Archive for the 'Current events' Category

Quotable Quotes

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“Darwin Speak” Casual Quote of the Day

“An evolutionary change like that can take millions of years.”  

(Matthew Fox, in the movie Extinction, describing a zombie mutant).

And On The Other Side

“In one graduate class, the professor told us we didn’t have to memorize the dates of the geologic systems since they were far too uncertain and conflicting. Then in geophysics we went over all of the assumptions that go into radiometric dating. Afterwards, the professor said, “If a fundamentalist ever got hold of this stuff, he would make havoc out of the radiometric dating system. So, keep the faith.” That’s what he told us, ‘keep the faith.’”

(Biologist Gary Parker, in From Evolution to Creation, quoted in James Perloff, Tornado in a Junkyard.)

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Particle Physics and God

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I recently watched a fascinating documentary called “Particle Fever” that chronicles the search for the Higgs boson, which is sometimes called the “God Particle.”  The nickname is a bit controversial, but it shouldn’t get in the way of the substance of the documentary and the interesting all-or-nothing scenario that it set up.

You see, right now scientists explain the universe mostly by using a theory called the “Standard Model” of theoretical particle physics, which has been very good at predicting much of what experiments in physics have actually found. As described by the various scientists in the documentary, formulation of the Standard Model is the result of roughly 400 years of work, in which scientists have gradually found that the universe is something enormous yet simple, seemingly complex yet incredibly elegant and symmetrical. Indeed, symmetry (in the sense of how parts might integrate into a whole, might remain consistent and or unchanged despite any kind of transformation, and can exist independent of specific dynamics) is the kind of elegant order that begins to hint most strongly toward intelligent design, or God.

In addition, the Standard Model relies on what are called “fundamental constants,” which are numbers that determine the entire structure of the universe. Now these constants get pretty complicated, but for now just realize that everyone – from God-believing scientists to complete and total atheists – understand that these numbers are far too precise to be based on chance in just this universe. In the documentary, one scientist explained that his knowledge of this incredibly precise fine tuning naturally led him to question whether he was wrong about everything he had learned and believed on some fundamental level. What he meant was that it’s hard, if not impossible, to square this incredible precision with a Godless universe. It’s that exact.

Now if you make enough scientists question their worldviews, you’ll end up getting a new scientific theory so that they don’t have to question those worldviews anymore. And the theory that some scientists ultimately came up with to help them explain this incredible fine tuning is called the “multiverse theory.” That theory speculates that our universe is actually only one of multiple possible universes – so many, like millions or billions (the kinds of numbers evolutionists like to use) that those really precise numbers that make up our fundamental constants might still only be random. If you have a billion universes, so the theory goes, one might randomly end up like our universe – which looks so precise that it must have been created by some intelligent being, but which is really created by chance. This can get a bit complex, too, so if you want to see a more detailed write- up about the multiverse theory versus intelligent design, go here: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/multiverse-and-the-design-argument.

But for now, just realize that the Standard Model absolutely predicted something like the Higgs boson as one of its essential particles, and so the documentary that I watched showed scientists using the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva Switzerland to try to detect it. Everyone figured it was out there, but they had different theories about what it would mean to the universe and, indeed, to the future of physics. And all of that depended on not only finding the Higgs, but also learning its mass.

The reason scientists needed to know its mass was because a “light” Higgs boson is the kind of thing that would correspond to the symmetry of the Standard Model, and even helps lend credence to what’s called “supersymmetry,” in which additional particles might likely be discovered to build a complicated but even more elegant way of describing the universe. A “heavy” Higgs, on the other hand, would tend to point to various theories using the concepts of the multiverse. But here’s the rub: if, in fact, the multiverse theory were to be confirmed, it would mean that everything in our universe might be completely random, caused not by intelligence but chaos. And if that were true, then physicists could never be sure that they’d ever find answers to anything else because the answers to any number of questions in a multiverse theory might only be found in other universes, which means that we might never find them at all. In fact, most everybody in the documentary felt like a heavy Higgs might mean the end of physics altogether. Pretty dramatic, huh?

So the movie came down to this. If the Higgs mass was about 115 times the mass of a proton, it would point to supersymmetry. If it was about 140 times the mass of a proton, it would point to multiverse. Order and elegance versus chaos, or, as some people might speculate, God versus no God.

All of this is interesting, but sometimes I think that people miss the forest for the trees, or the universe for the particles in this case. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he wrote: “For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20) We have been without excuse since creation, and now we have even less of an excuse to clearly see and know the existence and glory of God. Back in the day, scientists like Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle, Francis Bacon, Blaise Pascal, Louis Pasteur, and countless others worked within their knowledge and belief of the existence of God and with the notion that their discoveries were guided by God. The famous astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler, wrote, “I see how God is, by my endeavors, also glorified in astronomy, for ‘the heavens declare the glory of God.’” (quoting Psalm 19:1).

Why, then, do so many people miss what is so obvious to others? Why do they reject the notion of God so adamantly that they’ll create theory after theory to debunk any idea of intelligent design?  I think the reason is found in two separate scriptures. First, in 2 Peter 3:5, Peter writes that people will “deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water.” And through this deliberate forgetfulness, since they “d[o] not know the righteousness that comes from God [and they seek] to establish their own, they [do] not submit to God’s righteousness.” (Romans 10:3) In short, people forget what is obvious to the rest of the world because they simply don’t want to serve anyone. They want to be their own god. But hey, as Bob Dylan once sang, “It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”

Anyway, back to the Higgs and the documentary. Now I personally don’t need to know the mass of a particle to convince me that God exists. And I assume that if the Higgs came back light and the multiverse theory was somehow discredited, people who simply don’t want to believe in God would figure out some other theory to cast doubt. But leave it to God Himself to remind us who is in control here. Because when they ultimately found the Higgs – and they did – its mass was exactly dead center between 115 and 140, which left both sides scratching their heads. We thought we had it all figured out. We thought it was all or nothing. But God said it was neither. It was something else entirely. It’s not so much the “God Particle” as it is simply one of God’s particles. Like everything else, God created the Higgs, and its mass is what it is. Now deal with it.

And finally, why in the world would I write about this interesting natural world drama in a blog about the supernatural? Well, because in the middle of the documentary, during one of the trial runs for the Large Hadron Collider as they were counting down toward the test, something truly fascinating happened. During that countdown from five to one, at just around minute 27:51 of the documentary, the camera cut to a young scientist waiting for the test to begin. And as the countdown reached three, she closed her eyes and briefly bowed her head. I think she prayed.

Easter 2015

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One nice thing about being a follower of Jesus is that I can celebrate His birth and victory over death every day. Every day is Christmas and every day is Easter, but the world needs redemption more than anything else, and so it desperately needs a special day to focus on the cross.

As for tonight, Denise and I are going to participate in a Passover Seder!

Happy Easter, everyone.

“It is true. The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.”  He has risen indeed!

Belief

Denise and I were flying back from New York City this weekend, when it suddenly seemed like I was being bombarded by atheism. It started that morning with CNN running a story called, “The Friendly Atheists Next Door,” and extended into the night with 60 Minutes interviewing Neil deGrasse Tyson (who is claimed by atheists but who really isn’t one, as I’ll show you later), and through a variety of shows on FOX written by Seth MacFarlane (who is claimed by atheists and who really is one). I didn’t watch any of the shows, but it made me sad to think about the fact that there are people out there who not only don’t believe in God, but who really, really, want you, me, and our families not to believe in God either. It made me feel really distant to those people; the chasm between people who believe and don’t believe in the same thing seems awfully wide.

The CNN story was really a story about a couple who lost faith in the Catholic religion, and who then extended that unbelief in their church to unbelief in God. The sad part was that after they made their decision, they suddenly felt that they needed to share and promote this non-belief, and so the story documented how the couple was forming Sunday gatherings (yeah, I know, it sounds a little weird for atheists to come together on Sundays) apparently to talk to others about how and why they don’t believe in God. The story mentioned some things that atheists have in common: apparently they are mostly white, upper-middle class, college educated, and male, and most of them used to be Catholics. I’ll add another: They are also often handsomely rewarded by the natural world, and especially by other atheists, for “coming out.” For whatever reason these days, if you decide to become an atheist, even if you aren’t fully sure what that means, you’ll quickly find acceptance and apparently become newsworthy.

As Denise said in her book, though, there are really extremely few actual “atheists” in the world. That’s because it really takes a ton of work and research to even get close to coming to such an absolute stance, and even then there’s so much evidence for God that it’s hard to ignore. That’s why noted “atheists” like Richard Dawkins have said that they’re not really atheists – instead, for example, Dawkins says he’s agnostic. Same thing with Neil deGrasse Tyson, if you look here, you’ll see he doesn’t like being called an atheist, or any “ist” other than a scientist, and instead says that if you had to label him, he’s more likely agnostic: http://bigthink.com/think-tank/neil-degrasse-tyson-atheist-or-agnostic.

In fact, he finds the word “atheist” itself odd, since virtually nobody else tends to belong to groups mostly identified with what they don’t believe in. He’s got a point.

belief

All of this really boils down to our worldviews. We all have one, whether we know it or not, which makes up the entirety of our points of view. Knowing your worldview is handy because knowing what you believe can guide you through all of life’s tough times. Now, people who call themselves atheists have a worldview that perhaps partly includes unbelief in God, but I just wish they’d focus more on what they actually believe through their overall worldview instead of the thing or things they don’t believe. Agnostics have a worldview that involves saying they just aren’t sure what to believe about God, but you don’t see them holding meetings or actively trying to convince others also to claim ambivalence.

When I was younger, I went through a phase where I was probably best described as an agnostic because I simply wasn’t sure about what to believe, spiritually or otherwise. But then I decided to do the work needed to form a decently purposeful worldview. I ended up forming the spiritual part of my worldview after years of studying a variety of other spiritual worldviews and putting together the evidence that I needed to live my life based on what I believed to be the Truth. I suppose my worldview includes not believing in certain things, like eating gluten or maybe even atheism, but I’d rather focus on what I do believe. I believe in Jesus Christ, who was God come in the flesh. Because I’m a follower of Jesus, I believe everything about who he said he was.

If I could get atheists to focus on the things in which they believe, instead of the things in which they don’t believe, they might say something like, “We believe in human beings.” If they do, then this chasm between me and atheists might not seem so wide, because I believe in God, and God believes in human beings, too.

Love and Basketball

This story has been making the rounds on television – I saw it first on the CBS news, so here’s the link:

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/texas-high-school-basketball-team-incredible-sportsmanship/

It tells about how a couple of high school boys in Waco, Texas, thought it was sad that the Gainseville, Texas, juvenile correctional facility’s basketball team never had any fans when they came to play. So this time, when the Gainesville Tornadoes came to play in Waco, these two students made sure that the Tornadoes had fans, posters, and even cheerleaders to make them feel like a real team.

Of course, they were already a real team, but it just took a bit of love to help them to fully realize it. A classic definition of the kind of love God expects from us is this: meeting other people’s needs at the expense of our own. I’m sure it wasn’t necessarily easy for the two Waco kids to put this whole thing together, and I’m sure that they could easily have just brushed the whole thing off. But in the end, because of the love showed by the people in Waco, at least a couple of the Gainesville players said they would never forget that day for the rest of their lives. Who knows, maybe it even turned them around.

I work in criminal justice, and I understand the need for empathy to solve the kinds of criminal issues we see today. What I don’t say enough is that I absolutely think that God is really the only way to solve any criminal justice issue. We can talk about cost-benefit analyses, constitutional mandates, and even social science research, but it’s only love for our fellow human beings that will change our future for the better.

Jesus said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,” but this merely reminds us that the word “least” is really a label that we use in the world. God doesn’t love them any less, but they do offer us an opportunity to show love, mercy, and justice in concrete ways.

As Saints, what we do in the world matters, but the two boys in Waco have shown that you don’t have to dump a bunch of money at a problem or come up with some amazing super-solution to make a difference. All it takes is a bit of love and creativity, and God smiles.

Pope Francis, Freedom of Speech, and Love

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I didn’t have time to write about it when it happened, but I was quite impressed by the Pope’s comments concerning freedom of speech in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris. Basically, he said that there must be limits to what we say or depict, and that perhaps deriding someone’s deeply held faith should be one of those limits. No, he didn’t condone the killings in Paris, but he took a decidedly Jesus-like attitude toward the whole thing. Here is the Wall Street Journal’s story on it:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/pope-francis-sees-limits-to-freedom-of-speech-1421325757

Think of it this way, is making fun of anyone really a loving thing to do? What if it hurts people to do it? In the Charlie Hebdo case, the cartoons led not only to killings in Paris, but also to a variety of politicians saying that we should root out radical Islamists and kill them. Everything surrounding the decision to run the cartoons seems to have led only to a focus on killing other people, and that simply cannot be squared with anything taught by Jesus Christ.

Sure, we allow freedom of expression in America, and so we allow people to get away with tons of horrible and hurtful things in the name of the First Amendment because we are “Americans.” But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have some self-restraint.

In another story, the group Reporters Without Borders said that the Pope’s statements were dangerous, and that limits to freedom of expression should never be set by religious leaders. Well, I disagree. By following Jesus, I often have to refrain from things that may be within my rights to do, but that would hurt people, and thus would not reflect God’s love. Everyone has a choice, and I simply choose to follow Jesus. He limits my secular freedoms every day, and I am better for it.

A couple of weeks ago, Face the Nation host Bob Shieffer said that he likes Pope Francis because he often reminds us that religion is about kindness. And so Shieffer, a self-described “strong” defender of the First Amendment, nonetheless ended his show by saying that the Pope’s comments about freedom of expression remind us that “there is a difference in having the right to do something and doing the right thing.” I think Jesus would agree.



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