difficult but fulfilling project and took nearly all three months of my Summer break.  I think most aspects of the project came out very well and we love our new kitchen.  Over the next several posts, I am going to recount this project for anyone who might be interested.  If you read this blog for New Testament/Religion topics, you will not find for a bit and can skip any posts with DIY in the title.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Finding Darwin's God IX

Miller, Ken. Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground between God and Evolution.New York: Harper Perennial, 2007. ISBN: 978-0061233500.

Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart VPart VIPart VII, Part VIII.

In his final chapter, titled "Finding Darwin's God," Miller sets out to do three things. First, he rejects the common path of finding in the natural world something apparently unexplainable by scientists and assigning the explanation to God. He notes that theists have often hung their hopes on science's unsolved mysteries as the unique domain of God's work, God's fingerprints on creation.  Yet, for Miller, this is a losing hand for theists to play.  Sure, science has not yet been able to explain everything.  Yet, they have explained a lot, and they are finding new answers every day.  The minute that a theist draws a line in the sand and says that some unexplained mystery must be the domain of God's work, a scientist comes along and explains that mystery. Then, the case for theism is damaged.  This view has often been called the God of the gaps theory because it places God into the gaps of scientific knowledge.  The problem is that as time goes by, those gaps continue to shrink, as does the supposed domain of God's work.  Instead, Miller claims, one should expect the natural world to have natural, scientific explanations, and to be confident that scientists will continue to find explanations for the previously unexplained mysteries of the universe. 

Second, Miller argues that a common refrain of anti-theist scientists, that science proves that the universe has no meaning or purpose, is not a scientific claim at all.  He says that when these scientists make these claims, they are using their credibility as scientists, and claiming the backing of science, but that they have wandered outside of the bounds of science in these proclamations.  Science does not assign purpose or meaning to the universe.  It cannot.  So, in the same vein, it cannot assign purposelessness or meaninglessness to the universe. 

Finally, Miller wants to answer the question of what kind of God science and evolution has led him to believe in.  He answers with a quote from the last sentence of Darwin's Origin as follows:
"There is a grandeur in this view of life; with its several powers having been originally breathed by the Creator into new forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most wonderful and most beautiful have been, and are being evolved." What kind of God do I believe in? The answer is in those words.  I believe in Darwin's God. (292). 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Finding Darwin's God VIII

Miller, Ken. Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground between God and Evolution.New York: Harper Perennial, 2007. ISBN: 978-0061233500.

Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart VPart VI, Part VII

In chapter eight, titled "The Road Back Home," Miller discusses some of the implications of the findings of science on a religious person's faith in God.  Or, to put it another way, he goes into a theological discussion of what kind of God can be seen as compatible with the findings of modern science.  In short, his answer is that the findings of modern science do not at all contradict the traditional God of the western monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam).  This chapter seems to be a catch-all chapter for discussing some of the religious objections to evolution.

First, he lays out three foundational beliefs about God shared by all three western monotheistic religions. These are: 1) the primacy of God in the universe, 2) we exist as the direct result of God's will, and 3) God has revealed himself to us.

Miller then walks the reader through some of the findings of modern science to demonstrate that science does not contradict these core beliefs of theists.  He begins with the scientific findings that the universe did in fact have a beginning.  If the universe had no beginning, then perhaps the view of God as creator would become untenable.  Yet, the universe did have a beginning in the so-called big bang, and science has discovered when it was.

Next, Miller discusses what has been called the anthropic principle.  In short, the anthropic principle states that the universe, and specifically a few constants (constant physical forces) in the universe: gravity, strong nuclear force, and electromagnetism, for example, make possible the development of life.  If any one of these constants were just slightly higher or lower, then life would not be possible.  Miller, quoting Stephen Hawking, writes: "'If the rate of expansion one second after the big bang had been smaller by even one part in a hundred thousand million million it would have recollapsed before it reached its present size.' Conversely, if g were smaller, the dust from the big bang would just have continued to expand, never coalescing into galaxies, stars, planets, or us" (227-228).

Miller notes that these constants by no means prove the existence of God, they also speak to how wonderfully hospitable this universe is to life, such that even strong atheists, such as Daniel Dennet note the danger of the anthropic principle.  Miller quotes Dennet as follows:
Believers in any of the proposed strong versions of the Anthropic Principle think they can deduce something wonderful and surprising from the fact the we conscious observers are here--for instance, that in some sense the universe exists for us, or that perhaps we exist so that the universe as a whole can exist, ore even that God created the universe the way He did so that we would be possible (228).
 The next issue that Miller tackles is the notion of luck or chance.  Many religionists object to evolution on the ground that, they say, God would not have left creation to chance, as evolution holds.  Yes, Miller concedes, evolution does rely on chance, especially in the appearance of mutations.  Yet, for him, the existence of chance in no way nullifies the existence of God.  Miller compares evolutionary chance to historical chance.  If chance can play a part in history, determining the rise and fall of human empires and the like, then of course it can play a part in evolution.  Neither discounts the existence of God.  Moreover, without the element of chance, there can be no free will, no free creatures, and no true love of God.

Miller moves on to discussing the role of God in a self-sufficient universe as described by modern science.  First of all, Miller does not discount miracles.  He claims no philosophical worldview that would deny the possibility of miracles.  That said, he says that natural phenomena have natural, scientific explanations. Miller also claims that God can be seen at work through natural, scientific phenomena. For example, he explains that the very existence of the universe cannot be explained through science alone.  God, according to Miller is responsible for the existence of the universe.

In short sections, Miller refutes the idea that God would not have taken so long to get to his crowning achievement, humans; and the idea that evolution is too cruel to be the process by which humans were created.  His refutation of the first is simply that God is patient and not bound by time as humans are.  His answer to the second is twofold.  First, cruelty is relative and nature can be seen as cruel, or beautiful.  Second, the real surprise in life is not that nature can be cruel, but that something like altruism exists at all.

In the end, I found this the weakest chapter in the book so far.  There are some great insights in this chapter, but as a whole, the organization was a little weak and slipshod.  Some of Miller's generalizations about religion were not nuanced enough.  In the end though, Miller does present plausible reasons why evolution need not be a threat to traditional belief in God.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Finding Darwin's God VII

Miller, Ken. Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground between God and Evolution.New York: Harper Perennial, 2007. ISBN: 978-0061233500.

Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart V, Part VI
In chapter seven, titled “Beyond Materialism,” Miller questions whether materialism spells the end of God.  First, he notes, that with the increasing knowledge of humans, which got dramatic boost with the rise of modern science, the place of gods and goddesses in the universe began to shrink. Miller puts it this way:
Then something happened. Something wonderful. A few of our ancestors began to learn the rules by which nature worked, and after a while, we no longer needed Apollo to pull the sun’s chariot across the sky.  We no longer needed Ceres to waken seeds from winter sleep. The movements of the sun and moon became part of a mechanism, a celestial machine in which each motion could be calculated and explained (p. 193).
Thus began the retreat of the gods in the natural world, and it has not stopped.  Science has continually filled gaps in human understanding of nature and the gods have lost their everyday role.  This situation naturally led to Deism, the idea that God was the great architect who designed the natural world.  Or, to use another more common view, God was the master watchmaker who constructed the natural world and its natural laws, then wound up the clock and let it go. Yet, Miller notes, Deism failed on two counts.  First, it failed because it did not line up with the view of God in the great western religions which views God as personal and involved in the world. The Deistic watchmaker has no interaction with the natural world on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps more significantly, Deism did not line up with the progression of scientific knowledge.  Deism might have persisted if scientific knowledge ended with a Newtonian universe of cause and effect dictated by concrete unbreakable laws.  Yet, science did progress, putting an end to the Newtonian, deterministic universe.  Enter quantum physics.

Max Planck, a German physicist, came up with quantum theory in the early 1900s.  Without getting too deep into the science, which frankly is beyond me, he theorized that light, which we knew behaved like a wave, also behaved like a particle.  He came up with a unit of light called a photon. Others noticed that these photons of light behaved rather strangely. These subatomic particles of light do not always behave according to fixed physical laws in a Newtonian way such that we can absolutely predict the results.  For example, Miller explains, a common household mirror reflects about 95% of the light hitting it. The other 5% passes right through the mirror.  The strange behavior of the photons occurs in that it is completely unpredictable which 5% of the photons will be reflected and which will pass through. Miller writes,
If we rig up an experiment in which we fire a single photon at our mirror, we cannot predict in advance what will happen, no matter how precise our knowledge of the system might be. Most of the time, that photon is going to come bouncing off; but one time out of twenty, on average, it’s going to go right through the mirror.  There is nothing we can do, not even in principle, to figure out when that one chance in twenty is going to come up.  It means that the outcome of each individual experiment is unpredictable in principle (p. 200). 
Take this further, and Werner Heisenberg came up which his “uncertainty principle,” in which he stated that the nature of subatomic particles is inherently unpredictable. What is the upshot of these developments in quantum physics, according to Miller?  It is that the universe is not a deterministic physical system that obeys physical laws in a Newtonian fashion.  Yes, on the macro level, this quantum indeterminacy behaves according to statistical averages, which allows scientific predictions on a large scale. This is why science works, and why the physical world largely behaves according to physical laws.  Yet, at its core, the system has a built-in uncertainty.  According to Miller, it is this quantum indeterminacy that allows for true freedom and frees us from a deterministic physical system. It frees us from a Deistic god who designs and winds up the watch and then leaves it to its own devices.  It leaves room for the workings of God in the world, while not impinging on a self-sufficient material universe.  Miller ends his chapter this way:
But the tools of science itself have discovered that scientific materialism has a curious, inherent limitation.  And we certainly left to wonder what to make of that.  It could be just a puzzling, curious fact about the nature of the universe.  Or it could be the clue that allows us to bind everything, including evolution, into a worldview in which science and religion are partners, not rivals, in extending human understanding a step beyond the bounds of mere materialism (219).


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Finding Darwin's God VI

Miller, Ken. Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground between God and Evolution.New York: Harper Perennial, 2007. ISBN: 978-0061233500.

Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IV, Part V

In chapter six, entitled “The Gods of Disbelief,” Miller takes on several interlocutors at once with regard to a philosophical outlook called materialism.  Materialism is the philosophical outlook that says that the material/physical universe is all that exists.  If materialism is the correct philosophical outlook, then perhaps there truly is no room for God.  Miller does not take this stance, but instead, looks to question it. 

Materialism is the outlook taken by most of Miller’s opponents in this chapter such as biologists Richard Dawkins and William Provine, Sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson, Geneticist Richard Lewontin, and Philosopher Daniel Dennet, among others.  In their view, Darwinian evolution is the death knell of the antiquated notion of God.  Since they subscribe to philosophical materialism, and the material universe is all that exists, then there is no longer any place for God since science and evolution by natural selection have been able to explain the material causes of the universe, and even of life itself. There is no place left for a God if all things can be explained through natural cause and effect. 

It is this extreme view, taken by some evolutionary biologists and other scientists, that Miller believes is at the heart of Christian opposition to evolution.  It is not lack of education about the processes of evolution and its lack of explanatory power that accounts for opposition to Darwinism, rather, it is the militantly anti-religious nature of some of the proponents of evolution.  Believers are led to believe that an acceptance of Darwinian evolution necessarily entails a rejection of God.  Yet Miller questions this assumption.  He states that it is an unprovable assumption that lies at the heart of philosophical materialism, namely, that the material world is all there is.  By making this assumption, Dawkins, Dennet, Wilson et. al., have wandered away from science into philosophy. In the same way, religious reactionaries have also fallen into the same assumption, assuming that if Darwinian evolution is true, then philosophical materialism must also be true.  Yet miller questions this assumption.  He claims that there is no necessary logical connection between being able to explain the natural world through science and making the philosophical leap to proclaiming that the natural world is all that there is.  He will set out to question materialism in chapter seven.  Stay tuned. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Finding Darwin's God V

Miller, Ken. Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground between God and Evolution.New York: Harper Perennial, 2007. ISBN: 978-0061233500.

Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IV

In Chapter five, titled "God the Mechanic," Miller takes on Michael Behe, a proponent of intelligent design.  Behe is a biochemist, and the first of Miller's interlocutors that can claim to be an expert in a relevant scientific discipline.  Behe is known for his term "irreducible complexity."  By this term, Behe means that there are certain aspects of biological life that are "irreducibly complex," such that evolution and natural selection are not sufficient as to account for their existence. Specifically, as a cell biologist, Behe claims that the complex structure and machinery of the cell are irreducibly complex, such that if you take away one part the complex, multi-part machine, the entire cell does not work.  Evolution and natural selection, according to Behe, cannot account for the simultaneous coming together of all of the separate yet needed parts of the irreducibly complex machine.  Now it should be said, that, as a biochemist, Behe subscribes to most of the processes of evolution and long history of the universe and the earth.  It is only at the point of the irreducibly complex biochemical systems that Behe sees the need for a designer.

Therefore, Behe argues, one must posit a designer for these irreducibly complex biological machines. Miller seems a little underwhelmed by Behe's argument and calls it merely the same old argument from design, dusted off and repackaged with the language of cellular biology. It is the same argument made by William Paley, the eighteenth century clergyman, who came up with the analogy of the watchmaker. Paley argued a watch demonstrates design, so there must be a designer.  In the same way, biological life demonstrates design, therefore there must be an intelligent designer.

Miller attempts to deconstruct Behe's arguments for irreducibly complex machines by demonstrating that each example given by Behe has been definitively shown to be evolved through natural selection from less complex machines.  For example, Miller points out that scientists have been able to demonstrate more simple versions of the cellular cilium and the process of coagulation of blood. Basically, scientists have shown that supposedly irreducibly complex biological machines can be formed by borrowing parts from other working machines.  The machines become more and more complex over time, but each small change that creates an advantage are selected for by natural selection.

In the end, Miller labels Behe's God the mechanic, who at one point in the distant past created all of the irreducibly complex cellular machines.  Miller quotes the following from Behe:
Suppose that nearly four billion years ago the designer made the first cell, already containing all of the irreducibly complex biochemical systems discussed here and many others. (One can postulate that the designs for systems that were to be used later, such as blood clotting, were present but not "turned on." In present-day organisms plenty of genes are turned off for a while, sometimes for generations, to be turned on at a later time.) (p. 162). 
This argument, of God the mechanic of complex machines billions of years ago, is, according to Miller, the final blow to Behe's hypothesis.  Miller states the problem with this hypothesis as follows:
If we choose to give Behe's theory serious consideration, if we treat it as a scientific hypothesis, then we are obliged to ask what would happen to those preformed genes during the billions of years that follow? As any student of biology will tell you, because those genes are not expressed, natural selection would not be able to weed out genetic mistakes.  Mutations would accumulate in these genes at breathtaking rates, rendering them hopelessly changed and inoperative hundreds of millions of years before Behe says that thy will be needed (p. 162). 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Finding Darwin's God IV

Miller, Ken. Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground between God and Evolution.New York: Harper Perennial, 2007. ISBN: 978-0061233500.

Part IPart II, Part III

In Chapter four, titled "God the Magician," Miller takes as his main interlocutor Berkeley Law Professor Phillip Johnson who wrote the book Darwin on Trial.  Johnson, building on his trade as a lawyer, attempts to create in his reader a "shadow of a doubt" as to the veracity of the science of evolution. In order to create this "shadow of a doubt," Johnson exploits a mid-20th century intra-scientific debate that took place among community of evolutionary biologist: namely, the debate between punctuated equilibrium and phyletic gradualism.

Though the two sides of this debate use the highly technical terms "phyletic gradualism" and "punctuated equilibrium," the concepts are actually quite simple. Phyletic gradualism is essentially the original Darwinian idea that species would develop gradually over millions of years. In this case the fossil record should demonstrate a number of gradual changes in form as species develop. Yet, this, apparently is not what the fossil record shows.  Enter Stephen J. Gould, Niles Eldredge, and punctuated equilibrium.  Gould and Eldredge, both evolutionary biologists, shook up the scientific community in the 1970s with their theory of punctuated equilibrium.  By closely examining the fossil record, Gould and Eldredge argued that what the fossils actually show is a punctuated speciation event in a geological instant followed by long geological periods of stability among species. Just like that, Gould and Eldredge had overturned over a century of scientific wisdom about the evolution of life on planet earth.

Phillip Johnson jumped on this apparent instability in the scientific community regarding evolution and used it to write his book to cast doubt on the theory of evolution.  He noted that punctuated equilibrium does not support Darwin's original theory at all. Instead, it lines up more closely with a biblical view of instantaneous appearances of new species on earth, with God as their creator, creating each species according to its own kind (Genesis 6:20). God, in this scenario, is the magician invoked to account for this apparent instantaneous creation of each new species according to their kinds.

Miller spends the rest of chapter four dispelling the misuse of punctuated equilibrium by Johnson and others to cast doubt on Darwinian evolution.  A key to his argument is the discussion of the phrase "geological instant." Miller notes that a "geological instant" is not really an instant.  In the long course of the 4.5 billion year geological history of the earth, an "instant" is actually quite a long time, millions of years in fact.  Miller points out that what Gould and Eldredge refer to as instantaneous speciation events actually cover millions of years of evolution.  Gould and Eldredge were of course supporters of evolution.  They simply demonstrated that, relatively speaking, evolution and the change of species actually happens quite quickly on the geological timescale and then species are stable for longer periods of time. Yet, they still evolved, they still shared common ancestors.

Miller's biggest problem with Johnson and others like him is not just that they are wrong in their understanding of evolution and science, but rather, the theological implications of their interpretations of the evidence.  Namely, if Johnson is correct, and each new species is created instantaneously and magically by God, then what does that say about God.  Specifically, since the fossil record demonstrates that most of the species that have ever lived on this planet have gone extinct, then God must not be a very good designer.  He had to create each species magically, only to have most of them become extinct. What kind of a God creates like that? Miller asks.

Miller ends his chapter this way:
Intelligent design advocates have to account for patterns in the designer's work that clearly give the appearance of evolution.  Is the designer being deceptive? Is there a reason why he can't get it right the first time? Is the designer, despite all his powers, a slow learner? He must be clever enough to design an African elephant, but apparently not so clever that he can do it the first time. Therefore we find the fossils of a couple dozen extinct almost-elephants over the last few million years.  What are these failed experiments, and why does this master designer need to drive so many of his masterpieces to extinction? (p. 127). 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Finding Darwin's God III

Miller, Ken. Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground between God and Evolution.New York: Harper Perennial, 2007. ISBN: 978-0061233500.

Part I, Part II

In chapter 3, titled "God the Charlatan," Miller takes on those who would reject much of modern science that apparently contradicts the Bible. He labels these opponents of science "Young Earth Creationists" or YECs for short. 

Most of the chapter deals with the age of the earth.  YECs claim that the earth is young, less than 10,000 years or so. Miller argues for an old earth based on the findings of geologists.  He, though not himself a geologist, lays out the basic reasoning that geologists use to estimate that the earth is about 4.5 billion years old.  The strongest and most consistent method for dating the earth is a process called radiometric dating. While not belaboring the point (since I am in no way a geologist), the basics of radiometric dating are as follows: there are certain radioactive isotopes such as Carbon 14, Uranium 235, Potassium 40, and Rubidium 87 (among others) that are unstable and decay into other stable elements at a constant rate. A half life is the time that it takes for half of the unstable "parent" element to decay into its stable "daughter" element.  Because this rate is constant, this acts like a radioactive stopwatch that can accurately measure the time of the formation of that rock that contains the parent and daughter elements.  With half lives of up to 48 billion years, this method has been able to on numerous occasions date the formation of the earth to approximately 4.5 billion years old. 

YECs have had some quick comebacks and objections to this method of dating the earth, such as noting the assumptions that are present (e.g., the original chemical composition of the rock, the assumption of a constant rate of decay). Yet, Miller notes that even the YECs are admitting the accuracy of the method.  Miller quotes from the book The Genesis Flood, a YEC book, as follows: 
We reply, however, that the Biblical outline of earth history, with the geologic framework provided thereby, would lead us to postulate exactly this state of the radioactivity evidence.  We would expect radiogenic minerals to indicate very large ages and we would expect different elements in the same mineral, or different minerals in the same formation to agree with each other (p. 77).
Basically, the YECs do not deny the evidence, they just have a different explanation.  Basically, they argue that God created the earth ~10,000 years ago with "apparent age." In short, God created the earth to look 4.5 billion years old when in fact it was quite young. This reasoning holds for stars as well, that read as being billions of light years away.  The light from these stars did not in fact travel for billions of years, but instead, the light was created as already on its way. This is what has lead Miller to title this chapter "God the Charlatan." Here we get into theology.  If God created the world to look old, even if it is in fact quite young, then God is a liar, a cheat, and a fraud.  By trying to defend YEC, the YECs have in fact said profound and disturbing things about God. Miller ends his chapter this way:
What saddens me is the view of the creator that many people find what they believe to be divine revelation preferable to scientific knowledge. In order to defend God against the challenge they see from evolution, they have had to make Him into a schemer, a trickster, even a charlatan.  Their version of God is one who intentionally plants misleading clues beneath out feet and in the heavens themselves (p. 80).

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Finding Darwin's God II

Miller, Ken. Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground between God and Evolution.New York: Harper Perennial, 2007. ISBN: 978-0061233500.

Part I

In Chapter 2, after stating that his stance as a believer in the scientific field places him outside of the norm, Miller sets out to discuss what science can investigate and how is can be investigated. He is responding to the following critique:
There is a school of thought that rejects the very idea that any theory about the past can be scientific.  Science, the argument goes, is based on experiment and direct, testable observation... Since there were no human witnesses to the earth's past, the argument goes, all statements about that past, including evolution, are pure speculation (emphasis original, p. 22). 
Miller answers this critique giving several examples of how science can investigate events that the scientist did not directly witness.  The first is that of forensic science.  The police do not have to witness a crime to scientifically investigate a crime scene and find scientific evidence that can lead to an arrest and conviction.  The second is the investigation of the sun.  No human has ever been to the sun and directly observed it in a laboratory.  Yet, one can investigate the effects of the sun and make scientific conclusions, such as the elemental makeup of the sun. His third example is somewhat whimsical, but deals with pop-top beer cans produced between 1962-1975.  These pop-tops can be found in trash deposits.  They are evidence left over from the past.  This leads to Miller's last example, which is that the past has left literally mountains of evidence buried in the earth.  It is this evidence that science can investigate and led scientists in the 19th century to conclusions that ended with Darwin's theory of evolution.

Miller wraps up chapter two by discussing the creative power of evolution.  He points out clear examples of evolution in the modern world such as the evolution of bacteria to become resistant to certain antibiotics.  He notes that scientists can actually witness this evolution in process because of the high reproduction rates of bacteria.  He also notes that scientists are beginning to use evolution in their research to create organisms with certain characteristics.  Evolution and natural selection, Miller contends, is a fantastic and creative tool that can bring phenomenal change in living organisms.

Miller concludes his chapter with the following quote:
It is high time that we grew up and left the Garden.  We are indeed Eden's children, yet it is time to place Genesis alongside the geocentric myth in the basket of stories that once, in a world of intellectual naivete, made helpful sense.  As we walk through the gates, aware of the dazzling richness of the genuine biological world, there might even be a smile on the Creator's face--that at long last His creatures have learned enough to understand His world as it truly is (p. 56). 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Finding Darwin's God I

I continue in my reviews of the books that I am using in my Religion and Science course this semester.  You can view my serial review of Scripture and Cosmology by Kyle Greenwood here (Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart VPart VIPart VII, Part VIII).

The second book that I will be reviewing is Finding Darwin's God by Kenneth R. Miller.

In Chapter 1, Miller lays out as starkly as possible the potential conflict between religious (Christian) views of creation and Darwin's scientific theory of evolution.  He sets side by side a question from a Christian Catechism with a parallel question from an imaginary scientific catechism as follows: 
Question: "Who made us?"
Answer: "God made us."
Question: "Who made us?"
Answer: "Evolution made us." (p. 1-2).

Miller lays out what he calls "Darwin's dangerous idea" as follows: "Evolution displaced the creator from his central position as the primary explanation for every aspect of the living world" (p. 14).
or as Richard Dawkins has put it, "Although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist" (p. 14).

Given the mountains of evidence that have been compiled over the past 150 plus years that support Darwin's original theory, Miller ends his chapter in the following way:
Is it time to replace existing religions with a scientifically responsible, attractively sentimental, ethically driven Darwinism--a First Church of Charles the Naturalist? Does evolution really nullify all world views that depend upon the spiritual? Does it demand logical agnosticism as the price of scientific consistency? And does it rigorously exclude belief in God?
These are the questions that I will explore in the pages that follow.  My answer, in each and every case, is a resounding no. I do not say this, as you will see, because evolution is wrong. Far from it. The reason, as I hope to show, is because evolution is right (p. 17) 
Miller, himself a Christian and a Scientist sets out to explain how, at least according to his point of view, both Christianity and Darwinism can exist together and how they can in fact have a fruitful relationship.  Stay tuned for further chapter reviews ahead.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Scripture and Cosmology VIII

Greenwood, Kyle. Scripture and Cosmology: Reading the Bible between the Ancient World and Modern Science. DownersGrove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015. 

Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart VPart VI, Part VII

In the eighth and final chapter of his book, Greenwood lays bare his overarching agenda for writing: namely, to combat many Christians' war on certain parts of science, specifically the theory of evolution.  No, the book has not been about evolution at all, but in the final chapter he urges Christians to be consistent with regard to the relationship between science and religion, or science and biblical interpretation.  Inasmuch as modern cosmology is not controversial to most Christians, Greenwood uses this as a foil for his real agenda.  He shows that Christians accept the findings of modern science (i.e., modern cosmology), even when they directly contradict biblical evidence (i.e., ancient near eastern three tiered cosmology), and then calls Christians out for inconsistency of opposing the science of evolution. He also lists other examples where Christians hold to modern science over biblical teachings. The most prominent is modern medicine.  Very few people eschew modern medicine in favor of biblical remedies, such as putting a leper outside of the camp and waiting for it to go away.

In the end, I think that Greenwood's book is successful at bringing to the fore the cognitive dissonance that exists for many Christians who inconsistently oppose portions of science when they seemingly contradict the Bible, yet have no problems accepting other portions of science that also contradict the Bible.

I'll end with the following quote from Greenwood's conclusion:
Sincere Christians with sincere questions are not helped by artful interpretations of scripture that ignore the realities of the world God created.  As humanity presses on to unmask more and more mysteries of the cosmos, let us consider Calvin, Aquinas, Maimonides and Ambrose, who entreat us to let those trained in studying the natural world speak on matters pertaining to such. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Scripture and Cosmology VII

Greenwood, Kyle. Scripture and Cosmology: Reading the Bible between the Ancient World and Modern Science. DownersGrove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015. 

Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart V, Part VI

Chapter VII is what I would call a "pastoral chapter."  After having spent six chapters laying out the evidence that the biblical cosmology follows the ancient near eastern cosmology and that this view is untenable with the modern scientific cosmology, Greenwood feels the need to reassure his readers who might feel that the book is an assault on the authority of the Bible.

Greenwood lays out the problem like this:
If someone's only experience with the bible is one in which the ancient cosmological evidence is either disregarded--whether by overprotective teachers or by willful neglect--or dismissed as not applicable, what happens when these issues are brought to their attention? The response, all too often, is either continued ignorance or willful abandonment of the entire Christian enterprise... In the case of the former, ignorance leads to a shallow faith, where sincere questions are given pat answers, theological complexities are brushed aside with blind faith, childlike faith never matures to a vibrant faith with deep roots that can withstand storms and droughts, and God is barely smarter than a fifth grader... In the case of the latter, the tragedy is that having been seemingly duped on this issue, believers wonder where else they have been led astray by their trusts Christian leaders.
Most of the rest of the chapter discusses the doctrine of divine accommodation. This doctrine expresses the view that when God speaks to humans (as in the Bible), God does so at the level of the humans understanding.  He likens this to parents talking to young children.  For example, when a parent is asked by a toddler why a pebble sinks in water, but a much larger boat floats, the parent does not give the toddler a lesson on water displacement and fluid dynamics.  He or she simply explains that it is because of the shape of the pebble and the boat. The explanation comes in terms the toddler can understand.  In a similar way, God accommodates his language to humans understanding at the time of the Bible's writing, which, in this case means, God speaks according to an ancient near eastern cosmology.

In the end, this chapter left a little bit wanting in my mind.  First, Greenwood seems to assume a fairly facile and non-nuanced view of biblical inspiration.  He seems to assume that all biblical material is direct communication between God and humans.  Yet, since this is not a chapter on biblical inspiration, perhaps I am expecting too much from Greenwood at this point. Second, his analogy about a parent is helpful in some respects, but, it may introduce some problems Greenwood did not expect.  If a parent tells a child a boat floats because of its shape, that is a simple but factual answer.  Of course there is a more complex and more complete answer, but it is nevertheless not demonstrably non-factual.  If God tells humans that the world is flat, that is a simple but non-factual (or perhaps I should say, alternatively factual answer). Maybe I am being unfair because analogies can always be pushed too far.  Nevertheless, I am not sure that Greenwood has really teased out accommodation in most helpful way, perhaps because of his too-facile assumption of divine inspiration of scripture.  If you have read the book, what do you think?

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Scripture and Cosmology VI

Greenwood, Kyle. Scripture and Cosmology: Reading the Bible between the Ancient World and Modern Science. DownersGrove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015. 

Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IV, Part V

In chapter 6, Greenwood lays out the massive paradigm shift that is often labeled the Copernican Revolution. The three major players in this paradigm shift were Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, and Johannes Kepler.  Copernicus, unsatisfied with the ability of the Ptolemaic system to account for
celestial phenomenon, posited the earthshaking idea that the sun, and not the earth, was the center of the universe.  Instead of the heavenly bodies revolving around a fixed earth, the heavenly bodies revolve around the sun, while the earth rotates on its axis.  Galileo confirmed Copernicus' new model of the universe with the help of the newly invented telescope. Nevertheless, Copernicus' new model was not perfect and the problem lay in the fact that he posited circular orbits for the planets around the sun.  Kepler, a contemporary of Galileo, solved this problem when he posited elliptical orbits for the planets. This world view with the planets revolving around the sun and the earth rotating on its axis are common sense today, yet at the time, these findings were simply astonishing. Yet, these three astronomers and mathematicians revolutionized humans' understanding of the cosmos and forever changed human history in the process.  

Greenwood then goes on to discuss the effects of this scientific paradigm shift on the religious communities of the time.  Copernicus was spared much difficulty as he did not publish his work until shortly before his death. Galileo was not so lucky.  The Roman Catholic church brought Galileo before the inquisition and charged him with heresy.  He was forced to recant. 

Both Protestants and Catholics had a difficult time accepting the new paradigm as it seemed to go against he "plain sense" of many biblical passages. The Bible clearly states that the earth is set on firm foundations and does not move (Ps 104:5), and further, the sun, not the earth, was commanded by Joshua to stand still and it did (Josh 10:12). These statements are hard to reconcile with the new Copernican model. 

Nevertheless, the Copernican model, though imperfect, won the day.  It's scientific and mathematical explanations of the cosmos were impossible for biblical literalism or Papal authority to overturn. Kepler improved on Copernicus with his elliptical orbits, Newton improved on it further with his laws of motion, and Einstein improved it further with his theory of relativity.  Now, no one seriously disputes the finding of the Copernican revolution and its subsequent improvements through science, It was left to Christians of all varieties to adjust their biblical interpretations to match the new scientific discoveries.  Most Christians today have no difficulty believing in biblical authority while also holding to a modern scientific understanding of the cosmos. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Scripture and Cosmology V

Greenwood, Kyle. Scripture and Cosmology: Reading the Bible between the Ancient World and Modern Science. DownersGrove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015. 

Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IV

In chapter five, Greenwood lays out the development of what he calls the Aristotelian cosmology. This cosmology began with pre-Aristotelian Greeks and was driven by philosophical and metaphysical concerns, rather than scientific or mathematical concerns: namely, the idea that a sphere is the most perfect shape, and therefore the earth should be represented as a sphere. Aristotle developed this idea and then completed his cosmology by envisioning the earth as a fixed sphere, orbited by seven other spheres, one for each of the visible celestial phenomenon (Moon, Sun, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and the fixed stars). Beyond the sphere of the outermost stars lay the Unmoved Mover (UMM), Aristotle's conception of God. The UMM set all of the spheres in their orbital motion around the earth.

While the Aristotelian worldview was an improvement from that of the Ancient Near Eastern cosmology (see parts I-IV linked above), it still did not account for some celestial phenomenon, such as the retrograde motion of the wandering planets in the night sky.  It was Claudius Ptolemaius, AKA Ptolemy, an Egyptian mathematician and astronomer from Alexandria, who attempted to mathematically model the Aristotelian cosmology. He accounted for the retrograde motion of the planets by positing epicycles in which the planets had smaller orbits within their specific sphere. These epicycles could explain, at least to some degree, why some of the planets seemed to move backward (retrograde) from their normal orbit around the earth.

It is at this point that Greenwood's book becomes tremendously valuable. Greenwood not only explains paradigm shifts in humans' understanding of the cosmos, but he goes on to investigate the religious responses to those shifts. For example, in this chapter, Greenwood points out that the Aristotelian cosmology caused some consternation among some early Christians in their attempts to interpret certain Bible passages.  Both Augustine and Lactantius found it absurd to think of people living on the opposite side of a spherical earth. Luther and Calvin readily accepted the Aristotelian cosmology, but had difficulty reconciling that worldview with passages of scripture that spoke of the firmament or the waters above the firmament.

I do find interesting that though the authors of the New Testament post-date Aristotle and his cosmology by more than 300 years, and were largely hellenized, the cosmology of the New Testament lines up almost entirely with an Ancient Near Eastern worldview with few signs of any familiarity with the Aristotelian conception.  It is as if the New Testament authors were stuck in an Ancient Near Eastern bubble with regard to cosmology, while being thoroughly influenced by Greek language and thoughts in many other respects.

I'll end with this quote from Greenwood:
The most notable trait we see among Aristotelian-era interpreters is the willingness to adapt their interpretation of Scripture in light of new understandings of the physical universe.  It was assumed that the cosmos was composed of seven spheres that rotated around the earth. This had implications for all sorts of biblical interpretations.  The foundations of the earth could no longer be thought of in terms of physical columns, but were conceived as a metaphor for God's sustaining power.